PAWTUCKET — In the eyes of Gary DiSarcina’s now-former baseball employer, there’s no question that his deft and guiding hand that was omnipresent during his first and what turned out his only season managing the Pawtucket Red Sox played a crucial role in the parent club’s march to a World Series championship.
“We had him for a short period of time, but it was an impactful one. Gary made a huge difference on the situation down there,” said Boston Assistant General Manager Mike Hazen when reached Tuesday, the same day it was learned that DiSarcina was hired as the third-base coach for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
“He’s a fantastic baseball guy. I think when we hired him, we knew it wasn’t going to be for a long period of time given his résumé and pedigree,” Hazen continued. “We were fortunate to have him for a year and now he’s off to bigger and better things. It’s tough to watch him leave on a professional level, but on a personal level, we know it’s the best thing for him.”
Without DiSarcina taking a hard line with Jose Iglesias at a time when the shortstop was still brooding over his April demotion to the minors, perhaps Iglesias doesn’t go on to bat .395 with the Red Sox in June and end up getting dangled as trade bait. Looking back, the decision DiSarcina made in pulling Iglesias in the middle of the game along with the subsequent three-game benching served as an epiphany for the young player, who in July was flipped in favor of Boston seeking to shore up its starting pitching depth, i.e. Jake Peavy.
Without DiSarcina serving as a familiar voice for Will Middlebrooks when the struggling third baseman was optioned to Pawtucket in late June, perhaps Middlebrooks spends the subsequent summer months in a deep trance and never truly recovers from the .192 batting average and .228 on-base percentage he posted in nearly three months of major-league duty. DiSarcina managed Middlebrooks at Single-A Lowell in 2008, and that prior connection proved invaluable.
When Middlebrooks returned to the Red Sox in mid August, DiSarcina noted at the time that the 7½ weeks the player ended up spending in the minors “wasn’t a long time in the grand scheme of things, but he learned from it.” Returning to Boston might not have happened if this past season represented the first time that Middlebrooks was placed in DiSarcina’s care.
Of course, DiSarcina had no prior coach-player relationship experience with Iglesias or shortstop Xander Bogaerts, and look how both situations turned out.
Given that DiSarcina spent virtually all 12 of his MLB playing seasons as a shortstop – all coming with the Angels – it seemed Bogaerts stood to reap some significant benefits.
“It gives you some credibility with him,” said DiSarcina right before Bogaerts made his Boston debut. “He doesn’t know me as a player but anybody who’s played, these guys figure it out.”
While the Red Sox made sure that the heralded prospect continued to smooth out his approach at shortstop, the organization felt that the time had come to let Bogaerts experience life as a third baseman. Granted, he dabbled at the position for Team Netherlands during the most recent World Baseball Classic, but there was a more serious tone behind the decision to expand Bogaerts’ defensive horizons.
As it turned out, Bogaerts made 10 starts at the hot corner for the PawSox. He ended up serving as Boston’s primary third baseman for all six of the team’s World Series contests after replacing Middlebrooks prior to Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.
Believing a gifted player like Bogaerts can pick up a new position is one thing. Trusting that he has the proper support staff around him in order to quickly learn on the fly is a testament to the faith and belief the Red Sox had in DiSarcina.
“It’s just not the knowledge and the years having played. It’s the personality and the ability to relate with so many people on so many different levels – being able to explain from a personal standpoint in certain situations when things weren’t going well for a particular player,” said Hazen about what may have been DiSarcina’s greatest strength in his short tenure as Pawtucket’s on-field leader. “Ultimately, we had a lot of guys who came up and contributed to the World Series run, and that’s probably Gary’s lasting impact on the 2013 season. He did a great job in helping guys figure it back out and get them back to where they belong.”
Not counting rehab players, the 2013 PawSox shipped 19 players Boston’s way. A total of 64 Pawtucket players suited up for DiSarcina, who piloted the Triple-A club to an 80-63 record, good for a first-place finish in the North Division.
While he certainly hit all the high notes as far as viewing each player through an individual prism, DiSarcina’s managerial skills proved just as crucial in resurrecting Pawtucket’s season from the brink. The PawSox stood at 50-29 on June 27 before enduring a miserable 9-19 July that left them on the outside looking in as the calendar flipped to August.
Pawtucket ended up winning 19 of its final 23 regular-season games, doing so with a cast of players that did not include Middlebrooks or Bogaerts. DiSarcina helped guide the PawSox to the Governors’ Cup finals for the second straight year before falling to eventual champion Durham in four games.
“Gary did a fantastic job for the PawSox in so many ways this past season,” said the PawSox in a prepared statement. “Players loved playing for ‘DiSar’ as evident by the club winning the I.L. North Championship and coming within two victories of repeating as Governors’ Cup champions. He did that while never losing sight of developing players for the Boston Red Sox - several of whom were instrumental in the team capturing the World Series.
“Off the field, ‘DiSar’ represented the Pawtucket Red Sox with class. He enjoyed everything that came with being the PawSox manager including a great rapport with fans and media. He earned his place among the many outstanding managers in PawSox history and we thank him for a terrific year in 2013."
DiSarcina was named the 15th manager in Pawtucket baseball history last December following a two-year stint in the Angels’ organization. When the PawSox open the 2014 season next April, they will do so under the direction of their fifth manager in six seasons.
“Unfortunately, this is a situation we’ve been in the last few years and we’ve been fortunate with some of the guys we’ve had come through there,” said Hazen. “We’re confident that we’ll be able to find the right guy to take over for ‘DiSar’ moving into next year.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03