With the tragedy that struck the Boston Marathon on Monday, it’s understandable that other stories would escape the headlines.
The Boston Red Sox began their three game sweep of the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday as the world reacted to the horrific events on Boylston Street in Boston. Had the marathon been its usual peaceful, family-oriented event, the headline story for Tuesday would have been former Red Sox Manager Terry Francona’s first game against the team he led to World Series Championships in 2004 and 2007.
Tito Francona was disrespected and kicked on his way out of the door when his contract was not renewed following the historic September collapse of 2011. Francona was widely known around MLB as a player’s manager. His father was a MLB player who brought a young Tito inside the Baltimore Orioles locker room, where players entertained him and played games with him. It was here that Francona developed his camaraderie with players that would influence his managerial style.
The style worked in Boston for many years, but could only be successful if the team had players who were willing to police themselves, and owners who would go to bat for him. Francona had both of those things when the Red Sox won their two World Series. Kevin Millar and the idiots of 2004 may have had shots of Jack Daniels before games, but they did that to build unity and relax the tensions that came from a 3-0 series deficit against the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.
Francona developed close, personal relationships with his players and coaches during his time in Boston. Jon Lester in particular was a young pitcher who Tito grew close to and visited while he was fighting cancer in 2005. Jack McCormick, the team’s traveling secretary was a close friend of Francona that he defended when All-Star Manny Ramirez assaulted him for not getting him enough tickets to a road game.
So how did Tito lose complete control of the team? The problem with his loyalty to the players was that it could only last as long as the players policed themselves. By 2011, the inmates had taken over the asylum and ownership wasn’t willing to do anything to stop them. Whereas Millar and Curt Schilling were the vocal leaders of the early Francona years, Josh Beckett and John Lackey emerged as the leaders of the 2011 team. Younger players had good reason to look up to Beckett and Lackey as both had won World Series and were proven All-Stars. The difference is that Lackey and Beckett weren’t committed to winning, and they weren’t drinking in the clubhouse in order to build camaraderie.
Francona was the fall guy for the worst collapse in Red Sox history. Despite winning two rings his contract was not renewed before the start of the 2011 season. His relationship with ownership began to sour as they pressured him to “win in more exciting fashion” and put gate receipts ahead of what was best for the team. On the way out the door someone in ownership (who has yet to admit it was them) leaked a story to the press about Francona’s marital problems and trouble with an addiction to pain killers.
Tito deserved a lot better. Watching his former pitching coach John Farrell manage the team he led for eight seasons must have been hard for Francona this week. Although he has moved on, Boston will always be Francona’s home.
Did Terry Francona get a raw deal from the Boston Red Sox? Feel free to share your comments below to keep the conversation going.
Aidan Kearney also writes for his own blog aidanfromworcester.com. Follow him on Twitter @aidanfromworc