New GM Ben Cherington wants Pirates to ‘be competitive on a regular basis’
Ben Cherington knows about breaking curses.
He was the assistant director of player development when the Boston Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2004 World Series. That ended an 86-year title drought that stretched to 1918 and eradicated the so-called Curse of the Bambino.
There is no known curse on the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, they haven’t won the World Series — or even captured a postseason series — since 1979. The Pirates have also had just 11 winning seasons in the ensuing four decades.
Cherington is the latest man charged with trying to change the Pirates’ fortunes. He was officially hired Monday as the general manager and introduced at an afternoon news conference at PNC Park.
Like others before him, the 45-year-old New Hampshire native believes he can build a winner in Pittsburgh.
“I wouldn’t have taken the job if I didn’t think there was a chance to be competitive on a regular basis,” Cherington said. “I believe it’s the ideal opportunity.”
Cherington felt that way before interviewing for the job. His conviction was strengthened after getting to know owner Bob Nutting and team president Travis Williams.
While Nutting has the reputation of being tight-fisted and the Pirates annually have one of the lowest payrolls in the major leagues, Cherington is convinced his new boss has a desire to win.
“I believe in the people I’m working with,” Cherington said. “I believe in the emotional, personal and resource commitment that’s coming from Bob and Travis. I believe there are strengths already in place in Pittsburgh, and I also believe in my ability to identify strengths when comes to players, over time bringing them into the organization and building a winning team.”
Cherington has spent 21 years in professional baseball, the last three as the Toronto Blue Jays’ vice president of baseball operations, a job in which he was primarily tasked with leading the player development department.
Cherington is best known for his 17 years with the Red Sox, including a nearly four-year stint as GM from Oct. 25, 2011-Aug. 17, 2015. While the Red Sox won the World Series in 2013, they finished last in the American League East in 2012, ‘14 and ‘15.
While Cherington’s legacy as GM is mixed, he does own three World Series rings. He also was in Boston’s front office when the Red Sox won it in 2007 and had ascended to GM when they won another world championship in 2013.
“I had the fortunate of seeing three teams win those 11 games in October and have some insight of when it gets to that point what’s happening and how different it is than the regular season,” Cherington said.
Winning 11 games in October rarely seemed more of a fantasy for the Pirates than this past season.
The Pirates had a 69-93 record, including going a dismal 28-48 following the All-Star break. Furthermore, the collapse included multiple clubhouse incidents involving players and staff, as well as the arrest and jailing of All-Star closer Felipe Vazquez.
The nightmarish finish cost GM Neal Huntington his job along with team president Frank Coonelly and manager Clint Hurdle.
While many in the game believe the Pirates would be best served to go into rebuilding mode, Cherington was vague on his plans.
“I believe every day is an opportunity to get better,” he said.
Nutting did say nobody in the entire organization was untouchable, including players.
Cherington has spent the last few weeks studying the Pirates’ talent throughout the organization, first in anticipation of interviewing then once he agreed late last week to take the job.
The first order of business for Cherington is finding a manager. He said he already has some candidates in mind, and “we’ll get cracking on that tonight and tomorrow morning.”
Last year, Cherington turned down opportunities to interview for GM openings with the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants. He said the Pirates’ job was the only one that interested him.
“It’s the right fit for me,” Cherington said, alluding to his background in scouting and player development. “I want to be somewhere where the team really matters. I know how much the people of Pittsburgh care about the Pirates and the great history of the franchise. I’m excited to be part of it.”
OFFICIAL: The Pirates name Ben Cherington as General Manager of the organization.
— Pirates (@Pirates) November 18, 2019
John Perrotto is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.