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Examining the Red Sox way

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  October 4, 2011 08:45 AM

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Before he arrived in New York to take over the Yankees, remember, Joe Torre had five winning seasons in 15-year managerial career. Terry Francona went 0 for 4 in Philadelphia before he came to Boston. In major league baseball, the obvious lesson is that the team makes the manager and not the other way around.

Does that mean anyone can manage in New York or Boston and succeed the way Torre and Francona did, combining for six World Series championships during a 12-year span? Of course not. Like Torre, Francona had good communication skills. Like Torre, he was able to connect with those in uniform and those in management and ownership – at least well enough - bridging the enormous gap that exists in any organization. And like Torre, Francona had perspective that comes from a lifetime in the game, which is to say that he had poise.

So if you’re waiting for Torre, Bobby Valentine or some other big name to emerge from a list of potential candidates, don’t hold your breath. The Red Sox don’t need the best manager based on career wins and losses. They need the right manager for this team and this market, particularly with an owner that puts a certain emphasis on, well, statistical analysis.

Think about it: was someone like Valentine (no longer believed to be a candidate) ever really going carry out the organizational plan the way Henry wanted it done? No way. Valentine has an ego that inevitably would lead to conflict, and we know that Henry does not react well to emotion, decisions based on impulse and gut.

More than anyone else in the Red Sox organization, Henry believes in the predictability of human behavior, be it on the baseball diamond or in the commodities markets.

That said, maybe it’s time we try to predict his and that of his team.

Here’s the mistake the Red Sox made with Grady Little: the Sox never realized how big his ego was. Little may have had no managerial experience when he came to the Red Sox, but he had won more than 1,000 games in the minor leagues. He was as sure of himself as Walpole Joe Morgan was. Little was raised in Atlanta Braves organization that knew nothing but winning, and so when it came time to make key game decisions, he made them the way he always did.

He trusted his best players, eschewing pitch counts and statistical analysis.

Grady Little did not get fired because he lost the clubhouse. He was fired because he lost the game.

In defense of Red Sox owners and administrators, the Little hiring was conducted at a transitional, tumultuous time during which the team was undergoing massive changes. Henry and Co. had just taken over. Dan Duquette and Joe Kerrigan had just been shown the door. The Red Sox had relatively few options during a 2002 spring that was an absolute fire drill, and so appeasing their clubhouse (and fan base) was a matter of priority.

When Little was introduced to the team during spring training, he received a thunderous cheer from a clubhouse that had grown terribly fractured under Jimy Williams and Kerrigan. The Red Sox were almost instantly united again.

Francona was something altogether different, a young man with Little’s people skills who had been exposed to the “Moneyball” ways of Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s. In retrospect, at that time, could there have been anyone more perfect? Francona has a good deal of people-pleaser in him, which made him less threatening to ownership. Together, Francona and general manager Theo Epstein had five combined years of experience as major league manager and general manager when they were paired together in the fall of 2003 – that is astonishingly little for a market like this – and they went on to win two world titles over the next four years.

What Epstein and Francona were, individually and collectively, was a good fit. But as their egos grew – and that is not necessarily a bad thing – conflict was inevitable. Lest we forget, Epstein resigned in the fall of 2005 and Francona’s fate clearly was decided last offseason, when the Sox failed to pick up his option. Francona himself admitted on Friday that his ego was at least slightly bruised by that decision, Sox owners sending him into a high-priced clubhouse without any job security beyond this year.

Hmmm. Might that be at least part of the reason Sox players tuned out their skipper, knowing that they had more financial security than they did?

Whatever the case, the track record of executive hiring under Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino seems clear. This is their team and everyone else is an outsider, including Epstein, who might soon be the next one out the door. To his credit, Epstein fought for a seat at the table in 2005. Now, given the Red Sox’ disastrous history of major free agent signings in recent years, one can only wonder if Lucchino again has the upper hand. John, Tom and Larry seem more likely to go with younger, non-threatening, relatively ego-free replacements for Francona and, perhaps, Epstein, if for no other reason than the fact that it will afford them greater leverage.

With regard to Epstein, even if he stays, maybe the Sox already have reclaimed that. Clam up, Theo. We’re not the ones who suggested signing J.D. Drew, Julio Lugo, Edgar Renteria and John Lackey.Or something like that.

And so, whether it’s Pete Mackanin or Trey Hillman or whoever is to be the game’s next bright, young mind, the name is not really what is important here. It’s the profile. During Lucchino’s early years, his personal publicist, Charles Steinberg, often noted how Lucchino “discovered” Kevin Towers, now the general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Epstein also is a Lucchino protégé. And when Theo resigned, youngsters Jed Hoyer (now the GM of the Padres) and Ben Cherington (heir apparent to Epstein) were elevated to co-general managers, all while the Red Sox left the light on and the door unlocked for Theo’s return.

Since Little, the Sox have hired or elevated, in order, Epstein (then 28), Francona (then 44), Cherington (then 31) and Hoyer (then 32).

See any pattern there?

What all of this means, in the short term, is that the relationship between Lucchino and Epstein is being tested again. Lucchino has a clear hiring history here, and Epstein has not ruled out the Chicago Cubs job. Leverage is being used everywhere, from Cubs owner Tom Ricketts (“There are a lot of good candidates out there,” Ricketts told Fox Business) to reports that the Red Sox would want significant compensation. What if Theo wants Hillman and Larry wants Mackanin? What if they don’t agree? What if, after firing Terry Francona, John Henry must decide between his president and general manager the way he did six years ago, when the power structure in the Red Sox organization was shaken and rebuilt?

In retrospect, the Francona firing is merely a layer. The Red Sox have much deeper issues to examine. Epstein suddenly looks like an outsider again, the fourth man in on John, Tom and Larry’s circle of trust, the nucleus of a Red Sox organization now going through at least some state of upheaval.

This group now has 10 years of history for us to examine.

And, as always, what is past is often prelude.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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