A couple of years ago he delivered "Patriot Reign," about . . . well, I suppose even Arlen Specter is familiar with that topic. And now Holley, the affable WEEI midday co-host and former Globe columnist who also collaborated on Tedy Bruschi's biography, gives us "Red Sox Rule," an anecdotal look at the life and career of Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
I'm not suggesting there's a formula in play here, but should a certain basketball franchise claim its 17th NBA title come June, I fully expect Holley will have "Celtic Crown" available on Amazon.com in time for next season's tipoff.
And you know what? I'd buy it, which isn't something I'd have said before reading "Red Sox Rule." I'll admit, I first cracked open this book's cover with some skepticism. Francona often seems mildly annoyed with Holley during the manager's weekly WEEI interview, so I was somewhat surprised to learn he's agreed to do a book with him. But most of my initial reluctance was rooted in the fact that "Patriot Reign," while engaging, wasn't what I hoped it would be. Holley's access to the secretive Patriots was unprecedented, and yet there were few nuggets of real insight, other than that the coaching staff thought Patrick Pass was a sissy and Lawyer Milloy could be a divisive teammate. I was left wanting more, but probably not in the way the author intended.
That said, I'm glad to report that "Red Sox Rule" possesses the substance to accompany the style. It's similar to "Patriot Reign" in tone and length - at 207 pages, I wished it was about 50 longer - but it is rich with fresh details and compelling stories, from Francona's time as Michael Jordan's manager in Birmingham (my favorite chapter in the book, actually), to his near-death experience due to pulmonary embolism, to the strange, boiler-room attempt to assuage Jonathan Papelbon's ego when the team was on the verge of the ill-fated Eric Gagne trade last summer.
Holley also confirms a few common suspicions. Namely, that the enigmatic Manny Ramirez could drive a lesser man mad (you almost wonder if Francona had a full head of hair before Manny came into his life), that David Ortiz is a godsend as Tito's clubhouse consigliere, and that the two transcendent sluggers' roles often intersect. Writes Holley of one particularly exasperating Manny-Being-Manny episode:
Francona was so frustrated with Ramirez that he told Ortiz, "I'm going to kill him." Ortiz listened and told the manager that he'd check on Ramirez. After a while, Ortiz returned with a smile and a statement: "It's all right for you to kill him now."
It's good stuff to be sure, and if there are criticisms of the book, they are small ones, certainly not significant enough to prevent a sincere recommendation. Sometimes Holley's metaphors require a second read to deliver their full effect, and it occasionally takes him three sentences to say what a more disciplined writer would convey in one. (I know, go ahead and file that baby under Takes One To Know One.) And I'm fairly certain Joba Chamberlain never pitched for Portland last season, because I'd like to think I would have noticed the midges.
Also, because of that anecdotal style - each chapter focuses on a different chapter in Francona's life - some of the most significant moments are little more than footnotes, though I imagine the glossing over of the the two World Championships was by design. There are entire shelves in your local library dedicated to those particular topics.
Make no mistake, this book, despite its generic title, is about Terry Francona. After reading it, you can't help but have further admiration for baseball's finest and most underappreciated manager. Chances are your admiration for the author will grow as well.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.