Ben Cherington ready for next step
For the most part since joining the Boston Red Sox's front office, Ben Cherington has been in the background.
With Theo Epstein finally officially being named as the Chicago Cubs' president, Ben Cherington will step into the spotlight as the new general manager of the Red Sox. The team said Monday that the move will be made official Tuesday afternoon during a news conference at 3 p.m. ET. His official title will be executive vice president.
If you're around baseball people, some are naturals at it. Some make it look easy and you can see that right away. Ben was like that.” -- Former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette on Ben Cherington (above)
Cherington is charged with the mission of righting a listing ship and steering Boston back into the playoffs after a two-year absence and a messy two-month organizational tailspin.
And according to those who have known him in his 12 years of varied positions with the organization, Cherington brings many solid qualities to the challenging job.
Great listener. Hard worker. Bright individual. Lover of baseball. Outstanding evaluator of baseball talent.
He also brings a blend of philosophies, embracing the stats-oriented talent-evaluation process he helped Epstein develop in Boston while also valuing the physical scouting methods of more traditional evaluations.
"He's got a good foundation," said former Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette, who helped Cherington, a fellow Amherst College alumnus, break into professional baseball. "He got to learn the business from the ground up and was exposed to all of the elements that are needed to build a championship team.
"Ben is a bright guy. He loves baseball. He's got a nice way about him. He's a good listener, and he gets along well with people, and he has a good instinct for evaluating talent. If you're around baseball people, some are naturals at it. They get it.
"It's like a player. Some make it look easy, and you can see that right away. Ben was like that," said Duquette, who was replaced when the current ownership group took over the Red Sox in December 2001. He now runs a sports academy in Hinsdale, Mass.
Mike Port, who joined the Sox's front office in 1993 and served in several capacities, including vice president of baseball operations and interim GM in 2002 before becoming MLB's vice president of umpiring from 2005 to 2011, was similarly impressed with Cherington.
"My first impression was that he was a very bright individual, low-key and an excellent listener before he makes his evaluations and finalizes decisions," Port said. "Ben moves seamlessly through all levels of people, ownership, other executives. He's stable, ethical and has integrity and focus.
"He was a thoughtful individual and, as the saying goes, to Ben's credit, he had his ears wide open and his mouth shut," Port said. "He observed, listened, tried to learn. And from what I know he has continued that to today. My impression is that he has worked hard behind the scenes in a helpful manner in an effort to put the parts together and make things go the last couple of years or so."
Cherington will need all those leadership qualities because he'll have his work cut out for him.
As has been well documented, the Red Sox went 7-20 in September and failed to make the playoffs despite having held a nine-game lead in the wild-card race at the start of the month. Manager Terry Francona is gone, Epstein is gone and almost-daily allegations of misconduct by pitchers who drank beer and ate fried chicken during games have infuriated the passionate fan base and held up the organization to national ridicule.
That's the mess that Cherington inherits.
Although he isn't taking over a well-oiled machine, Cherington has been preparing for this moment in many ways since a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder cut short his career on the mound after his sophomore year at Amherst College.
Cherington's passion for the game led him to become an unofficial coach for Amherst before he graduated in 1996. And thanks to the recommendation of his baseball coach, Bill Thurston, and the efforts of Duquette, the GM of the Red Sox at the time, Cherington broke into the professional baseball ranks in 1998 as the video advance scout for the Cleveland Indians, working under Neal Huntington, another former Amherst grad who now is the GM of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
A year later, Duquette hired Cherington as the Red Sox's mid-Atlantic area scout. Cherington has steadily worked his way up the organizational ladder, earning rave reviews with each step he took.
He appears ready to handle this next step in his career, as he moves out of the shadows and becomes the man with the target on his back.
Cherington already has had a taste of the job, having served as co-GM with Jed Hoyer for a couple of months in the 2005 offseason when Epstein donned his gorilla suit and bolted from the job.
Epstein, though, was coaxed back, and while Hoyer left Boston to become GM in San Diego in 2009 (and reportedly will join Epstein in Chicago as Epstein's GM), Cherington kept listening and learning with the Red Sox, becoming senior vice president/assistant GM in January 2009.
Now, for better or worse, Ben Cherington is it.
"I think Ben is very prepared for the job," said Josh Byrnes, another former colleague from Boston. Byrnes is expected to be elevated to general manager of the Padres, replacing Hoyer, from his position as San Diego's senior vice president for baseball operations. "He knows the market. He knows the organization. He has an excellent understanding of scouting, development and major league roster management.
"He has always been a steady, passionate, respectful part of a team. People feed off that, and he fosters an environment of respect and open communication."
Dick Berardino, who has been with the Red Sox organization in numerous capacities for 44 years and is currently a player development consultant, thinks this is Cherington's time.
"There's certainly going to be a lot of pressure on him because of what transpired this year, but when you're ready, you're ready," Berardino said.
Berardino and others note that being in Boston, with its intense media scrutiny and passionate fan base, adds to the pressure of the job.
"It won't be easy, but that's what separates the good ones from the great ones," he said. "If you have confidence in yourself, this is the environment you want to be in. It's not like he hasn't been around it. It's not like he has been in San Francisco. He has been here. He knows what's going on. He was part of it when he was GM. Obviously he's ready to accept that."
Duquette certainly knows the pressures that accompany the position.
"Every market has its challenges," Duquette said. "The fun thing about the Boston market is that everybody thinks they can do the job better than you. That's what makes it interesting.
"[He can be successful] because of his personal qualities, and he has been with the organization for 12 years. He'll have a lot of people telling him what to do. That's where his listening skills will come in handy, plus he's a good talent evaluator."
Cherington won't necessarily be an Epstein clone, Port says.
"They have different personalities," Port said. "They are both thoughtful and intelligent, obviously, and both are great listeners, but maybe Ben listens a little more and Ben is more quiet, no disrespect to Theo."
How he works relative to Epstein certainly doesn't matter at all to the fan base, which has become spoiled by the successes in the century's first decade and has gotten impatient with everyone on Yawkey Way, from John Henry to Tom Werner to Larry Lucchino to the players. The fans want -- no, demand -- another title, and it's up to Cherington to make it happen.
Can he come through? Port thinks he is up to the challenge.
"In that position, [the high expectations] are unavoidable. It's a high-profile job. It's about maintaining priorities, keeping your eye on the ball. The goal of the whole thing is to win baseball games within the financial parameters," said Port, who served as the Angels' GM from 1984 to 1991.
"Given the stability Ben displayed nine years ago when I met him," Port said, "I think his stability and ethics will help him maintain focus on the field and not get overly distracted by other things."
Steven Krasner is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.
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