By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

It looks like Francona is leaving the Red Sox

Terry Francona

It looks like Terry Francona is leaving. And the most interesting take I’ve read this morning is by Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston, who makes it sound like Francona didn’t believe in some of the players that management saddled him with.

Edes writes that some of those in the executive suite believed the 2011 team “operated in a vacuum of clubhouse leadership. That in turn cultivated a climate lacking accountability, over which the manager presided with a curious sense of detachment, a marked departure from his previous approach, when he was fully engaged with his entire roster.”

OK, so that’s the case against Francona. But it begs a larger question: If this is true, why did he act that way? Did he simply not like this group? At least from a fan’s perspective, it didn’t seem that any of them were particularly loathsome except for John Lackey. And even Lackey is supposedly a much different presence among his teammates than when he’s throwing his hands up on the mound, lashing out at the media or filing for divorce from his seriously ill wife.

Certainly there have been suggestions that, after a certain point, Carl Crawford checked out. But who else? Nick Cafardo writes in the Boston Globe that the way the Sox babied Clay Buchholz was “nauseating,” which strikes me as a pretty weird thing to say about someone with cracked vertebrae in his spine. Then again, few in the media wanted to believe that Jacoby Ellsbury was really hurt in 2010. It’s safe to say Ellsbury proved them wrong, although some persist in the fantasy that Ellsbury simply got tougher mentally.

I’ve said it before, but my first choice would be for both Francona and Theo Epstein to stay with the team. My second choice would be for Francona to stay and Epstein to go. So I’m not happy about this.

I hope we’re going to hear a lot more about what was really going on in the clubhouse, especially during the disastrous September collapse. As for Francona, this is pure speculation, but I’ll bet he could have kept his job if he was willing to fight for it. Instead, it looks like he’ll end up with the White Sox, where he’ll be treated with the respect he’s earned as one of the best managers in baseball.

This just in: Red Sox fire Joe Morgan, express confidence that Butch Hobson will turn things around.

Photo (cc) 2009 by Keith Allison and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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  1. Go White Sox!!!

  2. Michael Corcoran

    I am not surprised about this, but am quite displeased that Tito takes the fall. I hope, for his sake, that the departure was largely his decision. It bothers me to think that Theo would fire him, given that he owns a much larger piece of this debacle (Lackey and Crawford were a major drain on this squad, financially, psychologically and physically)

    • Dan Kennedy

      Many rumors flying around right now, but one of them is that Epstein wanted to keep Francona, and John Henry overruled him. And I know Theo is Henry’s little pet, but who knows how much longer he’ll stay with the team?

  3. wilson tisdale

    This is the Red Sox organization we have all tried to support for decades — the one that does the stupid thing, the one that traded Babe Ruth.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @wilson: I’m on record as saying Francona should stay for as long as he wants, and I still believe it. But one thing I think we have to watch closely is whether these guys’ physical conditioning or lack thereof was a major factor in the collapse, and in the injuries over the past two years. If that’s the case, Tito’s got to answer for it. It would also be interesting to hear what players like Pedroia and Youkilis have to say about how Francona dealt with the problem children. Could be that even if Francona were staying, he was going to have to make some big adjustments.

  4. Aaron Read

    Let’s not forget that Francona’s health is not terribly good, either. And there’s been multiple years when he’s said he would try to be healthier during the season (i.e. not chewing dip) and then almost immediately fell back on bad habits due, I’m sure, to the substantial stress of the job.

    I’m not terribly surprised if he didn’t fight for the job…why should he? He’s got plenty of money. He’s won two World Series. He’s a man with little, if anything, to prove at this point. The “I don’t need this s**t!” factor probably is a big one. But he’s getting older and a much lower-stress job probably has a lot of appeal. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if he just retires entirely.

  5. Jon Keller

    Hey Mr. Media Critic: here’s a question for the sporting press: why the hell don’t we “hear a lot more about what was really going on in the clubhouse” when it’s actually happening?

  6. Dan Kennedy

    @Jon: A splendid question.

  7. Mike Benedict

    There are many echoes of 2003 here. The thing I keep coming to back to is that the Dodgers had two managers over nearly a 50-year period, and there never was any doubt who was in charge of those clubhouses. Likewise, Tony LaRussa has been extraordinarily successful in St. Louis, and has been able to jettison players he didn’t want no matter who his GM was.

    Longevity among managers matters because the players begin to realize that the team will back the coach over the player. To bring back Tito could be seen as a tacit statement by the team that the manager, not the players, is the more important piece.

  8. Mike Rice

    During this recent implosion of the Red Sox, Francona probably spent most of his time in the clubhouse banging his head against the wall.

  9. C.E. Stead

    DK – Bill PArcells once said that no matter HOW good a coach is, after 5 years the players stopped listening (of course, he may have been trying to explain why he never coached anywhere longer than 5 years). My impression is that the players ate, drank and were merry and didn’t much care what the coach had to say. The fat slob visuals I saw as a casual/accidental viewer seemed to bear out these rumoers.

    There are no guaranteed contracts in football, one more reason why it is a superior game. Francona was stuck with the players wished on him, no matter what.

  10. Stephen Stein

    Terry goes to the White Sox.
    Theo goes to the Cubs.
    One Chicago team or another wins most of the World Series in the next 10 years.

    Oh and bonus: Zambrano signs with the Marlins and we’re treated to the Z and Ozzie show! Now that’s entertainment!

  11. Al Fiantaca

    @Jon Keller: Why didn’t we hear anything, at all, from the sports media during the season, and especially during the month long death spiral they went through? Surely someone was aware. Surely someone wasn’t afraid of being frozen out by the Sox organization. All of a sudden, after the last game, everyone is so knowledgeable and astute, including the general anchors and reporters who otherwise couldn’t tell a baseball from a Frisbee.

    I was very upset with the departure of Terry Francona when I first learned of it. At that time, I was of the thinking that he should have been shown more respect by ownership, and after identifying problems, given a season to correct them. However, after letting it sink in for a day, and seeing interviews with him, I am a bit more comfortable with it, although still not happy with the timing.

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