You manage the team. This isn't football where the coaches call plays and can spend all week to game-plan against specific opponents. Baseball more than any other sport is about managing the team and managing the season. That doesn't mean Francona, who excels at managing the team and the season, isn't good at managing a game.
The problem with the anti-Francona crowd is that they say the same thing over and over again like it's fact, when it's mostly garbage. Let's break it down.
1. He's not a good in-game manager.
This really breaks me up. Francona makes a decision that the basher disagrees with so that makes him a bad in-game manager. And when it works, they won't say he made the right decision; they'll say he was lucky.
These critics also have blinders in how they ignore how all managers handle pitchers. It was laughable recently how he was ripped for leaving a starter in who gave up a lot of runs early while ignoring how during that run in late May or early June when the Sox were tearing up opposing pitchers, those managers were doing the same thing in not yanking the starter to early. (The same thing in general about using pitch counts).
And these critics, who for some unknown reason, which fascinates me, love the bunt as if it some grand strategy, ignores the organizations philosophy, which is against a lot of bunting. Tito does bunt and hit-and-run in the right situations, but with the lineup the Sox have, it's a low percentage play. Maddon is supposed to be some great in-game strategist. Gee, how come the Rays didn't win last night.
And the thing these critics will never admit to is all the times they were yelling at the TV for Francona to replace the pitcher, either the starter or a reliever, Francona doesn't and the non-move pays off.
2. He doesn't try to win every game.
Just because he doesn't manage every game like it's the seventh game of the World Series. Just because he's looking ahead to the next game(s) and doesn't want to burn out the bullpen doesn't mean he's not trying to win the game at hand. The critics in this category are the most simplistic. Just because he doesn't use the players they think he should use, they'll say he's not trying to win the game.
3. He's loyal to veterans to a fault.
Hmm. They're misinterpeting loyalty with treating players with respect. If Francona listened to the bashers, Ortiz wouldn't be here.
4. In general, he's loyal to player to a fault or stubborn to a fault as the OP put it.
Let's see, if he listened to these nervous-Nelly's, Pedroia would have been back in the minors, the Sox wouldn't have a catching duo that has the second-best (last I checked) OPS in the A.L. These critics mistake stubbornness with patience. Rarely has this so-called stubbornness to stick with player hurt the team in the long run.
Let's look at some specific cases.
I already mentioned how sticking with Ortiz (did sit him against tough lefties), Pedroia and Salty has paid off.
Foulke -- Didn't have a lot of options back then. And knowing when to pull the plug on a struggling reliever is a crpshoot.
Timlin -- In his second-to-last year, critics were ripping Tito for putting Timlin in but what happened? From mid-June through the end of the season, he was practically lights out.
Drew -- The Sox are getting excellent defense and are winning, so he could afford to be patient. As it is, Francona has been sitting him against lefties.
Reddick -- This is a bit different. Tito has been ripped for sitting Reddick when he was hot (Lowrie too earlier this year), but has it occurred to anyone that perhaps one reason for that success is that Francona is putting them into positions to succeed? That maybe they were sat against a specific pitcher because he didn't want them to be overmatched at a young stage of their development, which could really cool them off. And perhaps batting eighth instead of sixth (Drew) puts him in a positon where there might not be as much pressure. Reddick's problem last year was no patience at the plate (poor plate discipline). Batting him sixth in the middle of the lineup could create a mindset that he has to be a big hitter and he loses that discipline.
There are plenty of other instances where Francona's patience has paid off.
And it's ironic that when Dick Williams died, he was being lauded as a manager who was able to use his entire roster and how they were always ready when he needed them. And why were they ready? Because he used them and didn't let them rot on the bench. That has been a strength of Francona's IMO in that he uses his bench and they don't get stale, yet he gets ripped for doing the same thing Williams was being praised for.
Another point. Francona is sometimes criticized when he plays a player in a situation where the numbers don't back him up. Well, being a manager is more than looking at a stats sheet and creating a lineup based solely on numbers. He's the manager of players, not robots, and the human factor always needs to be considered.
Francona does an excellent job of balancing the numbers he gets from the Bill James people, which Grady Little completely ignored and is why he was fired, with the human element.
And one last point about patience. Francona doesn't panic and creates an environment where players can succeed. It's no coincidence that a Francona-managed team came back from three months of mediocrity in 2004 to finish strong; come back from deficits in the playoffs to the Yankees and Indians like they did; come back from one of their worst starts in history this year to have the second-best record in baseball in the best record in the A.L.
Now the bashers will rip him for the Sox being in those holes to begin with, but that simply shows no understanding about baseball. Players slump. Teams slump. There are other teams playing who get hot. The true test of managing isn't avoiding slumps, which happens to all teams, but how you whether them. It's what made Joe Torre an excellent manager with the Yankees. He was just as unflappable.
Critics this year tried to have it both ways with Francona. He's criticized for not making adjustments when the team is struggling. And when he made adjustments at the beginning of this year with the lineup, he's ripped for changing the lineups.
All this doesn't mean I always agree with every move he makes. I scratch my head sometimes, but I'm not so arrogant to assume that the move I would have made would have worked or been better.
And all this doesn't mean he always makes the right decision. Everyone makes mistakes. But it's not the mistakes that matter. It's the overall performance and results that do.
All managers rely on having talent. Francona never has had a team that underachieved. Just because a team doesn't with the WS ever year does it mean it underachieved.