Fallout from Red Sox downfall just beginning with Francona's firing
The Red Sox let Terry Francona dangle all year; the end made it easy to fire him
The heavily scrutinized Red Sox likely won't have an eight-year manager again
Joe Torre would be great, but look for management to think outside the box
The Red Sox are a mess.
It's hard to believe that the playoffs are under way and the Sox are on the sideline. Theo Epstein assembled a $161 million team with 15 All-Stars, and the Sox were consensus preseason favorites to represent the American League in the World Series.
But the Sox collapsed in epic fashion, losing 20 of 27 September games, blowing a nine-game lead for the wild card.
Two days after the apocalyptic ending, manager Terry Francona became the first victim of the carnage, fired by management.
The Sox bosses used a lot of nice words when they cut the manager loose. They said it was Terry's idea to leave. They thanked him for his service. They said it was a mutual parting of ways.
But the man was fired. He managed all season without a contract for 2012. The club never exercised its option to bring him back next year, not even when the Sox went 39 games over .500 for a four-month stretch. They let him dangle all season, and the sloppy finish made it easy to send Francona packing.
Quite possibly the greatest manager in Red Sox history, Francona fell on his sword Friday, citing, "my inability to effectively reach the players ... out of my enormous respect for this organization and the people in it (I told them) they may need to find a different voice to lead the team.''
Unfortunately for Sox management, Francona went off message toward the end of his farewell presser, saying, "To be honest with you, I'm not sure how much support there was from ownership. You've got to be all-in on this job. It's got to be everybody together, and I was questioning that a little bit.''
That nugget of truth cut to the core of the matter. Despite winning two championships in eight seasons (a perfect 8-0 in World Series games), despite making the playoffs five times in eight seasons and compiling the second-highest winning percentage in team history, Francona's shelf life in Boston had expired.
It happens to all of them, especially in 2011. There are no more Walter Alstons. You won't find a Bobby Cox anymore. Joe Torre had his magical run in New York, and it ended badly. Now Tony LaRussa looks like he's near the end in St. Louis. Even while he's in the playoffs.
I doubt there'll ever be another eight-year manager in Boston. The corner office at Fenway Park is a combustible space. The Sox field boss has to deal with interference from the front office. Owner John Henry is a notorious stat geek, and GM Theo and his minions pepper the manager with infinite data. Players have fat contracts ($142 million for Carl Crawford?), and the local media demands are second only to those in New York.
A Red Sox manager serves a devout fan base populated by folks who all think they can do your job better than the man making out the lineup card.
It's a miracle that Francona survived eight seasons. So good, so good, so good. There were times when it looked like he might be BoSox-manager-for-life.
But that's not going to happen anymore.
Players stop listening. Owners and GMs get restless when decisions are made which fly in the face of the data. The media brings out the long knives, and fans hop on the net or sports radio to carve up the manager. Next thing you know, it's dueling news conferences and television cameras parked outside the ballpark to shoot footage of the manager driving away from the workplace one last time.
It'll be interesting to see what the Red Sox do now that Francona is gone. Henry likes high-profile Bobby Valentine. Backslapping Bobby would kick some of the fat-assed millionaires in the Red Sox locker room. Unfortunately, he's unlikely to fit the Moneyball mold that Henry values.
When Grady Little (way too old school) was fired by the Sox in 2003, the Sox stayed away from interviewing big-name managerial candidates. Francona had managed the Phillies without much success, but presented as a guy who'd value stats as well as scouting.
I'd like to see the Sox work out a deal and pry Eric Wedge out of Seattle. Wedge came to the big leagues through the Sox system and had the tough guy persona Boston needs. Yankee coach Tony Pena (who also caught for the Red Sox) and Tampa coach Jim Hickey would be good fits in Boston.
Blue Jays manager John Farrell might have gotten the job but left Boston one year ahead of Francona. It's unlikely the Sox would take a chance on Francona's bench coach, Demarlo Hale -- he's too tied to the Tito collapse. Other names that have been floated in the media include Toronto first base coach Torey Louvullo, Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin, Rays bench coach Dave Martinez and former Royals manager Trey Hillman.
Torre would be great, but I don't see it. Look for the Sox to think outside the box.
The wild card (sorry to use that expression, Sox fans) in all this is Epstein. There's speculation that the Cubs are interested in talking to Theo about taking over their operation. Epstein is under contract for one more year, but no doubt would like to go down in history as the man who ended curses in both Boston and Chicago.
The uncertainty regarding Theo is just one more cloud in the storm that's wrecked havoc on baseball Boston over the last four weeks.
Chaos reigns. Stay tuned.
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