DeMarlo Hale should be first choice

BOSTON -- It would be a travesty if DeMarlo Hale does not get serious consideration to become Boston Red Sox manager because he is viewed as collateral damage from the end of the Terry Francona era.

Hale was Francona's bench coach this season, and for that reason, there is already speculation that he will not be given a shot at being Francona's replacement because he is too closely associated with the Great Collapse of 2011.

Already, the Sox have fired first-base coach Ron Johnson and staff assistant Rob Leary, and have told pitching coach Curt Young that he is "on hold," pending the naming of a new manager. Hitting coach Dave Magadan said he has been told that the Sox were very happy with his work and would recommend him highly to the new manager, but he too is in limbo.

But to dismiss Hale out of hand as a candidate would be terribly shortsighted because Hale has spent the better part of a quarter century -- as player, minor league manager, coach for two big league teams -- preparing for this moment.

"I can tell you this: DeMarlo is ready to be a major league manager," said longtime Red Sox official Dick Berardino, who first recognized Hale's leadership qualities when Hale was a first baseman-outfielder for Class A Elmira in 1986, when Berardino was manager.

"He would have instant credibility in that clubhouse," he said.

The fact that Hale is African-American should not be overlooked, given the team's tone-deaf history, but neither does it come close to explaining why the 50-year-old native of Chicago should rank high on the list of candidates being assembled by the Sox.

There is, first and foremost, the resume: Hale became a minor league coach for the Sox in 1992, and a year later was promoted to his first managing job. He reached his managerial apex in the Sox system at Double-A Trenton, where he managed three seasons, his 1999 team going 92-50. That season, he was named minor league manager of the year by Baseball America, The Sporting News and USA Today Baseball Weekly. BA also named him the best managing prospect in the minors.

Inexplicably, then-general manager Dan Duquette did not promote Hale to fill an opening at Triple-A Pawtucket, which prompted Hale to leave for the Texas Rangers, for whom he managed Triple-A Oklahoma City before being named to Buck Showalter's big league staff as a first-base coach. He came back to the Sox in 2006, where he distinguished himself as one of the best third-base coaches the team has ever had, before becoming Francona's bench coach when Brad Mills left to become manager of the Houston Astros before the 2010 season.

Hale, in short, has made no missteps on his way to his ultimate goal, managing in the big leagues. He already is well familiar with the interviewing process, having interviewed in Arizona, Seattle, Toronto and New York (Mets), as well as interviewing for the Red Sox job back in 2004. That was widely seen as a show interview, inasmuch as it came the day before Francona came in for his physical, but Hale has told friends that his interview had actually been rescheduled from an earlier date.

He was a finalist last winter in both Toronto, losing out to former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, and with the Mets, who hired the more experienced Terry Collins.

"He did a great job in his interview with the Mets," said one executive with direct knowledge of that session. "He was very prepared. Do I think he's qualified to be a big league manager? Yes.

"But you might be a good candidate and not be the right fit. The timing is just not right. That's a shame, but that's what happens."

Hale is far more prepared to be a manager than he was in 2004. He has admitted as much, telling Trenton (N.J.) Times reporter John Nalbone upon his induction into the Trenton Hall of Fame earlier this year that he understands what is demanded.

"If you would have asked me this same question five or six years ago I would have said I was ready, but I wasn't," he said at the time. "This is not a six- or seven-month job and then I'll see you in spring training. Being the face of an organization is a big jump. It's a lot more than just managing the ballclub. But I do feel I am ready for it now."

Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry, during his recent appearance on WEEI, described the qualities he was looking for in a new Sox manager: "Highly intelligent, communicates with players, gets the best out of players. [We] lean toward a player's manager."

The most important quality? "That he fits into the organizational philosophy," Henry said.

Hale scores high on all counts. Francona gave him his highest recommendation. That should not be held against him. Yes, it is appropriate for the Red Sox to ask Hale whether he could have done more as bench coach in September, when things fell apart. But he was not the man in charge. He should be given the chance to show what he will do if he is, especially since he should know as much as anyone why that clubhouse imploded.

It should be his job to lose.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.