It is extremely unfortunate that the Terry Francona era is over in Boston. Is there any leader who did more to turn around a desperate franchise than Tito did? He won the most coveted title in sports history in 2004 to end the Red Sox's 86-year drought. Then he did it again in 2007. He went 8-0 in World Series games, and they let him go?!
Of course, that's not the whole story. The Red Sox decided not to exercise his option for next year, which doesn't technically mean that they let him go. The point is, they could have brought him back, and they didn't. Francona mused that the job aged him and that he felt extra weathered by the extreme scrutiny that the franchise is under in Beantown.
In case anyone forgot, the Red Sox fanbase isn't exactly easy on its managers. In 2003, when manager Grady Little left ace Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against the Yankees, the Red Sox went on to lose the pennant on an 11th-inning Aaron Boone dagger. Firegradylittle.com, anyone?
Francona didn't bring on such an assault of hatred from Sox fans (namely because he eased tensions by winning those two titles), whereas Little was seen as a backstabber employed by George Steinbrenner.
After all the heartbreak that the Sox endured down the stretch this season, it's important we remember all of the great things Francona has done as a manager (both with the Sawx and without them).
Michael Jordan, the greatest athlete to ever live, played Double-A baseball for a season. After his father was mysteriously murdered, he felt that he needed to grant him his wish and give baseball a try, so he walked away from three titles and proven superstardom in the NBA. (Seriously, just imagine if LeBron James tried out for the NFL right now.)
Who guided Jordan through all of the chaos that came from being the most coveted sports celebrity in existence? Our good buddy Terry Francona managed Jordan and the Birmingham Barons for two seasons from 1993-1995. (Jordan only lasted one season.)
Other notables from Francona's stint as manager of the Barons? Future AL MVP Miguel Tejada and Manny (bleeping) Ramirez.
To the naked eye, Francona's years in Philly were as dismal as the Pittsburgh Pirates' current losing-record streak. However, these years were formative for Tito. He learned the ins and outs of managing and took media heat from a place that clearly had the fan firepower to give him an ulcer.
His work in Philadelphia, while horrible record-wise (77-85 was the Phillies' best campaign in '99), set a precedent for several bench-coaching gigs and a brief stint as a special assistant to Cleveland's GM in 2001.
His rocky time in Philadelphia was his only other head-coaching job before he entered what was seen as the ultimate sports spotlight at the time: manager of the cursed Boston Red Sox.
In his first year as an AL manager, Francona led the Sawx to a 98-64 record, finishing just behind the surging Yankees in the AL East. They swept the floor with the Angels in the first round and promptly fell down 3-0 in the series to the Bronx Bombers in the ALCS.
Dave Roberts saved him—and all of Boston—from another cold winter of depression.
Kevin Millar walks. Roberts steals second. Bill Mueller singles. Game tied. The rest is (fortunately for Tito) history. Red Sox come back and win, sweep the Cards in the World Series...
...and now I feel like Jimmy Fallon in Fever Pitch.
After again digging themselves a huge ditch in the 2007 ALCS, Tito's leadership guided the Sox on a three-game charge to defeat the Cleveland Indians. Once again, they swept the World Series in four games.
Francona's record in the Fall Classic? 8-0. You can't not say it again.
Francona recorded his 1,000th win as a manager just two months before the Red Sox completed the choke job of the century by losing 20 of the team's last 27 and narrowly missing the playoffs.
For what it's worth, most in Boston will probably never remember Tito for what he was: a fiery, knowledgeable and disciplined manager.
In a place where nothing slips through the cracks and the fans demand the most out of their figurehead, Tito wasn't able to last more than seven years. But he snapped the Curse of the Bambino and added another trophy to the display case while he was at it.
You might see him in a Chicago Cubs uniform next year, which has a few demons of its own.
BRING ON THE GOAT!