There have been 44, one more than the number of US presidents. They have been second-guessed and criticized more than any elected official in New England. A few won championships, a few others walked away from the job - one actually killed himself while in command - but most of them ultimately were bounced to the Jersey Street/Yawkey Way curb to appease angry fans.
They are Red Sox managers, hired to be fired; human piñatas in flannel pants.
Terry Francona succeeded Grady Little, who followed Joe Kerrigan, who followed Jimy Williams, who followed Kevin Kennedy, who followed Butch Hobson. Francona is the first Sox manager to win two World Series since Bill Carrigan (1915, '16) and has been on the job longer than any man since Joe Cronin made a case for term limits by serving Tom Yawkey in Fenway's corner office from 1935-1947.
Francona has borrowed from many of those who came before him. Like Ed Barrow (1918), he won a World Series in his first year. Like Little, Hobson, and Don Zimmer, he's been portrayed as a bumbling idiot, and like Joe Morgan he knows that it's nothing personal. Sox fans simply care too much. Francona learned to cope with the likes of a frothing Red Sox Nation when he managed the Phillies in a city that once booed Santa Claus.
A lot of forgettable faces have scribbled Red Sox lineup cards in the Huntington Avenue Grounds and Fenway Park. Ever heard of Fred Lake, Patsy Donovan, or Marty McManus? Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins was the first Red Sox manager and Carrigan steered the Bostons to those back-to-back titles in the early years of lefthander Babe Ruth. Sox manager Charles S. "Chick" Stahl was the unfortunate soul who swallowed carbolic acid in his hotel room in 1907. Though distraught in the dugout, Stahl's demise was attributed to domestic woes.
Barrow managed the Sox to the 1918 championship, but he is better known for what he did after leaving Boston to become general manager of the Yankees after the 1920 season. With Barrow in charge of the Yanks, Sox owner Harry Frazee - ever a theater man and a New Yorker - was only too happy to take the cash and help his friends in Gotham. The Sox roster was raided by the Pinstripe Gang and the first Yankee championship team featured 11 former Red Sox.
Carrigan was a catcher and football player from Holy Cross who served two terms with the Sox. He remains the only skipper in big league history to win back-to-back World Series without making it to the Hall of Fame. Carrigan was only 46 when the moribund Sox brought him out of mothballs in 1927, but there was nothing anyone could do with the Sox' stripped-down roster and his last three teams finished 59, 43 1/2, and 48 games out of first place, respectively.
Cronin was a Hall of Fame ballplayer and a Yawkey favorite who won a pennant in 1946. His No. 4 is retired on the Fenway facade, but his record-busting 13-year managerial career is largely remembered as a time of underachievement. Cronin set the tone for future Sox-media relationships when he went after reporter Huck Finnigan with a bread knife on the train back from St. Louis after the Sox lost the World Series.
Joe McCarthy - a Yankee legend and a link in the conga line of drunks who managed the Red Sox in the Yawkey years - succeeded Cronin and won 96 games in each of his two full seasons, but alas, no pennants.
The 1950s and '60s were a dismal time in Sox history. Pinky Higgins, eternally remembered as a racist and an alcoholic, was a Yawkey favorite who filled the chair for a succession of second-division finishes. Billy Jurges, Billy Herman, and the lovable Johnny Pesky could do no better.
It was left to brash, young, flat-topped Dick Williams to change the fortunes of the Red Sox in his rookie season of 1967. Williams blew up the Country Club, committed to a new generation of young players, and promised, "We'll win more than we lose." He challenged and embarrassed his players and, united in their dislike of the manager, they rallied 'round one another. Coming off a 90-loss season, pegged at 100-1 to win the flag, the 1967 Red Sox won the greatest pennant race of all and forever changed the fortunes of the franchise.
Amazingly, Williams failed to make it through two more full seasons. He was bounced in 1969.
Eddie Kasko was the quiet one. Darrell Johnson was a man's man, still reviled for bringing in young Jim Burton in the seventh game of the World Series against the Reds. Zimmer started out as lovable third base coach, won 196 games in a two-year span, but was the target of more venom than perhaps anyone before or after. Zimm took most of the blame for the collapse of '78 and the Bucky Dent playoff game. He ran his starting lineup into the ground and let personal grudges cloud his baseball judgment. He also listened to the talk shows (a relatively gentle species in 1978), and saved news clippings in which Bill Lee called him "the gerbil." The job ate him up.
The same thing happened to John McNamara. Mac succeeded uncle Ralph Houk and was consumed with bitterness. His own bad karma caught up with him when he blew the 1986 World Series. Two years later, when preseason prognosticators picked the Sox to win the AL East, Mac said, "Some people pick you to finish first just to see you get [expletive] fired." He was fired on July 14 (Bastille Day).
Morgan succeeded McNamara and the Sox responded like no team in the history of baseball. Relieved of the burden of Mac, the Morgan Magic Red Sox reeled off 12 straight wins, and 19 of 20. It resulted in two first-place finishes in three seasons.
In many ways Morgan was the perfect man for the job. He was secure enough to stand up to Jim Rice (they wrestled in the runway when Morgan sent up a pinch hitter for Rice and Morgan's response was "I'm the manager of this nine") and he wasn't afraid to accuse his team of "playing dead-ass baseball." A Walpole lifer who'd plowed our streets during the blizzard of '78, Tollway Joe understood the nature of the nutty fans. He operated with little stress.
Morgan was famously fired after 1991 when the Sox felt a need to rushHobson to the majors. Morgan's parting line was "these guys aren't as good as everyone thinks they are," and he proved prophetic when Hobson ran the SS Sox aground. The Sox went right to the cellar in Daddy Butch's first year.
Kennedy succeeded Hobson and led the Sox to a first-place finish in his first season, but Kennedy's vanity and love of stars ultimately torpedoed his tenure. He begat Jimy, who had the temerity to stand up to Pedro Martínez, and paid the price with Pedro. Williams was let go late in 2001, which led to the brief-but-hilarious reign of Nutty Professor Joe Kerrigan. Anybody remember Joe and his pitching pals - batter dummies that would have come in handy if you had to use the diamond lane at rush hour?
John Henry and friends were quick to dismiss Kerrigan in the spring of 2002, and that brought Little to Boston. Grady won 93, then 95 games, but will never be forgiven for leaving Pedro in too long in Game 7 against the Yankees. Grady became "He Who Must Not Be Named."
Which brings us to Francona, the man with two rings and an 8-0 record in World Series games. Tito is a 21st-century "players' manager." He'll never criticize his players and they love to play for him. He appeases Boston's vaunted baseball ops by keeping a computer on his desk and reviewing mountains of data. He accepts the scrutiny ("some of the things the fans suggest I do with the lineup card are anatomically impossible"), and handles the media with aplomb. He's a second-generation baseball lifer.
Will he outlast Cronin? Not likely. Francona already made a case for himself as the best manager in Red Sox history, but he knows the fate that awaits all those who manage the most scrutinized institution in New England.