In firing Dave Dombrowski, Red Sox declare that no lost seasons are acceptable

Tim BrownMLB columnist

Somebody will win the 2019 baseball season and will become the story of it, their cleverness and perseverance lifting them above the handful of others who in bodies, minds and bottom lines also sold out to the greater — and fleeting — good.

And they will serve as a reminder that a baseball season comes around only once a year, that it ought to be treated as such when possible, that giving it away for some distant tomorrow only works some of the time and that trying is pretty much why everyone shows up.

September has just slipped into its second week and one, maybe two, of baseball’s six divisions have any fight left in them at all. Perhaps it is why this October seems as promising as it does, for that handful of teams that honored the season by being present, and also for being done with the thousands of games that were from the start irrelevant. If attendance at ballparks is to be taken at its face, this season — the only 2019 season that will ever be played — reflected and even mourned the dearth of teams competing in significant ways, if not in sheer numbers, then in sheer transparency as to their intentions.

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Before anyone else could get started on their flowery assessments of vacant seasons and barely measurable progress and bright, sunshiny next seasons, however, the Boston Red Sox late on Sunday night bloodied themselves over 143 unacceptable games, over 67 unacceptable outcomes. They fired their president and head of baseball operations, the veteran baseball executive Dave Dombrowski, not a year after the club’s ninth World Series championship, a year ahead of his contract expiring and three weeks from seeing through his fourth full season in Boston.

Taken on its own, this was a dramatic personnel decision by Red Sox leadership, chiefly John Henry, Tom Werner and Sam Kennedy, if only for its timing. True, the Red Sox had given away 25 ½ games to the New York Yankees, from eight up in 2018 to 17 ½ down in 2019. The pitching issues predicted for them in April had been addressed not in quality, but in the absurdity of a 21-man pitching staff in the final weeks of what is likely a futile wild card effort.

Still, Dombrowski had taken over a last-place club and, per orders, turned it into a parade-worthy winner — damn the prospects, damn the payroll, damn tomorrow. In a team press release on Monday morning, Henry, Werner and Kennedy lauded Dombrowski’s work and otherwise let the American League East standings speak for themselves, offering no explanation for why now, with 19 games left in the season, with the city still crossed in duck boat tracks, with the lingering perception they could not wait to rid themselves of Dave Dombrowski.

“A search for the next baseball operations leader will begin immediately,” according to the press release that, apparently, will stand as the club’s only commentary for the time being. According to organizational sources, Dombrowski seems to be the victim of his own demanding leadership style, and it is fair to speculate he’d lost the confidence of those who’d employed him, which is generally how one gets fired while wearing a brand new World Series ring. This is, too, how general manager types leave, not with fancy retirement cakes but with a dour security guard assigned to one shoulder.

The Red Sox will see through September with three assistant general managers — Eddie Romero, Brian O’Halloran and Zack Scott — in charge, along with Raquel Ferreira, a senior VP in major and minor league operations. Any one of the four has the chops for the job, for what looks like a pretty heavy lift going forward, assuming ownership lacks the stomach for any future $240-million, third-place results. Also, those on the operations side retain a fondness for Jared Porter, a longtime Red Sox company man who three years ago accompanied Mike Hazen to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In three-plus seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Dave Dombrowski's teams went to the playoffs three times and won a World Series. (USA TODAY Sports)
In three-plus seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Dave Dombrowski's teams went to the playoffs three times and won a World Series. (USA TODAY Sports)

So, for the moment, manager Alex Cora has a team to run, and the Red Sox have a September to play out, and ownership has a direction to choose, and Dave Dombrowski, at 63, has a future to sort out. Somewhere, a reasonably bright and wholly earnest person is about to get the job of a lifetime, too. The Red Sox are one of those few baseball franchises whose choices and strategies and commitments change the world around them. They spend big, often smart, money. They employ skilled players, in their primes. They fill their ballpark. They put up a fight. They try to win. Lost seasons are not given away, but dragged from them across tear-stained faces and bleeding fingernails. Those championships, they come at a cost too, but that’s a hell of a lot better than the alternative.

So, when on the second Sunday of September the Red Sox had seen enough, when one championship in 11 months was not sufficient, when there weren’t three weeks to waste, what rang out was how they give a crap. It shouldn’t. But it did. Maybe the decision to jettison Dave Dombrowski will be proved to be hasty. Maybe the next man up, or woman up, will be a lot better at the job than Dombrowski was, and the roster will become cleaner and more manageable, and the Red Sox will pitch again, and the Yankees will have a problem on their hands again.

It’s why they play the games, to find out. Until then, it’s enough to be reminded that the games are significant, that a team only gets to play them one time, that enough of them stacked one on top of the other becomes a baseball season, and that a baseball season is not a stall tactic. It’s a means to get from here to there. Not tomorrow. Today.

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