Saturday, October 1, 2011

Contemplating Terry Francona

Tito Francona and Theo Epstein, manager and general manager,
face the media on Thursday, the day after the
Red Sox completed their historic collapse.
Terry Francona managed the Boston Red Sox for eight seasons, winning two World Series in the process. Now he's out.

Fired? Pushed? Walked away? What they're saying for public consumption: Francona was encountering a growing disconnect with his team, which collapsed in stunning fashion last month. He told his superiors Friday morning that might be time for him to go. And after spending the day thinking about it, they agreed.

Which leads me to suspect that the Sox will look for a bit of a bully this time around — somebody who's not going to tolerate pitchers drinking beer during games, somebody who's not going to be as accommodating to egos, somebody less publicly passive.

Such a manager, I think, won't last long in the Fens, nor will he be particularly successful. Boston is a high-pressure environment to begin with. Dropping a high-pressure manager into such an environment is a bit like flipping lighted matches at a gasoline can. Maybe the first one won't ignite it, but eventually ... boom.

Francona was successful for years in Boston because he has a knack for dealing with superstars and their egos.  He was an unknown minor league manager who rose to prominence for dealing with Michael Jordan during the basketball star's flirtation with baseball. He got the job in Philadelphia, didn't win, got fired, got the job in Boston — and won.

Curt Schilling and Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz — lots of talent, lots of quirks. It worked under Francona; it hadn't for other managers.

But there's probably a limit to how long a manager can absorb all the pressure and keep it from tearing at the players — and a time when constantly deflecting criticism results in a lack of accountability.

If in fact the players were abusing the freedom Francona's personality granted them, they may well regret it, and soon.

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