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Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Last link in Sox's chain of command

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- It's a safe bet that Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell, unlike his predecessor, will not be conveying game lineups via text message to his coaches. Those days are over.

And by rounding out his coaching staff Wednesday with the appointment of Greg Colbrunn as hitting coach, Farrell has forfeited any future rights to complain that he didn't have enough input in its composition, like you know who.

All of Farrell's coaches, with the possible exception of new first-base coach Arnie Beyeler, the former Pawtucket manager whose greatest support may have come from within the organization he has served the past 10 seasons, bear the new manger's fingerprints. And even Beyeler's hire came after only two interviews with his new boss.

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The most striking aspect of the Sox's new coaching staff is Farrell's willingness to give coaches key roles they have never held before at the big league level. Colbrunn has been a Class A hitting coach (and manager for one season) in the New York Yankees' system the past six seasons. New pitching coach Juan Nieves was a bullpen coach with the Chicago White Sox, Farrell taking a pass on the richly experienced Rick Peterson to promote Nieves. Bench coach Torey Lovullo was Farrell's first-base coach in Toronto.

Only third-base coach Brian Butterfield and holdover bullpen coach Gary Tuck have previously occupied their roles in the big leagues.

Farrell becomes the first Sox manager to begin his tenure in Boston with a new hitting and pitching coach since Kevin Kennedy had Jim Rice as hitting coach and John Cumberland as pitching coach in 1995. Jimy Williams inherited Rice when he took over in 1997. Dwight Evans was hired as hitting coach before Grady Little was named manager in 2002. Terry Francona inherited Dave Wallace as his pitching coach and Ron ("Papa Jack") Jackson as hitting coach when he became manager in 2004. Bobby Valentine's hitting coach was Dave Magadan, who had been with the Sox since 2007 until leaving to take a similar position with the Texas Rangers.

It is a measure of the confidence the team's front office has in Farrell, and the confidence he has in his own judgment, that the Sox are investing such significant responsibility in newcomers to their roles. There is a clear sense that the Sox have committed to fresh voices and new energy in a coaching staff that was fractured under Valentine last season.

"Very happy," Farrell said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday when asked to assess his staff. "In large part not only because of the experiences and the success that each has had individually, but the people that they are. I felt it was important to have characteristics that each possessed, and I can say, to a man, that they do. And that's the players' well-being, their career, that's the forefront of everyone's mind. It's not about the coach, it's about the player.

"Yes, we will hold players accountable to their individual needs and to our team goals, but to have people that are not only dedicated but they can communicate and teach, I feel that's a common thread that links all of us together. And I'm very excited about the group that's been put together."

Greg Colbrunn
Red Sox hitting coach Greg Colbrunn, shown here at Rangers spring training in 2005, continues John Farrell's trend of hiring relative newcomers.

Colbrunn's decision to remain in Charleston, S.C., the past six seasons with the minor league RiverDogs was very much his own. He has had big league coaching offers before, one as hitting coach with the Colorado Rockies, another as first-base coach with the New York Mets. In both instances he passed, primarily for family reasons. He had made his home in nearby Mount Pleasant, S.C., and after a 13-year career as a player in the big leagues, he chose to spend more time with his wife and three daughters.

But Colbrunn, 43, decided this was an opportunity he could not pass up, and with his family's assent, accepted Boston's offer.

A native of blue-collar Fontana, Calif., Colbrunn was recruited by Stanford but elected to sign with the Montreal Expos. His career arc was similar to that experienced by Francona -- cut short by injury, in Colbrunn's case a blown-out throwing elbow while he was making the transition to a new position, catcher.

Like Francona, Colbrunn's injuries kept him from fulfilling his great potential -- he had two elbow surgeries, one that caused him to miss the entire 1991 season, and later developed knee problems. But he was widely admired for his doggedness in fighting through his injuries and proved to be a useful hitter, albeit mostly as a part-timer, in the course of a career during which he played for seven teams before retiring as a player in 2004.

Colbrunn's most productive seasons came with the Marlins, where he was a teammate of Magadan and ultimately supplanted him as the team's first baseman. He hit a career-high 23 home runs and drove in 89 runs in 1995 and hit another 16 home runs in 1996. Those were the only two seasons in his career in which he started as many as 85 games in a season.

He won a World Series ring as one of Curt Schilling's teammates in Arizona in 2001, collecting two hits while starting Game 6 of the Series against Andy Pettitte and the Yankees. In the course of his career, he played for a dozen managers, including Bobby Cox, Tom Kelly and Buck Showalter.

"As we've done with every position on the staff, we looked to find people that had great communication skills, that had a very solid personal experience level to tap into," Farrell said. "It became very clear that not only does [Colbrunn] have a wealth of knowledge as far as hitting goes, but the ability to relate in the interview process, [and] we felt like that would certainly carry over to dealing with our hitters. His fundamental approach, or approach to hitting, is aligned with what we value. All things considered, this became a very clear choice as we went through that process."

Farrell said the Sox almost certainly will add another hitting instructor to the staff, and identified longtime minor league coach Victor Rodriguez as a leading candidate. That job would be as a staff assistant, much like Randy Niemann served in that capacity for Valentine on the pitching side until Bob McClure was fired and Niemann promoted.