David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
TORONTO -- Fenway Park has served as the home office for strife and turmoil this season, nearly all of it swirling around Bobby Valentine, who is more adept at fanning those fires than extinguishing them.
But controversy can be found in plenty of places beyond the borders of Yawkey Way. And as Valentine was wrapping up what many believe to be his final homestand as Red Sox manager, in typical grenade-tossing fashion, one of his potential replacements was dealing with his own headaches at Rogers Centre.
For John Farrell, the former Red Sox pitching coach and current Blue Jays manager, Friday marked Yunel Escobar's first home game since he was exposed for scribbling a homophobic slur on his eye-black stickers. That meant another long round of questioning in the manager's office. As Farrell handled the sensitive subject, it was easy to see why he'd be a good fit in Boston's often combustible media market.
Farrell was able to walk the line between supporting his player and condemning him in the same discussion -- a situation that's not uncommon for managers but one that few are able to navigate successfully.
In his case, Farrell was asked if the public backlash "surprised" Escobar. "I think he's surprised because there was never an intent to offend," Farrell said. "That's not to say ignorance is acceptable. But there was never an intent on his part to offend any one person or group."
As deftly as Farrell handled those questions, the conversation got a little trickier when he was approached later about the speculation surrounding him and the Red Sox. Farrell is signed through the 2013 season, but that hasn't prevented talk of possible compensation swaps to pry him from Toronto.
He couldn't be in a better spot. With Farrell entering a potential negotiating window for a new contract, he'll get an idea of where he stands with the Blue Jays or wind up in a place for which he has obvious affection.
To that end, Farrell didn't immediately dismiss all of the attention he's been getting in Boston.
"It's kind of a mixed feeling, to be honest with you," he told Newsday. "Because you want to be respectful to everyone involved, and yeah, it's a natural connection, having worked there. It is flattering.
"But the Blue Jays are where I'm at and I think it's important to keep all that in mind. I certainly do."
As for staying in Toronto, Farrell was asked if there has been any talk about an extension, given the Boston scenario. He declined to answer, as did general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who said it was a "no-win situation" for him to get involved in the chatter about the Red Sox's interest in his manager.
But if Farrell did have the choice, why would he leave? The Red Sox, after shedding more than $260 million in payroll a month ago with the Gonzalez-Beckett-Punto deal with the Dodgers, are in disarray and facing a rebuild. Not to mention the fact that they play in an environment that has grown toxic in the past two seasons, first with the 2011 collapse and now this year's implosion.
The Red Sox do appear more than ready to make a change. Despite Valentine's publicly stated belief that he'll be back, which he has made repeatedly during Boston's second-half slide to oblivion, general manager Ben Cherington committed a Freudian slip in speaking to a local radio station last week. When asked about deciding on the manager, Cherington made it sound as if Valentine already was a goner.
"I'd always rather get the decision right rather than rush it," Cherington told WEEI. "But I think what we know we need to do is hit the ground running this offseason. One of the things, as I look back at last offseason, that didn't go perfectly was simply the amount of time that we spent on the manager search and what that did to the rest of the offseason. I would like to spend less time on it this offseason, that's for sure."
Gulp. Heading into Saturday night's game at Camden Yards, the Red Sox were on a 7-20 skid, so the performance on the field was as much an indictment of Valentine as anything the general manager could say at this point.