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Why the Red Sox Need to Part Company with Terry Francona

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Why the Red Sox Need to Part Company with Terry Francona
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According to published reports, the Red Sox and manager Terry Francona will agree to part company this morning after an eight-year marriage that brought the franchise a pair of World Series championships—their first titles since 1918. Tito won’t be fired… his contract expired on Wednesday night and it has been agreed by both parties that the ballclub will not exercise either of the club options it has (for 2012 or 2013) for his services.

Divorce, baseball style.

Unlike the situation on the south side of Chicago, where the White Sox recently released embattled and controversial manager Ozzie Guillen, the parting here in Boston will be amicable. The ballclub and the manager have enjoyed shared success, and all parties have respect for one another. (Ironically, rampant speculation has Francona landing with the White Sox, where he managed in the minor leagues, once it is official that he won’t return to the Red Sox… so the situation with the Pale Hose will swing from one extreme to the other extreme).

The decision that Francona should move on appears to be mutual—and it was as much the skipper’s choice as the organization’s preference. At yesterday’s post-mortem press conference, Tito was asked if he would like to remain with the Red Sox…it would have been easy just to say, “yes” or “of course”, but he didn’t. Instead, his response was cryptic and alarmingly non-committal: “Theo (Epstein) and I talked today a little bit. I think we’ll continue to talk tomorrow. Maybe it’s best today to stay with where we’re at. (The end of the season is) still pretty fresh and pretty raw. It’s a fair question.”

A classic non-answer. Classic Tito.

If you read this site with any regularity, you know that I am not a fan of the way Francona manages a baseball game…and you know that I believe the 2004 and 2007 clubs won the World Series IN SPITE OF him. His in-game strategy is often deplorable and his instincts aren’t very good. He leaves certain of his starting pitchers in the game for far too long. He routinely abuses his relief corps. The ballclub doesn’t manufacture runs… he won’t utilize a bunt or a hit-and-run when the offense struggles. His players are not physically fit and have routinely failed to execute the fundamentals of baseball (can anyone besides Ellsbury lay down a bunt?). He coddles his players, in terms of what is expected from them physically, in terms of their execution, and in terms of accountability.

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There are times I listen to him and wonder if he has a pulse.

There were times I watched the team in September and wondered if THEY had a pulse. Collectively they had adopted the personality of their manager – and if you ever met him in person you know that he is, for lack of a better term, boring. His club played like it was bored throughout September.

I kept waiting for him to scream, “What the heck are you guys doing?”. I wanted to see a little Guillen in him… or a little Billy Martin or Earl Weaver. The problem is, he just doesn’t have it in him. You can’t ask a guy to be what he isn’t.

The 2004 and 2007 clubs didn’t need him to infuse life and personality into the ballclub – those clubs had a plethora of lively and animated characters. The idiots. The manager didn’t need to know what button to push and when to push it – the veteran players took care of those things for themselves. Damon. Millar. Schilling. Francona’s job was simply to write out the lineup card and not screw things up.

To his credit he did just that. A lot of managers would have tried to do too much because of ego and / or hubris. Tito did what he had to do… and when he made bad decisions those teams had the personality to pick themselves up by their boot straps and overcome their dilemma(s). Those players played hard for him because their talents and his personality meshed.

This club lacks players with that kind of temperament. These guys are collectively a pretty introverted bunch. They are professional. Quiet. Extremely talented (though maybe not as talented as we were led to believe back in the spring). But they lack hutzpah.

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Bard. Beckett. Crawford. Ellsbury. Gonzalez. Lackey. Lester. Lowrie. If you have met any of these guys in person you know they are pretty introverted…not a leader in the bunch (if you employ the classic definition of leadership). Varitek has always been more of a lead-by-example kind of guy, not an rah-rah type a la Damon or Millar or Schilling. Ditto, Ortiz. Papelbon, Pedroia and Youkilis are your team leaders…but Pappy is headed out of town and Youkilis has become more surly and objectionable as he has gotten older. The only real fire-in-the-belly guy left on the roster is Pedey…

 

That is where the manager needs to step in and infuse some life. When the body goes into tachycardia, it needs someone to grab the paddles and give it a jolt of electricity.

Francona does NOT have an electric personality (actually, his demeanor is the antithesis of an electric personality) and so he does not present what this collection of players needs from its skipper. As I said before, it’s not his fault – he is what he is. His staid personality was the perfect complement for the 2004 and 2007 rosters…it is an impediment to the current roster.

Previous teams held themselves accountable for their performance and appreciated Francona’s refusal to call them out publicly. This team needs someone to hold them accountable… what happened in September had nothing to do with God’s plan—it had to do with the player’s performance on the diamond.

So, whether it is fair or not, it is time for Tito to move on.

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