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The Bard sheds light on Red Sox managerial hunt

November 17, 2011

William Shakespeare might have seen Theo Epstein as his Prince Hamlet.

Only in New England can you be sitting in an audience, watching a great presentation of Hamlet by the Gamm Theatre acting company of Pawtucket, when during intermission a man turns around in his seat and asks: “Who’s going to be the next manager of the Red Sox?”
The interrogator was Bobby Fields, a former Pawtucket West student-athlete. He probably won’t recognize the rest of this but Shakespeare might.
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in it,” I told Bobby, quoting from Gamm Artistic Director Tony Estrella’s summation in the Hamlet program. “I must be cruel only to be kind … it looks like Torey Lovullo to me.”
Fields nodded his head. “Torey Lovullo. Didn’t he used to manage the PawSox?”
“Yes,” I answered. “Every dog will have its day.”
“Why Lovullo?” Fields asked, knowing that former Red Sox third base coach Dale Sveum seemed to be the front-runner when we entered the theatre.
“What a piece of work man is,” I said, quoting Shakespeare again. “Larry Lucchino is working behind the scenes, a la Polonius, continuing his pattern of disrupting the Baseball Operations Department of the Red Sox. Lucchino got rid of Hamlet last month when Theo Epstein fled Boston.”
“Theo was Hamlet?” Fields asked me.
“What were his last words to the fans in Boston?” I said, turning the question around on my interviewer.
“Something’s rotten in the state of Boston!” Fields said with a smile, showing he could evoke a Shakespearean phrase when needed.
“That’s good,” I said. “Theo also said, as he walked out the door, ‘To thine own self be true.’”
When dawn arrived in Pawtucket on Thursday morning, the Internet was already chattering with the news that Boston had interviewed Sveum a second time on Wednesday. It was reported that ownership decided not to extend a contract offer.
Epstein, now in charge of his own kingdom in the land known as Chicago, also interviewed Sveum a second time on Wednesday. He did Boston one better, offering a contract, and introducing Sveum to the Chairman of the Cubs, Tom Ricketts. By late afternoon, Sveum had agreed to take the Cubs’ job, hinting he was more comfortable with his old friend Epstein.
Lovullo remains one of three top candidates for the Boston job, along with Sandy Alomar Jr. and Gene Lamont. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern apparently were not available.
What will Boston’s ownership do?
“Boston is now prioritizing experience in its search,” came word on Twitter from Peter Gammons, once considered the Shakespeare of baseball writers.
(At this point, I’m thinking Shakespeare would have had way more followers than Chad Ochocinco on Twitter. His ability to turn a short phrase is perfect for the new technology. “Brevity is the soul of wit,” he once said.)
Back to the Red Sox, who last month said big league managing experience wasn’t necessary in their next field boss. Now it seems the King and his court are completely reversing their stated goal from a month ago, after they cut Terry Francona loose as manager.
Ownership said that Francona was weak, distracted by illness and personal issues. They said he could no longer control his players. That, to quote Bill Shakespeare again, was “the most unkindest cut of all.”
In this offseason, Boston still must find a new manager, and decide whether to re-sign aging designated hitter David Ortiz. Seven weeks into their slumber, they have no manager, and their chief executioner, closer Jonathan Papelbon, has been lured away by the ambitious Philadelphia kingdom.
Red Sox ownership and management seem unprepared to deal with putting their team back together again.
“The readiness is all,” Shakespeare might have said.
And how ready is this new Boston management team? Is Epstein’s replacement, Ben Cherington, just a figurehead as Lucchino tries to involve himself in major baseball decisions, instead of sticking to his real work as President and CEO of the franchise?
Shakespeare has some thoughts on the subject.
“The play’s the thing,” he said while writing Hamlet. (Maybe he was saying it is the players who determine the success of the manager.) “The rest is silence.”
Cherington is the man out front, a courier of Epstein’s thrust into the spotlight, and eager to accept the challenge. If he is the new Prince Hamlet, then right now he must be asking himself the eternal question. (You knew this was coming.)
“To be or not to be, that is the question,” Cherington says to himself as he fine-tunes his managerial search. Does he stand up to the King and choose his own man? Or will “Lucky” Lucchino put him on a slow boat to England?
Getting back to Bobby Fields’s original question: Who will be the next Red Sox manager?
And the answer is ... still ... Torey Lovullo. As PawSox manager in 2010, Lovullo impressed Epstein and Cherington with his ability to lead a locker room full of veterans and prospects. He conducted himself with the assurance of a former big league player who had spent several seasons managing minor league teams in Cleveland’s farm system.
Lovullo, like Francona before him, is a bland fellow not likely to antagonize the Boston media.
“How poor are they that not have patience?” Shakespeare once wrote, probably referring to the theatre critics of his time. Patience is a human discipline Red Sox fans and the local baseball have never learned to master. Patience is the key when it comes to baseball, a sport that plays out ever so slowly upon the summer stage.
If Shakespeare were alive today, he would no doubt be a Red Sox fan, drawn to a team that is so beloved, and yet so troubled. The Red Sox have a lot of Hamlet in them. They travel from despair to euphoria as quickly as Dave Roberts once stole a base and offered hope for a miraculous victory when darkness seemed so near.
From this winter of Red Sox discontent will come hope for a new beginning.
“Such stuff as dreams are made on,” Shakespeare told us more than 400 years ago. And so we dream on, hoping the Red Sox find the right manager to lead them in 2012.

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