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No glory, just guts

After what Francona's endured, managing the Sox will be easy

He wished he could sleep soundly, because the interview the following morning was important to Terry Francona. Very important. He tried to lie down, hoping to minimize the searing pain in his chest, but when he did, his breathing became shallow and labored, so he bolted upright in his Seattle hotel room in the fall of 2002, alternately frightened and disgusted. As a sharper, more insistent pain jabbed his arm, he began to doubt how he was going to get through the night.

"I was thinking, `Aw, you've got to be kidding,' " Francona said. "I came all the way out here to have a heart attack? I should have just done that at home."

He contemplated driving himself to the hospital, but he quickly noticed that as long as he sat up, the pain diminished and his breathing improved. So he paced all night, sleepless in Seattle, revisiting his strategy to become the next manager of the Mariners.

"I was restless, so I did something that probably wasn't that smart," Francona said. "I went to work out. I rode the bike, did some push-ups. I got to the interview an hour and a half early, because I ran out of things to do."

By the time he sat down opposite Mariners president Pat Gillick, the pressure in Francona's chest was mounting. He hoped Gillick didn't notice his wiping away the sweat that kept collecting on his forehead. Could Gillick tell that Francona was actually gasping for air between sentences?

There was something wrong, no doubt about that. Francona hadn't felt right since he underwent arthroscopic surgery the previous week to clean out particles and fragments in both knees, unwanted souvenirs of a 10-year major league career diminished by two grisly injuries. He had learned to fight through pain, the kind that required 8 to 10 rolls of tape every game just to hobble onto the field.

He needed to fight through this, too. Francona couldn't pass on this opportunity with Seattle. He had interviewed days earlier for the manager's position with the New York Mets and it had gone fine, but not so fine that Francona felt he had the job. He missed baseball. He missed it desperately, even after the fans in Philadelphia had booed and mocked him, slashed his tires and crossed the street with the express purpose of insulting him. He lost 97 games in his final season as the Phillies' manager in 2000, but that was nothing compared to the humiliation of being told his services were no longer needed. He knew what he was doing. Why did they give up on him?

"I didn't understand how much I loved the game until it was taken away from me," Francona acknowledged. "It killed me not to be in baseball."

Yet his efforts to return to the game nearly killed him as well.

Bouts of adversity

The new manager of the Boston Red Sox cheated death four times during a medical odyssey that included multiple knee surgeries, blood clots, staph infections, massive internal bleeding, and a near amputation of his leg. Francona was so ill during the Christmas of 2002, the mere thought of managing a baseball team was ludicrous. Within weeks of his interview in Seattle, he was hospitalized in intensive care, fighting for his life.

"Looking back, Pat Gillick must have thought I was nuts," Francona said. "I had to ask him to repeat questions a couple of times. I was really struggling."

"He interviewed all day, half dead," said his wife, Jacque Francona, who is a nurse. "He was supposed to meet an old friend for dinner, but he couldn't even walk the two blocks to the restaurant."

"I'm probably lucky to be alive," said Francona, in his first extensive comments regarding his ordeal. "And I know I'm lucky to have all my limbs."

Sixteen months later, Terry Francona is feeling fine, full of energy and ideas on Nomar vs. A-Rod, the acquisition of Curt Schilling, the signing of Keith Foulke, and the handling of Manny Ramirez.

He already has been compartmentalized as a player's manager, and the Fenway Faithful wonder aloud whether he has the guts to stand up to superstars Pedro Martinez and Ramirez.

"After all he's been through," said Brad Mills, who will be Francona's bench coach in Boston, "how can anyone question his toughness? They'll see."

They'll see. Ask former Philadelphia pitcher Bobby Munoz and current Phillies outfielder Bobby Abreu whether Francona has the courage to enforce his will in a major league clubhouse.

When Francona took the Phillies job in 1997, he inherited a veteran pitching staff that included Schilling and Andy Ashby. He also inherited a young catcher named Mike Lieberthal.

"In the beginning, Lieberthal didn't always put down the right fingers," said Mills, who was on Francona's staff. "He was learning on the go. Some of the older pitchers got frustrated with him."

After a particularly rough outing, Munoz, a young, impressionable pitcher swayed by the private complaints of his elders, savaged his catcher in the newspapers. The next day, he was summoned to the manager's office.

"Terry left the door cracked open," said Rico Brogna, who played on that team. "He wanted us to hear everything. He called out Munoz without embarrassing him in front of his teammates, yet by leaving that door open, he made sure we all got the message.

"We sat there wide-eyed, our jaws dropping. No one had ever heard Terry shout like that. I'm sure he looked out and thought, `Mission accomplished.' "

Francona's message to his players was succinct: I'll fight for you, as long as you follow my rules. Abreu, an outfielder with a sweet swing, tested Francona's patience by arriving late to the park. The first time, the manager ushered him into his office and calmly explained tardiness was unacceptable. The second time, the player was fined. The third time, Francona threw Abreu out of the clubhouse.

"Terry wanted to send Bobby home, but the ball club wouldn't let him," Mills said. "Even though the front office wouldn't stand behind him, Terry still found a way to make it work. He stayed on Bobby. He made him a better player."

Last season, Abreu batted .300, hit 20 homers, knocked in 101 runs, and stole 22 bases for Philly. Lieberthal, who became an All-Star in 1999, batted .313 with 81 RBIs. Francona's imprints remain on both players, even if his record in Philadelphia (285-363 in four seasons) indicates a failed mission. Truth is, his job was doomed from the outset. The fans wanted favorite son Larry Bowa, and they got him -- but only after Francona absorbed the blows of a rebuilding process.

"We were a young team that wasn't going to be very good," said Lee Thomas, who hired Francona. "I wanted a guy that could handle adversity."

Francona proved to be adept at that. When his face appeared on the Jumbotron at a Sixers game shortly after he was hired, he was instantly booed. Francona smiled and waved anyway. He didn't flinch when a group of malcontents slashed his tires on Fan Appreciation Day. He jokingly offered to draw straws with his staff when one of his relievers was getting shelled and he had to make that long trek to the mound to absorb the ire of the crowd.

"He was excellent at alleviating the pressure on the team," said Mills. "He took it all, and put it on himself."

"You learn to live with it," Francona said. "You learn to be tough in a hurry."

Close call

He could tough out almost anything. But by the time Francona had taken his red-eye flight from Seattle to Baltimore in the fall of 2002, he was sweating profusely, and his chest felt like it was going to explode. He went directly to the emergency room and underwent tests. He waited for a diagnosis. Instead, they sent him home.

He went to his daughter Alyssa's volleyball game, but the pain in his chest persisted. He still could not lie down. He still could not sleep. The next morning, Francona's physician called and ordered him to return to the hospital as soon as possible.

The X-rays had revealed a pulmonary embolism on each side of his lungs. He was admitted for four days and was sent home with blood thinners to avoid future clotting.

"They told me I was lucky," Francona said.

Yet, within days, Francona's surgically repaired knees began to ache. He stood on the sideline at his daughter Jamie's soccer game, fighting nausea from the incessant throbbing. That night, Francona was back at the hospital.

"They were trying to determine the extent of his problems by using a pain scale," said Jacque. "They'd ask him how much it hurt on a scale of 1 to 10. Terry would say, `Oh, about a 5.'

"I kept telling them his pain scale was different from other people. A `5' for Terry was a `12' for other people."

When the nurse drained Francona's left knee, she was startled by the amount of fluid and pus she discovered. Francona had developed staph infections in both knees and would need surgery, but because he was on blood thinners, the operation had to be delayed until his blood was thick enough to withstand the operation.

It took two surgeries on each knee to eliminate the infection. Francona felt as though he had been leveled by a train. He couldn't understand why he felt so sluggish, and why, two days before his scheduled discharge, he still couldn't walk properly. The morning he was supposed to leave, he requested another examination. Within hours, he was back in emergency surgery, this time for massive internal bleeding in his right thigh. He suffered from compartment syndrome, an extremely painful condition that occurs when pressure within the muscles builds to dangerous levels, and prevents nourishment from reaching nerve and muscle cells. Those cells can die within a matter of hours. Because his surgeon identified the problem quickly, she not only saved his leg, she saved Francona's life -- for the third time.

The surgery required an incision from the top of Francona's thigh to his knee and literally split his leg open to reduce pressure and allow the fluid to drain. The swelling was so significant, his leg remained splayed open for several days.

Francona had lost significant amounts of blood. Another pulmonary embolism was a legitimate concern. The surgeon implanted a small metal device called a Greenfield filter into his vena cava vein to protect against clotting.

When Tito Francona called to check on his son, who days earlier had downplayed his illness, he was alarmed by the report he received from Jacque.

"I said to my wife, `We better go see him,' " Tito said. "It was awful. They had his leg sliced open. They had all this netting in there to prevent the clotting. Terry has always been able to withstand a lot of pain, but he was having a tough time with that one."

Proper upbringing

Tito Francona played 15 years in the majors, and from the time Terry could toddle alongside his father, he ran errands for Al Downing, played catch with outfielder Tom Reynolds, went fishing with Phil Niekro. Terry knew Dad's mantra: Behave, and you can come. Slip up, and you stay home.

"I think I only had to leave him behind once," Tito said. "He loved being at the park. And it gave him a great advantage. I remember the first time I walked into Yankee Stadium. It was like, `Whoa.' Very intimidating. But by the time Terry started playing, he had already seen it all."

Francona earned a scholarship to Arizona and showed up wearing cutoffs and hair down to his shoulders. He immediately took it upon himself to assign nicknames to almost every player on the team. He was a smart hitter who batted .401 with 84 RBIs in his junior season and was named the MVP of the College World Series. He was the 22d pick of the Montreal Expos in 1980 and was on his way to stardom when he caught his cleat on the warning track at Busch Stadium chasing down a fly ball in '82. Jacque, back in Montreal at catcher Gary Carter's house for a birthday party, glanced at the television to see her husband wheeled off the field on a stretcher.

The rehabilitation was brutal. Francona made his trainer lay on top of his leg to create resistance. He threw balled-up socks back and forth to his wife to improve his balance and flexibility. It was a grueling comeback, but within two seasons, he was almost like new, whacking the cover off the ball again, before he hurt his other knee running out a ground ball. Another major surgery. Another excruciating rehab. He was never the same. The would-be superstar was reduced to being a reliable pinch hitter.

"But I never once got surprised in that role," Francona said. "I was ready every night, every at-bat."

When he stopped playing after 10 seasons, he went directly into coaching. He was a tornado of energy, enthusiastic and infected with a passion for baseball.

"He was always on the move," said Thomas. "A very high-energy guy."

But by the time Francona was released from the hospital late in November 2002, the life had been sucked out of his body. It was a chore for him to move from his bed to the couch. He was listless, despondent.

"He never had any strength," Jacque said. "The bathroom was 8 feet away, and he couldn't get there."

Between Thanksgiving and Dec. 11 of that year, Francona ventured downstairs only twice. He was too tired and too sick to even bother to ask if anyone from Seattle or New York had ever called back.

His family and friends were worried. Where was the old Terry? Where was the playful, fun-loving guy who embraced life with both arms outstretched?

"When I started dating him in college," Jacque said, "I would be walking on campus, and he'd see me and tackle me on the grass."

One morning, that same man, in a deadened voice she hardly recognized, told her he wanted to go back to the hospital. Jacque said she'd pull up the car. Terry told her to call an ambulance instead.

"That's when I knew we were in trouble," Jacque said.

Francona had suffered massive clotting. The Greenfield filter saved his life by trapping the clots, but, as a result, the filter became severely clogged, and prevented a healthy blood supply from reaching his arteries. Doctors explained he would now have to work on improving his collateral circulation, a process in which smaller arteries open and serve as alternate routes of blood supply to the larger arteries. They told Francona a full recovery was rare. They told him he might always walk with a limp.

Francona would never jog again. He tried to swing a bat and was exhausted after two tries. Climbing stairs was a major endeavor. He was supposed to report as Ken Macha's new bench coach for Oakland in late February, but it became apparent that was an unrealistic goal.

"He called me up with about two weeks left until spring training," Macha said. "He said, `I know you've been waiting a long time to manage a big-league team, and I don't want to screw that up for you. I'm not myself. I can't even throw batting practice. You better get someone else.'

"I told him, `Terry, I didn't hire you to throw batting practice. I hired you to be around our team, to let us pick your brain. I hired you because your demeanor is so positive, it can't help but rub off on people."

Professional choice

Francona got better in time. He'd work with the players, then retreat home and nap for hours. Eventually, his strength returned. His muscles began responding. By the time Oakland met the Red Sox in the postseason, he was bounding out to the mound for BP and concocting nicknames for the A's.

When Boston decided not to renew Grady Little's contract, Francona was one of the first people Sox general manager Theo Epstein called, in part because of his "positive energy."

"I had a really favorable impression of him after our interview," said Epstein, "but I had one major concern: Was he too nice? This is a team full of superstars, and if the manager is too nice, and doesn't know where and when to draw the line, that was going to be a problem.

"But then we looked into Terry's background, heard some of the stories, and came away very satisfied."

Asked for specific examples of what he learned, Esptein laughed, then said, "We heard about some epic snaps. Terry knows how to yell and scream at the right times."

The manager insisted he will have no trouble yanking the ball from Schilling when it's time to pull the veteran pitcher. "I've done it before [in Philadelphia]," Francona said. "I'll do it here, too."

Martinez, he concedes, is more of a challenge, simply because he does not know Boston's ace well.

"I don't know yet," Francona said. "I have to develop a relationship with him. I have to develop some trust. If trust and loyalty happened overnight, it wouldn't be worth anything."

He does not favor superstars. He established that back in 1994, when he managed the Double A Birmingham Barons and Michael Jordan was one of his outfielders. Jordan, constantly flummoxed by curveballs, had struck out four times in a row when he was due to bat in the ninth of a close game. Francona pinch hit for him. Naturally, one of the greatest athletic competitors of all-time was bitterly disappointed, but Francona needed a win, and he was pretty certain a basketball star batting .190 wasn't going to deliver it for him.

"Michael knew where I stood on things," Francona said. "In one of his first games, he popped the ball up and just stood there. I waited for him to come in, and I said, `Are you going to do that every time? Tell me now.' He looked at me and said, `Never again. I promise.' "

"If guys don't hustle, Terry will go crazy -- no matter who it is," Brogna predicted. "He won't have any trouble letting a guy like Manny [Ramirez] know what he expects. He'll make Manny responsible for his own behavior."

"He won't be afraid to pull any guy out of a ballgame," said Thomas. "Not just pitchers. Anyone who doesn't do the things that Terry feels will help the team win."

Francona said he has spoken to Nomar Garciaparra "multiple times" and has assured the shortstop he hopes to continue to build on a relationship that started in 1994 when he coached Garciaparra in the Arizona Fall League.

"Back then, he couldn't pull the ball," Francona said. "He hit everything to right-center. But you could see how badly he wanted it. And he was one of the best base runners I had ever seen.

"[Former Sox manager] Kevin Kennedy came up to me once and said, `Can Nomar play second?' I told him, `I don't know who your shortstop is, but you should put him at second."

Francona hasn't formulated a set lineup in his head yet, although certain changes are a given, beginning with Foulke as the closer.

"He pitches multiple innings," said Francona. "When it starts to get toward the end of the game, you look down to the bullpen and he's doing jumping jacks, getting ready. He's plenty tough. I've seen him give it up one night and come back the next day, begging for more. He's a pitching machine."

Sometime next week, the Boston tenure of Terry Francona will begin in earnest. Few will notice him wince when he ambles up those dugout steps; the burning in his legs when he climbs stairs is one of the permanent reminders of his surreal medical nightmare.

"If that's the worst of it, then I'll take it," he said. "I can still get on the treadmill. I can hit BP all day. It will not affect how I manage the team."

His team is the Boston Red Sox. His job is to win the World Series. His passion is the game of baseball, and all the sleepless nights that come with it.

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