If one hopes to read about a man lighting a match and pouring gasoline all over his tenure as the 44th manager of the Boston Red Sox, then Francona: The Red Sox Years is not the book for you.
While the story is not all sunshine and rainbows, there was some measure of reservation felt while reading two-time World Series champion Terry Francona’s accounting of events during his eight years.
In his 12th publication, co-author and Boston Globe sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy narrates an informative inside look at Francona and his successes and failures during his eight seasons spent managing the local nine at 4 Yawkey Way in Boston.
Released on January 22 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, this 343-page memoir takes fans through Francona’s early years growing up in a baseball household and up to his humiliating departure as manager of the Red Sox and new role as manager of the Cleveland Indians.
With equal parts praise and criticism for the Boston ownership group that hired Francona, the book opens the doors to Red Sox history through the eyes of arguably the team’s most significant manager ever.
In what would seem like an oddball pairing, Francona—manager for a team with arguably the most difficult and stress-inducing fanbase and media core in all of baseball—and an award-winning writer often very critical of the Red Sox managed to become close during the writing of the book.
Bleacher Report was fortunate enough to speak with Shaughnessy regarding his latest book.
CB: While writing the book, was there any moment where Terry gave you a story that you were excited to use, but then he recanted and decided to take it out?
DS: Yeah, that happened a few times. Terry is very protective of players. He read the thing seven times. There was stuff that I would have enjoyed, juicier stuff that he didn’t put in there.
CB: Do you feel that Terry held back at all during the writing of the book?
DS: I think yes, and that’s by design. He wanted to manage again. He wants to have good relationships. I went to the people, for example, David Ortiz arguing with Terry or Josh Beckett; Larry Lucchino or Tom Werner; I went to all of those people. Everything was out in front with this.
CB: For you, what was the most surprising revelation that Terry offered up?
DS: I guess just how many different voices he had to answer to. I kinda knew that, but when you really read it, it's hard; all of those differing opinions.
CB: Were you disappointed by any lack of stories, for example, any crazier Manny (Ramirez) stories, etc?
DS: No. I wasn’t expecting he was going to torch anybody or come up with some clubhouse thing. We knew these guys weren’t robbing banks on weekends or anything, so I wasn’t looking for anything like that.
CB: To date, has any of the Red Sox ownership tried to reach you to make any rebuttals to anything written in the story?
DS: No they’ve gone very high road; very radio silence. I had a meeting with John Henry last Thursday and it was very pleasant.
CB: After covering the Red Sox for the past 30 years and writing this story with Terry Francona, what is your opinion of this Red Sox ownership group?
DS: I think they’ve been really good owners. They’ve rebuilt Fenway, made it spectacular. They’ve spent money. They’ve made it to the playoffs six times as owners, won two championships: You can’t argue success. I think they’ve lost their way a little bit and got consumed with sellouts, image, TV, bricks, that sort of thing and they did get away from baseball a little bit I think.
Since the release of an excerpt by Sports Illustrated on January 15, there has been rampart fervor to get the whole story. In its release, SI painted the picture of an angry and vengeful Francona, firing shots at John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner.
The now infamous quotes come from both Francona and former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. First, Epstein was quoted as saying:
They told us we didn't have any marketable players, that we needed some sizzle. We need some sexy guys. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. This is like an absurdist comedy. We'd become too big. It was the farthest thing removed from what we set out to be.
And here's Francona's comment:
They come in with all these ideas about baseball, but I don't think they love baseball. I think they like baseball. It's revenue, and I know that's their right and their interest because they're owners ... and they're good owners. But they don't love the game. It's still more of a toy or a hobby for them. It's not their blood. They're going to come in and out of baseball. It's different for me. Baseball is my life.
CB: What is your reaction to the displeasure voiced by Theo Epstein in an email to ESPN regarding how he went to work to build a sexier team in 2011?
DS: Theo called me before doing that and we talked it over. I said, 'Hey, as long as you don’t say you were misquoted;' he knows not to do that, it's all on tape. I think Theo’s quarrel was with people’s interpretation of the excerpt and that’s fair. People talked about getting sexier and that was what was up with this focus group report. It wasn’t necessarily his directive for building that team. It’s all in the book would be my answer, but I understand what Theo’s reaction was and it was more than fair.
Of course, Red Sox fans that are angry with the ownership will love to read such parts of the book, but the truth is both of those excerpts come 272 pages into the book. Plenty of discourse brews before this point in the story.
Since originally being published by SI, Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein has emailed Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston to rebut the excerpts, saying that they were taken out of context:
There is no link direct link between that meeting and the Red Sox moves that winter. I take full responsibility for those moves. It was my job to handle the pressure of a big market and make good decisions.
Red Sox fans that have followed the team since the arrival of the new ownership in 2001 will be satiated by tales of Manny Ramirez’s antics in and out of the clubhouse. They will see what it was like dealing with Nomar Garciaparra both in his early days in the Arizona fall league and in 2004, when the man was Boston-ed out, so to speak. With each page readers will witness the rise and fall of a beloved franchise.
CB: Why will this book resonate with non-Red Sox fans?
DS: If you’re a baseball fan it's like a Yankee book. It’s a baseball story of rise and fall. It’s a boilerplate for how you can get too big, fat and happy.
Through the eyes of Terry Francona fans will learn about whom some of his favorite players were to work and learn of his close working relationships with the likes of Epstein, traveling secretary Jack McCormick and clubhouse attendants with the nickname “Pookie.”
Fans are treated with an intimate look at life off the field for the manager. His near-death experience stemming from two pulmonary embolisms in his lungs in 2002 is discussed along with his 50 knee surgeries and daily pain management.
CB: Lastly, what was the best part about writing this book for you?
DS: I don’t think it’s happened yet. I want people to really enjoy it, tell me it’s a good book. We’re just starting to get that now because so few people have read the book and I welcome that because I feel it’s so strong and fun.
At the end of the day, Francona: The Red Sox Years is an extremely enjoyable read, and not just for Red Sox fans. The story chronicles a man that loves baseball and has devoted his life and his body to the game while overcoming numerous trials and tribulations.
Christopher Benvie is an MLB Featured Columnist for the Bleacher Report as well as a Contributing Writer for WEEI.com in Boston, Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter here: