FORT MYERS — Terry Francona knows he should never have done it. For his own health. For the way it looks to kids watching Red Sox games. For all the right reasons.
But chewing tobacco is an addiction, much the same as smoking cigarettes. And it’s a habit that’s been very difficult for Francona to break.
“If I had my — I don’t think druthers is the right word — I’d rather be chewing. I love it. I love it. But I’m not, that’s why i made the bet big enough, so I wouldn’t.”
The bet was with CEO Larry Lucchino, who wagered $20,000 with Francona that if he didn’t chew for a year Lucchino would donate $20,000 to the Jimmy Fund. If Francona can’t do it, he’d have to donate the money to a charity he’ll chose at a later date.
“I’m trying to give it up. I don’t want to start patting myself on the back yet. It’s only a month in. I needed to (quit), it’s not a good habit. It’s a horrible habit, but one that I really love,” he said.
Like anything you’re trying to break cold turkey it often isn’t pleasant. And sometimes the person isn’t as well, though Francona has maintained his usual pleasant demeanor through the process.
“Be grumpy, yell at Millsie [bench coach Brad Mills],” Francona said about what does to get through it. “If the guys throw strikes, it certainly helps too. It’s been second nature, the day I put my uniform on, I put chew in my mouth. I never touch it during the winter. The day I get to spring training, I want to chew, now I’ve been here for a month and I’ve not been chewing and I miss it. But I haven’t done it. I’ll try the best I can not to.”
Francona said he had quit through part of spring training last season but he didn’t make it. He said that’s why he raised the stakes.
And the players are no help.
“No, the players are horrible, horrible,” Francona said. “They know it’s killing me. [David] Ortiz is putting it under my nose. I saw a bag the other day, and actually smelled it. It was wonderful, but I’m not going to do it, because I don’t want to do it. But it’s still not easy.”
He kidded when asked whether he’s stopping for the money or pride, “I have no pride, no pride whatsoever. If it was pride I’d be knee deep into that tobacco right now.”
He said the hardest times are a half-hour before the game when “I go sit in the dugout, put one in. It’s heaven, my view of heaven, and I haven’t been doing that.”
Francona probably was first exposed to it from his father Tito, who chewed tobacco everywhere, including the family home. Francona said his wife would never stand for it. He hopes the season and its stresses are minimal, and that he won’t suffer a relapse.