After 25 years, Johnson back in majors

November, 24, 2009

The last time Ron Johnson officially was in the big leagues was 25 years ago, when the Montreal Expos called him up to replace an injured outfielder named Terry Francona. That lasted five games, and at 28, Johnson's career as a big-league player was over.

Johnson's return trip to the majors, this time as the first-base coach for the Red Sox, also came courtesy of Francona, who on Monday officially added the longtime manager of the Pawtucket Red Sox to his staff.

Johnson, who has been in the team's clubhouse in recent years in September after the PawSox completed their season, joked about how awkward it felt, showing up for his formal interview in a suit. "They probably didn't think I owned one,'' cracked the 53-year-old Johnson, the outgoing father of five who in 10 years managing in the Sox system, the last five in Pawtucket, can claim to have had a direct hand in the development of more than half of the players on the team's 40-man roster.

Johnson's promotion came on the same day that Francona announced that DeMarlo Hale was his choice to succeed close friend Brad Mills as the team's bench coach.

The 48-year-old Hale, a native of Chicago, rarely made headlines during his tenure as third-base coach. There were no nicknames, like "Send 'em in Kim'' or the "Windmill.''

"That's a huge compliment,'' said Francona, noting that Hale's relative anonymity was testament to the competence he brought to the job, one that tends to be noticed only when something goes terribly wrong, like a runner being thrown out at plate.

Hale also managed eight seasons in the Red Sox farm system, then spent two seasons as manager of Texas' Triple-A team in Oklahoma City before spending four seasons as a coach with the Rangers. In addition to coaching third base, Hale also coached the Red Sox outfielders.

The bench coach job fills out the kind of resume teams look for when hunting for major league managers. Hale, who has interviewed for managing jobs before, including the Boston job before Francona was hired prior to the 2004 season, said he is not looking that far down the road.

"His first day here, he asked me, 'What do you want me to do?'" Francona said. "I said, 'Coach your [behind] off,' and that's what he's done.''

Tim Bogar, who was coaching first, slides over to third. "I think he'll be fine,'' Hale said. "He's a sharp guy with great instincts.''

Getting his first real taste of the big-league life will be Rob Leary, who was named to the newly created position of major-league coaching staff assistant, a role modeled in great part on the job Bogar held with the Tampa Bay Rays before coming to Boston a year ago.

A big selling point for Leary, who turns 46 on Dec. 3, are the organizational skills he honed as minor-league field coordinator, a position he had held with the club since 2003. Leary will set up the team's spring-training practice schedule, one of Mills' jobs when he was here, and will be involved in a variety of other duties, including pregame preparation and some advance scouting. Under major league rules, Leary will not be allowed in the dugout during games.

John Farrell and Dave Magadan remain as the team's pitching and hitting coaches, respectively, while Gary Tuck returns as bullpen coach. No word yet on who will succeed Johnson as Pawtucket manager.

Gordon Edes

ESPN Staff Writer



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