Terry Francona: Why He's the Best Manager in Baseball
Terry Francona did for Boston what few managers could. He brought the city a championship in 2004, and then to prove that his success wasn’t a fluke, he did it again in 2007.
If you’re a Red Sox fan and you listen to Boston-based sports talk radio, you hear frequently the fan-base's ire directed at the Sox's most successful manager in nearly a hundred years. For all the gruff and grumble however, Terry Francona deserves more respect that a lot of Beantown has given him, and here’s why.
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You haven’t always agreed with his decisions—especially when it comes to what members of the struggling bullpen he drops into a game—but in the end it’s not your opinion that matters. It’s the opinion of the players.
Yes, money has attracted a lot of stars to Boston, but so hasn’t Terry Francona. A true player’s manager in every sense of the word, he is respected and admired by his team and staff, to the point where any of them, past or present, will go to any length to agree with his in-game decisions, even when they may not deep down inside.
Respect is not something you can just talk your way into, and when you lose it, it’s gone forever. He hasn’t always had it from the fans during his seven years here in Boston, but Francona has certainly had it from his players.
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Egos are about as common in the clubhouse as bats and balls, so finding a manager who can juggle those unique personalities is a skill set every GM looks for in their skipper.
Over the years, Francona has had his share of big stars with big egos to manage. From Manny Ramirez to Josh Beckett, Tito has successfully navigated a treacherous path towards keeping players happy and productive, all while ensuring that the special attention bestowed upon those personalities doesn’t alienate the rest of the team.
Regulating the Pressure
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Aside from New York, no market comes with more pressure to win than Boston. Since joining the Red Sox as skipper in 2004, Terry Francona has not only found a comfort zone that works for him, he's also excelled in handling both media and fan expectations in a city where winning is the only way.
Francona himself has admitted publicly that the stress of managing the Boston Red Sox has kept him up at night, but if he’s chewing his nails in bed, he’s not showing it from the dugout. Keeping a cool head around the team and not pressing the panic button has kept them winning, even when besieged by injuries in 2010.
Yes, they didn’t make the playoffs that year, but they still won 89 games, with mostly a roster of minor leaguers and journeymen. The San Francisco Giants meanwhile, World Series champs in 2010, won only three more games to end the season with 92 wins.
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Even before the 2011 season started, Francona was attempting to play down the massive expectations his team inherited when signing Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.
While some managers use ego as a weapon to incite excitement out of their team and its fans, Tito knows that Boston isn’t a city where you can write checks that your mouth can’t cash.
In retrospect, extinguishing the flames of expectation in March wasn’t such a bad idea given the team’s early season scuffling. Now that expectations are back down to earth, the team can focus on winning games instead of setting records.
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In a city where baseball outcomes often lead local news programming, having the ability to give the media what they want without giving them too much is a valuable tool in controlling the hype machine.
Unlike some of the more outspoken managers in the game, Francona very seldom inserts his foot into his mouth and never allows his comments—on or “off” the record—to be a distraction to his team.
Instead of basking in the celebrity of being a big market manager, Tito focuses his energy on what he was hired to do here in Boston. He manages.
Only the second manager to bring the Boston Red Sox two World Series titles (the other being Bill Carrigan way back in 1915 and 1916), Terry Francona has done what few skippers could do over the history of the team. He wins.
In his first year managing the Red Sox, he finished the 2004 season with a 98-64 record and brought a trophy home to Boston, ending the 86-year Curse of the Bambino.
As of May 5th, 2011, he has a career record of 668-496 managing the team.
Like or hate him, Terry Francona has taken the storied franchise to new heights, continuously putting more checks in the win column than he has in the losing column. We may not agree with every call to the bullpen or lefty lineup he throws out on the field, but he has proven himself as a big league manager and Boston is lucky to have him—even if he does sound a little like Shia LeBeouf when he talks.