Has Terry Francona risked tarnishing his legacy in Boston?
Should the former Red Sox manager have stuck to a code or rule that whatever happened in the clubhouse or front office should stay in those places, rather than be revealed to the public in print?
Perhaps, especially in regards to the Red Sox clubhouse. But we don't know if Francona rips any of his former players in his book, as Joe Torre did to Alex Rodriguez in The Yankee Years, his book written with Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci.
However, we do know that Francona is extremely critical and revealing about Red Sox ownership in his book, based on an excerpt that's been released. Boston players—nor the fans that cheer for them—are likely going to take issue with that. Taking on management will almost always endear you to the people.
From most accounts, Francona had a good relationship with most of his players. Red Sox ownership believed the manager had become too lenient. As the Boston Herald's John Tomase explained to CBS Boston, Francona had lost control of the team.
When Dustin Pedroia criticized Bobby Valentine for how he dealt with Kevin Youkilis last year, saying "That's not the way we do things around here," it was an indirect endorsement of Francona. Pedroia was still loyal to his former manager and it seems unlikely that Francona would break that trust.
Selling out his guys wouldn't endear Francona to his new players with the Cleveland Indians either.
If there is any question as to whether Francona is betraying any trust or trying to make his former team look bad, the revelations about his dealings with ownership should take care of that.
Francona's anecdotes actually confirm the worst fears of Red Sox fans, that the owners of team care more about image and publicity than putting together a winning product on the baseball field.
Perhaps nothing typifies this more than the supposed Fenway Park sellout streak, promoted as the longest in U.S. sports history. However, The Boston Globe reported that the Red Sox prefer to define a sellout based on how many tickets are distributed, rather than sold.
Dealing in such semantics is an insult to the intelligence of everyone who follows the Red Sox and attends games at Fenway Park. Many fans can see the empty seats for themselves. Yet the sellout streak—or the illusion of it—is important to ownership because the team can claim success. Hey, the fans are still coming out to support us!
What this really does is expose a deep insecurity among Red Sox management. The excerpt from Francona's book details a November 2010 meeting the manager had with ownership about what could be done to enhance the appeal of the team beyond the hardcore baseball fan.
Winning games wasn't enough anymore. The Red Sox had to win in "more exciting fashion," according to highlights from the book quoted by ESPN Boston. The roster needed "good-looking stars" and "sex symbols" that the team could market to audiences more interested in the "soap opera" and "reality TV" aspects of baseball games and the athletes who play in them.
This is exactly the sort of focus-group approach that has homogenized much of popular culture and media these days. We watch sports to get away from that attempt to appeal to the widest common denominator. These games are supposed to be real, not contrived productions.
Francona and general manager Theo Epstein were supposed to be concerned with keeping the Red Sox in contention with the New York Yankees in the AL East. Their prime objective was presumably to compete for postseason bids and World Series championships.
Instead, they also have to worry about whether the right fielder is attractive enough to compel women—especially those who attend games wearing pink Red Sox hats—to tune in? (Where was Gabe Kapler when the Red Sox really needed him?)
Revealing that sort of information won't alienate Francona from those who cheered for him when he was in the Fenway Park dugout. Red Sox fans will rally to his side. When it was just about baseball, Francona and Epstein brought two World Series championships to Boston. When other concerns took priority, the team's fortunes went downhill.
Red Sox fans already thought the worst of principal owner John Henry and team president Larry Lucchino. They worried that ownership's attention and loyalties were divided by also running their soccer team, Liverpool FC. Francona's stories verify those beliefs.
No one who follows the Red Sox will begrudge Francona ridiculing his former bosses. Fans know that management stuck a knife in Francona's back for Bob Hohler's infamous Boston Globe story about the deterioration of the 2011 season.
It wasn't enough for the Red Sox to fire Francona. Someone in the front office had to talk about his troubled marriage and imply that he became addicted to painkillers. Oh, and Francona couldn't get through to his players anymore either.
After being treated like that, Francona doesn't owe the Red Sox anything. Ownership tried to tear him down, attack his integrity and destroy his dignity. All Boston fans can do is shake their heads and look at the ground in shame. They know Francona deserved far better.
Now, Francona has his chance to speak out. He gets to retaliate. Red Sox fans won't fault him for that. They're far more likely to applaud him. They know the legacy Francona left behind in Boston, one that won't be forgotten.
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