Departure from Fenway came out of left field
Terry Francona rode off into the sunset after a very successful run of eight years in which he may have established himself as the best manager in Red Sox history.
Francona looked like a Red Sox lifer, and though eight years can be an eternity in baseball, you just figured he would grow old as their manager. That eternity ended sooner than expected.
“To be totally honest, I was completely surprised by the ordeal,’’ said former Red Sox outfielder Ellis Burks, who played for Francona on the 2004 team.
“He’ll always hold a special place in my heart,’’ said Rays designated hitter Johnny Damon, one of the Idiots who gave Francona his first championship in 2004. “He’s a Hall of Fame manager.
“I know that Tito had the right group of players together at that time and he didn’t need to do a lot of babysitting. We were a little crazy, but in that clubhouse and on the field, we went all-out and we had fun together as a team.
“That’s what it’s all about. We were together and we really cared about each other. It’s like it was on the Yankees and how it is here in Tampa Bay.
“From what we hear, it wasn’t like that in Boston this year and I’m not close enough to know why it wasn’t. But I know something like that would bother Tito.’’
While Francona professed his love for his players this season, he knew something was amiss. He didn’t sense that fierce loyalty to one another, a trait the 2004 team and even the 2007 team had.
Francona is a baseball lifer, and if anyone can judge those things, it would be him. He has been in clubhouses since he was a little kid with his father, and he understands the culture of good clubhouses and bad. And when he couldn’t get through to some of the people he had been able to get through to before, he felt his voice was no longer being heard.
If he changed his managerial style to be tougher, he said, he wouldn’t be true to himself. So he elected not to be the kick-butt guy the Red Sox now need. He elected to stay as he was. And he knew in this case it wasn’t good enough.
The baseball world remains stunned.
“I don’t know enough about the real stuff behind the scenes,’’ wrote former Braves president Stan Kasten in a text. “I’m a big fan of Terry’s. Good temperament. Smart. Consistent. But Theo [Epstein], John [Henry], Tom [Werner] and Larry [Lucchino] are smart too.
“Bottom line, I was surprised. But I kept Bobby [Cox] all those years because it’s just not that easy to be good all the time, even though we kept coming up short. It puts pressure on the next guy. But the last time [i.e. Grady Little], it put a lot of pressure on the guy, and he won two rings.’’
Giants general manager Brian Sabean said, “There’s got to be more to the story.’’
Former Sox manager Kevin Kennedy, fired after the 1996 season, concurred: “Don’t get it. There’s got to be more to it. Maybe I can come back.’’
Who knows if Francona will have second thoughts in the days to come? What we know is he made a quick decision.
He walked away from $4.5 million per season, though he gets a $750,000 buyout and will likely land in one of the Chicago spots if he chooses to manage again so soon.
“He’ll always be considered a player’s manager,’’ Damon said. “He always had a good way about him. He made you loose when you walked into that clubhouse. His door was always open.
“He depended on veterans to provide leadership and make sure the players took care of their business. He didn’t understand when a player didn’t have enough pride to go out there and put in his work to improve.’’
Did Francona simply run out of Johnny Damons to make sure players were in line? Probably.
Other than Dustin Pedroia, no real leaders emerged. Jason Varitek was the captain, but with his limited role, he probably didn’t carry as much weight. Jacoby Ellsbury still hasn’t shown leadership, though that may evolve. Adrian Gonzalez was a force offensively but not as a leader. Carl Crawford struggled so much he wasn’t able to add much in that department.
The pitchers, now under much scrutiny, obviously didn’t live up to their responsibilities, especially in light of the report by John Tomase of the Herald that pitchers were drinking beer in the clubhouse on days they weren’t starting.
Where did Francona’s voice go?
How could someone who won two World Series suddenly lose that voice in his own clubhouse after he had treated his players with so much respect?
The bottom line is, players need limits and they need to be disciplined. You can’t leave them to do the right things on their own. Overpaid veterans need a good swift kick at times.
For four months, the Sox won because they were talented, but once it got down to the nitty-gritty, the things they neglected leading up to that finally caught up to them.
The lack of conditioning really hurt. It showed up with little aches and pains and injuries. The lack of professionalism was startling. The owners paying exorbitant salaries had to feel ripped off.
It’ll be interesting to see whether the owners regret not being more proactive in picking up Francona’s option. They don’t seem to be sweating it now. But baseball people are surprised that the Sox would allow this to happen, which is why many believe there was more here than met the eye.
“When you think of some of the game’s best managers, don’t you put Terry Francona at the top of the list?’’ asked one rival general manager. “He’ll be able to pick and choose where he wants to go.
“When you go out there and pick a manager, you never know. With Terry Francona, you know. He’s one of the best.’’
Who's in charge?
Managers seem to be getting empoweredIs Major League Baseball trending toward giving managers more personnel power, much like the NFL with Bill Belichick and Mike Shanahan?
Start with Tony La Russa. Then there is Mike Scioscia, Jim Leyland, and now Buck Showalter.
When Angels general manager Tony Reagins resigned last week, it was obvious that Scioscia controls the personnel decisions on the team. Reagins did the contract negotiations and initiated trade talks, but with Scioscia’s blessing.
Many veteran executives will tell you there’s no way you can wear both hats because the baseball season is too long and the manager has too many other things to worry about.
In these cases, they’re not technically wearing two hats, but their input is huge.
“The great thing about Mike [Scioscia] is that he’s a tremendous listener,’’ said Angels scout Mike Pagliarulo. “He loves the give and take. He loves different opinions and he soaks it all in. He’s really terrific in that regard. We have a good group of people over there and Mike is someone we all respect and enjoy being around.’’
What will happen with Showalter in Baltimore is anyone’s guess. He could become the GM. Or he could remain the manager with major personnel and organizational power. That seems to be the case already.
In some ways, giving the manager the power is great because the players know who has the hammer. If there’s a strong GM who tends to have his hands in things, it diminishes the manager’s power.
“I think that’s true,’’ said an AL manager. “So many of us are out there doing our jobs but you always wonder whether your decision is the one that stands or can the player go above you and get his way?
“It’s important that the players know the manager is the guy in charge and he can affect your playing time.’’
All of baseball will be watching to see what happens in Baltimore.
By some measures, Sox best in their fieldThe Red Sox certainly lit up the UZR world of Fangraphs.com, which measures defensive prowess. They were best at first base (Adrian Gonzalez), second base (Dustin Pedroia), and center field (Jacoby Ellsbury).
They weren’t so hot at third base (Kevin Youkilis) and left field (Carl Crawford), and pretty average at shortstop. No Sox players were listed at catcher or right field.
Ellsbury scored 15.6, which is his defensive contribution in theoretical runs above or below the average at his position. Gonzalez was 11.1, which bested the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira (8.6) and the Reds’ Joey Votto (7.4) while Pedroia’s 17.9 was ahead of Texas’s Ian Kinsler (15.0) and the Angels’ Howie Kendrick (14.4).
Marco Scutaro finished at 0.7, slightly above average.
Will the Sox bring back Scutaro for one more year or give Jose Iglesias his shot right out of the gate in spring training? Iglesias would be a major defensive upgrade, but the feeling is he needs another half-season at Triple A to improve his offense.
On the negative side, Youkilis, in his first full season back at third base, was -2.3 while Crawford was -2.2, which is really surprising for a Gold Glove winner.
At third base, the top UZR player was the Phillies’ Placido Polanco with a 14 followed by the Giants’ Pablo Sandoval at 12.3 and Texas’s Adrian Beltre at 11.2.
Crawford obviously had to make adjustments to Fenway and misjudged a lot of balls. The Yankees’ Brett Gardner blew away the competition in left with a 25.2 UZR, while Kansas City’s Alex Gordon was second at 10.5 and Gerardo Parra of Arizona was next at 9.8.
Scutaro finished in the lower half of shortstops, slightly ahead of former Red Sox shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who came in with a surprising -0.3. The White Sox’ Alexei Ramirez led all shortstops with an 11.9, followed by Baltimore’s J.J. Hardy (10.7) and Kansas City’s Alcides Escobar (10.2).
Apropos of nothing
1. We wish Dennis ''Go-Go'' Gilbert a speedy recovery following a household accident. Stevie Wonder's Calabasas, Calif., neighbor, is a special adviser to White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and has done so much for the Scouts Foundation; 2. What do Red Sox coaching assistant Rob Leary and Tom Brady have in common? Both played catcher and quarterback at San Mateo (Calif.) High School. Both were drafted as catchers by the Montreal Expos. ''The comparisons stop there,'' Leary laughed; 3. A lot of readers have suggested that Carl Crawford needs his eyes checked. Could it be that simple?; 4. Never knew this, but Fenway Park's lighting is considered the best in baseball; 5. Speaking of Crawford, the Sox need to bring in the right-field fences to accommodate his hitting style.
Updates on nine
1.DeMarlo Hale, Red Sox bench coach - One of these days, someone is going to recognize Hale's value as a manager. The two Chicago jobs are open, and he should be under strong consideration for both. Hale has strong people skills and players respect him. He often was the guy who put out fires in the clubhouse, a role Brad Mills had before taking the Astros managing job.
2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Red Sox - When Shaun Clancy bought Foley's Bar in New York City about eight years ago, he inherited some plates. On the plates was the name ''Saltalamacchia'' with a family crest. Sox broadcaster Joe Castiglione sent a photo of the plate to Jarrod's father, and, it turns out, it was indeed the family crest. Foley's is a popular watering hole among sportswriters, umpires, scouts, and visiting players and coaches. It's a big Red Sox bar in particular, which makes the finding bizarre.
3. Michael Cuddyer, OF, free agent - If he doesn't re-sign with the Twins he will be a target of a few teams. The Red Sox? Cuddyer, a former infielder who could protect you at third base (even though he doesn't care to play there), might be a decent fit in Boston. He is an average to above-average defender, but he does have a strong arm. Given that Jacoby Ellsbury and Crawford have below-average arms, that would be a plus, especially in right field at Fenway. One problem: He is 32.
4. Brad Mills, manager, Astros - He expects to return as manager with a status quo of the current situation. Major League Baseball has not yet approved the sale of Drayton McLane's interest to Jim Crane as owner.
Commissioner Bud Selig seems to have reservations about Crane's past inflammatory comments about minorities and women. Crane also would have to sign off on moving to the American League as part of a revamped format of two 15-team leagues, with three divisions of five teams each. There has been resistance from the Astros and their fans, even though the move would create a natural rivalry with the Rangers. One problem is that they'd be in a West Division, which they feel would hurt TV ratings because of the late starts.
5. Joe Torre, vice president, MLB - Crazier things have happened, but it's not believed that Torre would be interested in the Red Sox job, though Lou Gorman nearly hired him when Joe Morgan was fired. Torre seems happy in his new job with MLB. Also not entirely sure he would fit with the statistical analysis component the Red Sox are looking for.
6. Terry Francona, former manager, Red Sox - A White Sox source said they will likely wait to see what Tony La Russa decides to do after his run in the playoffs with St. Louis is over. La Russa, who is at the end of his contract, has remained best of friends with Reinsdorf and may want to return to the place where he began his managerial career. If he has already indicated he's not interested, the White Sox would likely speak to Francona, who has maintained a very good relationship with Reinsdorf since he managed the team's Double A Birmingham affiliate in 1994, which included the very public Michael Jordan foray into baseball.
7. Kirk Gibson, manager, Diamondbacks - Could the Red Sox swing a deal with the D-Backs to get Gibson as their manager? Just dreaming. Imagine if Gibson ever caught pitchers drinking beer in the clubhouse during games. Might have to call the Boston Police homicide department. Gibson is a great example of the type of manager the Sox need. Is there anyone out there quite like him?
8. Bruce Chen, LHP, Royals - Since he was targeted to pitch the 163d game, will the Sox pursue him as a free agent? Chen pitched for the Sox in 2003 but was a journeyman spot starter at the time. He was excited about the possibility of joining the Red Sox last week. ''My whole career,'' he said, ''I always wanted to help a team [reach the playoffs]. When I heard there was a possibility of me going to Boston, I'll be honest, I wanted it to happen, because you want to be the guy.'' Since Chen will be a Type B free agent, the Royals wanted two prospects. Chen finished 12-8 with a 3.77 ERA in 25 starts. On the day he almost got traded, he went out and shut out the Twins for eight innings in a 1-0 loss.
9. Kelly Shoppach, C, Rays - You can always tie things in with the Red Sox. Shoppach hit only .176 for the Rays this season but proved to be a force in Game 1 of the Division Series vs. Texas with two homers in a 9-0 win. Johnny Damon also homered to give the Rays an early 2-0 lead. Shoppach, you'll remember, was traded for Coco Crisp after the Red Sox decided that Crisp would be a better option than Damon in center field.
How did that work out?
From the Bill Chuck files: ''Three players who had at least 300 plate appearances hit under .200: Brandon Inge (.197), Chone Figgins (.188), and Adam Dunn (.159). There were three last year as well, and a total of four between 2000-08.'' ..... Happy birthday to Scott Schoeneweis (38) and Ernie Riles (51).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.