When John Farrell arrived for his recruiting visit to Oklahoma State, the right-hander from New Jersey was wearing a suit and tie.
“That's Johnny,” said Tom Holliday, who spent 26 years with OSU's baseball program. “I always thought he'd be an executive. I thought Johnny was destined to for a front-office job, possibly be a general manager.”
Thirty-three years later, Farrell is manager of the Boston Red Sox, who host the St. Louis Cardinals Wednesday night for Game 1 of the 2013 World Series.
The leading candidate for AL Manager of the Year, Farrell has been praised for the Red Sox's locker-room chemistry and repairing an injury-riddled bullpen. But Farrell's GM-like skills also played a role before the Red Sox reported to spring training.
In the offseason, Boston added outfielder Shane Victorino, super sub Jonny Gomes, shortstop Stephen Drew and first baseman Mike Napoli, a key member of the Texas Rangers' 2011 World Series team.
“What he's pulled off is what I always thought he had the potential to do,” Holliday said. “Working within a budget, if someone said, ‘John, you have $50 million to go get key pieces for this team,' I would bet on John Farrell getting it done.
“It's his intelligence, his ability to respect the dollar bill. He knows the front-office end of it. Johnny is someone with a mind beyond managing. He helped put the finishing touches on rebuilding that team.”
Former OSU first baseman Jim Traber, Farrell's teammate and now an Oklahoma City sports talk radio host, was mildly surprised Farrell didn't end up in management, especially after Farrell began his pro career as Cleveland's director of player development.
“That's where I thought he might stay. He's a very cerebral guy,” Traber said. “When he got the pitching coach job for the Red Sox, after they won the World Series (in 2007), I knew he'd eventually get a managerial job. It's pretty amazing they wanted him so badly they traded a player for him. That's unusual.”
Farrell's managerial skills are a key reason Boston is in the World Series for the first time in six years.
Catcher Robbie Wine, the 1982 College Player of the Year, was on OSU's staff when Farrell was the pitching coach.
“John is a driven, motivated person,” said Wine, who has resigned after eight years as Penn State's coach to pursue a pro coaching job. “Successful managers have a way of communicating with each player on a personal basis. People sometimes think there is no motivation at that level, but there is.
“The other thing is helping players have fun. Sometimes you have to sit a guy down and tell them they're not doing the job and they have to go to Triple-A. John gives them a big-picture plan. Keeping guys focused and motivated are things John does very well.”
Mike Henneman, Farrell's OSU teammate, recorded 193 career saves in 10 major league seasons. Currently coaching with the Tigers' Class A team in Grand Rapids, Mich., Henneman isn't surprised Farrell chose managing.
“This is a perfect job for Johnny. Once an athlete always an athlete,” Henneman said. “He needed to be in uniform. I could never see him spending his career behind a desk. I'm a little (ticked) he beat my Tigers, but I'll let him have that one.”
Farrell wasn't the best player on dominant OSU teams in the early 1980s that made four consecutive trips to the College World Series. Farrell wasn't even the Cowboys' best pitcher. Dennis Livingston was the headliner.
Farrell, though, led the Cowboys his senior year in innings pitched, wins (12) and strikeouts. A second-round pick by Cleveland, Farrell compiled a 36-46 record and 4.56 ERA in eight seasons in the majors.
“With us, John was extremely raw, a laid-back guy,” said longtime OSU coach Gary Ward. “He didn't have that natural aggressiveness. He didn't show much competitive fire. He was cultured, therefore more sophisticated. He needed some tough love.”