During his junior year, Amherst College pitcher Ben Cherington suffered a torn labrum, an injury that required surgery and eventually would end his baseball career.
That injury, however, might have been the best thing to ever happen to Cherington, who returned to the Amherst baseball program for his senior year as an unpaid pitching coach and impressed then-coach Bill Thurston so much that Thurston recommended Cherington to Dan Duquette.
Duquette, a former Amherst baseball player, was the GM of the Boston Red Sox at the time. Without a fulltime position to offer Cherington, Duquette told Cherington to contact current Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington, yet another ex-Lord Jeff baseball player, who at the time was working in the Cleveland Indians’ front office.
To make a long story short, Cherington was hired by the Cleveland Indians, spent a successful year working there, then was hired by Duquette in 1999, has remained in the Boston Red Sox organization ever since and is the frontrunner to be named the new Red Sox general manager.
Theo Epstein has accepted a five-year deal with the Chicago Cubs, according to several reports. And Cherington could be named the new Red Sox GM as soon as today.
Cherington has many of the same theories as Epstein, is well respected by Red Sox ownership and has extensive knowledge of player development.
“Ben is an exceptionally bright young man,” said Colorado Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd, who worked with Cherington in the Indians organization. “He has got incredible character and integrity. It’s been a lot of years but when I worked with Ben he was an exceptional listener. He always wanted to learn. He always wanted to grow. He never worried about being right — just more worried about getting things right.
“That was his first job in the game. I knew with some patience and some opportunities and a little bit of fortune, he would do really neat things within the game.”
Cherington, 37, is a native of Meriden, N.H., and a graduate of Lebanon High in New Hampshire.
He earned his English degree at Amherst, graduating in 1996, and then spent a year at UMass Amherst, where he obtained a master’s degree in sports management.
Cherington remained the pitching coach for Amherst College while studying at UMass Amherst.
Thurston saw something special in Cherington and that is why the former Amherst head coach contacted Duquette.
Cherington went to work for the Cleveland Indians in 1998, serving as a video advance scout.
He was surrounded by some terrific baseball minds in Cleveland who have gone on to great success there and elsewhere including the aforementioned O’Dowd and Huntington, Josh Byrnes, Paul DePodesta and Mark Shapiro.
Cherington, who is divorced from ESPN reporter Wendi Nix, was hired by Duquette in 1999 as a mid-Atlantic area scout before quickly joining the Boston baseball operations department.
He spent two years as the coordinator of international scouting and then was named Boston’s assistant director of player development in May 2002 before being named director of player development in December 2002.
Epstein and Cherington worked together to strengthen and develop the Red Sox farm system. Cherington, similar to Epstein, thinks that an organization’s ability to win is predicated on a strong minor league system especially starting pitchers.
The Red Sox’ recent lack of success in signing impact free agent pitchers (John Lackey topping the list) also is a clear indication of why developing a fertile farm system comes first.
“I know that Ben has run their player development for years now,” O’Dowd said. “That’s the one job (in which) day to day responsibilities, I think, bear so much of what a GM does. … And it takes a ton of leadership to be good at it. And obviously, he’s done a real good job over there at it because they’ve been able to develop a lot of good players.”
During Cherington’s time in Boston, the Red Sox have drafted and developed Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester, Daniel Bard, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonathan Papelbon and Clay Buchholz.
They also have drafted other players such as Justin Masterson and signed amateur free agents such as Hanley Ramirez, who have gone on to achieve major league success with other organizations.
Cherington, along with current San Diego Padres GM Jed Hoyer, was named the Red Sox co-GM in December 2005 when Epstein departed from the organization for a brief time.
When Epstein returned in early 2006, Cherington became vice president of player personnel, in charge of amateur scouting and player development. He also worked on major league trades and free agent signings with Epstein.
Cherington then earned a promotion to senior vice president and assistant GM on Jan. 12, 2009 and has worked with Epstein on major league trades, free agent signings, player analysis and contract negotiations ever since.
Simply put, Cherington has pretty much performed every front office duty for the Red Sox and appears well prepared for the GM position.
And if he earns the promotion, Cherington will have his work cut out for him in light of the September collapse and ensuing ugly revelations about how dysfunctional the team was.
He needs to hire a new manager, decide on whether to resign free agents David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon, decide whether trading Josh Beckett would be worthwhile and make wise decisions on possible free agent signings.
He also needs to work on the development of starting pitchers within the farm system. Buchholz is the last significant one and he made his major league debut in 2007.