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Friday, September 30, 2011

Farewell to Terry

The Red Sox just announced that they mutually agreed with Terry Francona that he will not return as the team’s manager in 2012. This news is something I am having a difficult time trying to wrap my mind around, but I do believe that the team will come to regret this decision.

Like most Boston fans, I was angry with the team following the culmination of their historic collapse in the last game of the season. Over the past few days I racked my brain for someone I could attribute the lion’s share of the blame. I ultimately came to believe that the fault lies primarily with the players, but the fiscal reality of baseball today makes it increasingly difficult to hold players accountable for poor play. That left me thinking that maybe the team could benefit from changing managers and having a new perspective from the field boss position.

Now that the break-up between the Red Sox and Francona has been confirmed, I find myself regretting my initial stance that thought this would be a good idea. After eight years with the team, Francona is clearly the best manager in the history of the team. Not only did he lead two championship teams, including one that broke the infamous 86 year drought, but his reputation as a player’s manager allowed the team to flourish with big names and bigger egos. It is thus with bitter irony that his undoing is apparently due to a clique of unidentified players who created division within the team and were unable to be controlled by his usual steady hand.

I don’t know for sure who the disruptive players are, but I can make a reasonably educated guess that they included the likes of John Lackey, whose negativity was a focal point of this past season. He not only chastised his teammates on the field for perceived poor play, but was also openly disrespectful to Francona on a number of occasions, when he did not want to be taken out of a game. His behavior was magnified by his hideous performance on the mound that led to a 6.41 ERA by the end of the year.

It is a sad reality in baseball that a team can more easily placate an angry fan base by changing managers than by unloading players who have a negative impact on their team. It all comes down to dollars and cents, which is not what true baseball is supposed to be, but is what drives the sport. Canning a manager like Francona, who makes about four million dollars a season, and was up for an option renewal, is a lot easier than trying to unload a player with over 60 million dollars in guaranteed money left on their contract. 

With rare exception teams must spend on players in order to contend from year to year. Although splashing out the cash may bring in higher caliber players, it also creates potentially unsolvable problems. Big contract guys are going to get paid what is owed them whether or not they put up great numbers, stink up the joint, or ruin team chemistry. Team’s won’t release them, they can’t be benched, and unless another team has their own dud with a similar salary; they can’t be traded. This effective tying of hands for the front office means that the manager is the easiest person to be made a public scapegoat. Regardless of how Francona’s departure is being spun in the media, he has been made the scapegoat for the 2011 team.

If you’re not yet with me in agreeing that allowing Francona to leave is a serious mistake, then consider this. The names of possible replacements being floated around include the likes of Bobby Valentine and Eric Wedge. Do you really think that they or anyone else whose name may pop up can do a better job of leading the Red Sox than Francona? I thought not. He has been there and done that with Boston, which can be a difficult city to play in, and has a demanding group of fans. It will take a truly inspired hire to deodorize the stink surrounding Francona’s departure, and unfortunately it is not something I am expecting.

Terry Francona may not be the best manager in baseball, but he is the best person to manage the Red Sox. Letting him go will not address the clubhouse problems or make players change their behavior. Now that the team finally got past the “Curse of the Bambino,” here’s hoping that we have not just entered the “Curse of Tito.”


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