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Eight is enough, as Francona bows out

2-time title winner says some Sox tuned him out

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By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / October 1, 2011

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He led the team that broke the 86-year hex, and the team that won it again.

But Terry Francona said yesterday that he knew it was time for him to leave as Red Sox manager when he couldn’t get through to his players even as the season spiraled to an ignominious close.

Also a factor, he conceded, was the uncertainty he felt over whether team ownership stood behind him.

Francona’s move was a jolt Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner didn’t expect when they arrived for a meeting with him yesterday morning at Fenway Park.

“We tried to slow the train down a bit and asked Terry to think about it over the weekend,’’ Werner said.

A weekend turned into a matter of hours. A statement was released saying no decision was imminent and Francona drove off in a black Cadillac Escalade, followed minutes later by Henry and Werner in foreign sports cars. But he returned later in the day and pressed for a resolution.

“I think it’s the right thing to do for the organization and myself,’’ the 52-year-old Francona said.

General manager Theo Epstein said he was surprised Francona would leave what is considered one of the best jobs in sports.

“But I respect it,’’ he said. “Maybe after eight years in one place, maybe it is time for a new voice.’’

In essence, Francona probably quit before he was fired. Werner said he and Henry were looking forward to addressing the issues that have led to the team missing the playoffs the last two years and that the outcome made for “a productive day.’’

The Red Sox said Francona’s departure was a mutual agreement for the team not to exercise the two remaining option clauses on his contract. Francona agreed, saying it was ultimately his decision.

But when he sat before reporters alone, he described a perceived lack of support from ownership.

“I don’t know that I felt real comfortable,’’ Francona said. “You’ve got to be all-in on this job. I voiced that today. Going through things here to make it work, it’s got to be everybody together, and I was questioning some of that a little bit.’’

Team president Larry Lucchino disputed Francona’s assertion.

“I was actually puzzled by that comment,’’ he said. “We have done nothing differently this year than we have done in previous years.’’

Francona also described a “sense of entitlement’’ among the veteran players as one of the reasons he elected to leave. The $161 million Red Sox finished in third place this season, stumbling out of first place in September in an epic collapse.

Once a team of likable “Idiots’’ who played loose and for each other, the Red Sox have become an aging collection of star players with a collectively bland personality that has been reflected in their play.

“I felt frustrated with my inability to reach maybe guys that I’ve been able to in the past, or affect the outcome a little bit more differently and that bothers me,’’ Francona said.

“I wanted desperately for our guys to care about each other on the field. I wasn’t seeing that as much as I wanted to do. When things go bad, your true colors show and I was bothered by what was showing. It’s my responsibility.’’

Epstein tried to paint a brighter picture of the situation, saying the roster he assembled simply didn’t respond to Francona as it had in the past and would change under his replacement.

“Certain players we have who are leaders can step up and raise the level of their leadership even more,’’ Epstein said. “A new manager is going to be an opportunity, for new leadership in the clubhouse, too.

“We’ll raise our level and meet those high standards that we have. I’m confident in this group of players and their character.’’

Francona admitted that eight seasons under the microscope in a city passionate about baseball also took a toll.

“This place, that’s part of the reason it’s so good,’’ he said. “People care so much, there’s so much interest in this team. I don’t want to appear like I’m complaining about it because I’m not. But it makes it difficult at times.’’

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia said, “Tito is family to me. It’s hard for all of us.’’

“I would run through a wall if he told me to,’’ he added.

Henry did not attend the press conference, having suffered what was termed a minor injury when he fell while aboard his yacht earlier in the day.

Lucchino said Henry’s absence should not be interpreted as a lack of support for Francona. But Francona said earlier this week that he had not heard from Henry during the team’s slump.

Based on the team’s postseason accomplishments, Francona was the best manager in Red Sox history. He was 744-552 in his eight seasons, advancing to the postseason five times and winning the World Series in 2004 and ’07.

The Red Sox were 8-0 in World Series games under Francona. Only two managers in history - Joe Torre (14) and Joe McCarthy (10) - have longer Series winning streaks.

But the Sox were a colossal disappointment the last two seasons, finishing in third place each time despite one of the highest payrolls in baseball. The team has not won a playoff game since 2008.

The team was 90-72 this season, losing 20 of its final 27 games in squandering a nine-game lead on a playoff berth.

The team was wildly inconsistent this season, winning only two of its first 10 games. The Sox did not get over .500 until May 16. A stretch of inspired baseball followed. The Red Sox were 36-15 in June and July, moving into first place in the American League East.

Then came what even Epstein described as a collapse for the ages. The Red Sox staggered through September, unable to win two games in a row.

Francona endorsed bench coach DeMarlo Hale to succeed him. But Epstein said he informed the coaching staff that their jobs were not safe, given the change.

Francona could be a candidate for the vacant managerial position with the White Sox.

“I don’t know what I want to do. I know I want to stay in the game,’’ Francona said “This is all I’ve ever done and all I ever want to do.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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