Bradford: The Red Sox will win again, and for that they can give some thanks to Ron Roenicke

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The question J.D. Martinez asked Friday that I didn’t answer on his Zoom call has been bugging me.

Should we have considered this a real season?

“I don't know. That's a question you guys ask yourself,” Martinez responded. “How are you guys going to take it? I'm going to ask you guys a question. Who wants to answer that? How are you guys going to take it in a couple of years when they look back at a 60-game season?”

A few minutes later I asked Ron Roenicke the same question.

His answer was understandable. When it came to looking at the numbers, the leaders and the awards, maybe he wouldn’t view it the same way. But how could we not view it as something. Like it or not, it was the 2020 Major League Baseball season.

How I would have answered Martinez is along the lines of what Roenicke passed along, except I might have asked him, “Do you get a year of service time? Is there a World Series winner?” So you get where I’m going with that.

But now, a few days later, I would have added something else to the equation.

Did Ron Roenicke leave his stamp on the Boston Red Sox as their manager?

Yes. It was a season. And for the players, coaches and front office folks who rode out the discomfort of those 60 games it will be remembered as the season a 64-year-old looking for one more chance laid down and provided and let the Red Sox use him as a springboard into better times.

Roenicke was starving for this opportunity, that much was clear starting back in January. And he seemed to be the choice of most of the players, representing the environment that had led to a world championship two seasons before.

And up until March 13, when baseball submitted to the pandemic, it was easy to see how this whole thing might actually work out OK. The front office, which had experienced an awkward hiring process due to the timing of Alex Cora’s suspension, seemed to be taking a shine to Roenicke, with the team possessing just enough talent to suggest decent results.

But, let’s be honest, we never got a chance to see if Roenicke was or wasn’t the right guy in that pre-COVID-19 world. There was a week or so of questioning leaving starters in too long or resting guys too much, but that was it. This wasn’t going to be a normal evaluation, not with this virus and not with this pitching staff.

Roenicke knew that in July, in August and on Sept. 27.

“It is. No doubt,” said Roenicke regarding having some frustration over the ultimate decision to let him go. “When you hear from everybody what kind of job you do, well, if that’s the case, then what happened? Yes, that’s definitely there.”

There is no participation trophy for finishing with a 24-36 record. But Roenicke will leave with something.

“It was tough. Coming to the ballpark, no one expected that or anything like that," said Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts of Roenicke's exit. "That’s the way stuff goes in life sometimes – unexpected. He was a huge influence for me personally and in my life and also in my baseball career. I know for sure he’s meant a lot for the other guys. Obviously with the run we had these last couple of years, I feel like he was just the perfect guy for the situation with this tough year.

"It was tough coming to the ballpark, especially losing a lot and he just found a good way to communicate with us and try to make you feel good and important to come to the ballpark every day to show up and play. He’s definitely someone that we will miss. It was a tough year. I remember before the game, I was like, if I hit a homer today, I’m just going to go up to him and give him a big hug before I go into the dugout, before I go to all the other guys. Everything just happened so quick and I kind of just forgot. I told myself, I will try to hit one for him and try to win this game for him. Obviously it’s been a tough year and it was rough news for sure.”

The foundation that was built for this group of Red Sox was nurtured by this manager in ways no other person in his seat before him could stake claim to. Masks. Tests. Protocols. Isolation. Social unrest. And, as we previously mentioned, the most inadequate pitching staff in team history.

The hope and the expectations are that those will be put in the rearview mirror, as will — with some spending, another year of experience and better health — a lot of those losses.

And Roenicke will be remembered all along the way.

He might not have been the right guy for 2021 and beyond. But it's hard to argue that there was anyone better equipped to take on 2020.

"What I do best, that I feel, it was restricted this year," Roenicke explained. "It was restricted for everybody. But that’s definitely what I feel my strength is. I had to do things differently. I couldn’t just go in the locker room, sit down, and talk to somebody. I didn’t know where they were half the time. That part really made the job more difficult. I think the last two, three weeks, that part got easier. It’s not that we relaxed more on the protocols. It just seemed like we made it work better. I don’t know why that is, but I was able to have a lot more conversations with guys. I guess that’s probably because I found a lot a better way to do things. I did a lot of in-game stuff, a lot of during B.P., to try to make up for the normal sitting down, have somebody come into your office, or go and sit down next to somebody by their locker. That part definitely held me back from the things that I think I do best.

"That’s just, it was a rough year for everybody to try to figure it out. We did the best we could. The coaching staff, I know how hard they worked, the medical staff to make this things work for everybody. I thought it was super-important for us to get back on the field, to play baseball, get through the season – which we did, and hopefully the playoffs will go great. We feel bad obviously we’re not in it, but hopefully this guys next year, with a few right pieces, will be back in there competing and be in the playoffs."

To answer Martinez's question, it was a real season. It was Ron Roenicke's season.

Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center