FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox owner John Henry Monday was asked about employing three managers in three years and he promptly responded, “Three managers in 10 years, isn’t it?”
That would be the positive spin, but the reality is John Farrell is now on stage, and we wondered, of the two deposed managers — Terry Francona and Bobby Valentine — which one is held in higher regard by Henry and the Sox owners?
Francona, who managed two championship teams, albeit with great talent, or Valentine, who had a record number of injuries and chaos during his year at the helm?
With Francona ripping Sox owners in his new book “Francona: The Red Sox Years,” the guess here was that Valentine, who is being paid $2.5 million this season for his silence (he is also working on a book, which won’t come out until next season), could be the owners’ favorite right now.
Asked how much of a factor Valentine’s performance was in contributing to a 69-win season, Henry said, “It’s always hard to say how much a manager impacts performance. I think of Bobby Valentine as a great baseball manager, a great mind.
“It’s clear in retrospect he wasn’t the right man for that group last year. I don’t think you can blame Bobby for that. You can blame us. You blame me, you blame Larry [Lucchino], Tom [Werner]. I think he should manage again. He’s a great manager for the right team. I think he came in and didn’t want to be disruptive. So he didn’t have his own coaches. In a perfect world he would have done some things differently. If you ask him, he would have done some things differently coming in. It just didn’t work.”
And it didn’t work because of a lack of backing to do things his way, and because he wasn’t general manager Ben Cherington’s choice.
It’s obvious Henry didn’t care for a lot of things Francona had to say. The owner scoffed, for instance, at Francona’s charge that the Red Sox based who they signed on a marketing study that favored sexy players. Henry said he thought that was absurd.
Although Henry said he wouldn’t address the issue of Francona saying the owners didn’t love baseball, he made it clear that baseball is his main focus and that he’s now owned two baseball teams (the Marlins before the Sox).
“Uh, we were talking about the senior league when we were walking out here,” said Henry, who said he loves baseball so much he was talking to someone about an obscure baseball league. “I don’t think I’ll comment on stuff like that because I would leave that in your hands. You’ve been around us for 12 years.”
Does he love baseball?
“Again, I don’t want to be defensive. Especially about stuff that really is ridiculous. That’s ridiculous,” he said.
Francona’s comments definitely got to Henry. He disputed everything Francona said, so we’re guessing that after paying him handsomely for eight seasons, he probably feels, “Don’t let the door hit your backside on the way out.”
Henry basically has bitten his lip and allowed Francona his say. He could be thinking why not take the hit now and if the team performs well, all will be forgotten?
The Red Sox are 76-113 since Sept. 1, 2011, including Francona’s horrible 7-20 September collapse and Valentine’s 69-win group that resembled a beer league team at the end. Couple that with no playoff wins since 2008, and Henry is waiting for something good to happen with a manager.
And so he welcomed Farrell with open arms as the one to lead them out of this malaise.
“I think a lot of him,” Henry said. “I think everybody in the organization, from the time that he was here, had tremendous respect for John. We’re very happy that he’s here.”
Francona and Farrell are good friends, and one wonders how much influence Francona has on Farrell. The first thing Francona said to Farrell when he saw him at the annual baseball writers dinner in Boston in late January was, “Your owners [expletive].” Francona said it jokingly.
The owners know Farrell as a pitching coach and loved him in that role. Farrell has yet to manage his first game in Boston after two seasons in Toronto. Last season, his team edged Valentine’s Red Sox by four games.
Farrell will not have the benefit of inheriting a team like the one Francona did in 2004. The 2003 Sox went to Game 7 of the ALCS, when Grady Little left Pedro Martinez in too long, and then Boston added Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke. Nor will he have the hardship Valentine did of taking on Francona’s September collapse team with no major additions. Farrell inherits a team with 16 players gone from last year’s team.
At one time, Francona spoke highly of his owners, and they did of him, but the parting was ugly. Henry was asked if he would ever sit with Francona and try to hash it out and he said he thought he did, but that was before the book reopened wounds that may never heal.
Valentine always liked the owners and they always liked him, and even the parting with Valentine was cordial because there was a feeling on both sides the fit just wasn’t right.
We soon will find out if Farrell, who has a four-year deal, is best suited “with this group.” And we’ll certainly trace the relationship between Farrell and his bosses over time.