BOSTON -- John Farrell's first clue was the racing bike parked outside the hotel coffee shop. Hard not to notice, with the Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett baseball cards wedged in the wheel.
Then he spotted the gray-haired man in the Groucho glasses, fake mustache, WEEI T-shirt and Spandex shorts gesturing to him from the booth in the back. Farrell sighed. Where was his third-base coach, Brian Butterfield, when he needed him?
He worked his way toward the back, silently praying that no one from Deadspin had spotted them, and slid into the booth across from the man.
"Hello Bobby," Farrell said.
"If I was there, I'd punch you in the mouth," the man replied, then stopped. "Oh. I am here. Never mind.
"I've been waiting for you, but I guess you're like Maddon. Why have breakfast at 7 when you can show up at 10?"
The waitress brought coffee. Farrell ordered oatmeal. The man did the same.
"No brown sugar," the man said. "Just like that dive in Seattle I was in this week with John Henry. I should have let my guy Zack pick the place.
"I hear that never happens with Beeston in Toronto. One more reason for you to stay there. Just sayin'."
Farrell glanced at the sports section lying open in the booth. Someone had sketched horns and a goatee on Shaughnessy's mugshot. In the page margin was a batting order. Podsednik was in the 3-hole.
"Do you believe those incompetents had the nerve to ask me why Pods was hitting third?" the man said. "Forty-two years in the game, and I've never had to deal with so many incompetents. I knew Boston had rats, but I didn't know they came with tape recorders. I didn't need a pitching coach. I needed the Orkin man. Come to think of it, that's why I got rid of my pitching coach. Who needs him?"
Farrell took a sip of coffee. "Why are you telling me this?" he asked.
"C'mon, John, I read the papers," the man said. "Well, at least I did until someone wrote that I was late, when all I did was pick up my son at the airport, and went back to my hotel, and biked together across the Golden Gate Bridge, had lunch, rode the cable cars, then got caught in traffic. Hey, I called ahead. Happens to all of us, right?"
"Well ... " Farrell began, but the man cut him off.
"Doesn't matter," the man said. "If you let them, they'll try and snatch away your integrity, sometimes on your own radio show. Do you have your own radio show in Toronto? Bet that doesn't happen in Canada. Another reason for you to stay put. Just sayin'."
"You still haven't told me why you're here," Farrell said.
"Ha." The man made a noise that sounded like a cross between a laugh and a death rattle. "Ha. How's that sound? Is that like I checked out?"
Farrell became alarmed at how agitated the man was getting.
"No, Bobby, you haven't checked out," he said. "You've got 24 games left."
The man put his face in his hands, pulling at the sides of his eyelids. He looked exhausted. He looked like a magazine cover.
"They wanted me for this job," the man said. "John and Tom and Larry. Especially Larry. The kid, what choice did he have but to go along with it? I was going to change the culture. There was a new sheriff in town, and it was me, kicking ass and taking names. Rooting out the snitches, turning off the taps, tuning out the coaches.
"It would have worked, too, if my guys could have stayed healthy for more than a half an hour. And if my first baseman had never learned how to send a text message."
The color had drained out of the man's face. He took off the Groucho glasses.
"I hear they want you to take my job," he said. "Hell, there's talk they might even give Toronto a player for you. I've got just the guy -- Aceves.
"But I'm here just to make one thing clear: For this weekend, at least, the first-base dugout still belongs to me. I'm still the guy with the 'B' on my cap. You stay on your side of the field.
"Oh, and one other thing: You think this is a dream job? Spend a few hours in my shoes, and you'll be sleeping with your passport under your pillow. Don't say I didn't warn you."