At home at fenway

Keeping on eye on Dustin, Papi, Youk & a few good books

Francona & Shaughnessy explain 2011….finally

Posted by athomeatfenway on February 18, 2013

Francona

On Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011, Terry Francona stood in front of the Palace Hotel in Manhattan waiting for DeMarlo Hale. His team had lost 12 out of their last 15 games and were hanging onto a playoff spot by a thread.

Francona was approached by a stranger with a foreign accent who said, “You must win today.”

“Hey asshole, what do you think we’re trying to do?” said the stressed out manager.

Security intervened. The foreigner turned out to be a diplomat. Apologies, introductions and a friendly photo taking followed. No damage done. But the incident speaks volumes. Tito had flared in a way not inconsistent with the captain on a sinking ship — and for good reason.

The Sox had blown a 9 game lead over Tampa in a disastrous September during which the pitchers didn’t pitch, the hitters didn’t hit and the fielders didn’t field.

And unlike earlier rough spots, Francona, who is usually a master at damage control, only made things worse.

But why?

That is the question some Red Sox fans, myself included, have been asking since Sept. 28, 2011. How could a team that was capable of 100 wins be 39 games over .500 from May 1 through August 31 and play like the ’62 Mets in September?

Francona, The Red Sox Years by Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy goes a long way to providing the answers. It may be fair to say that the answers have been previously spoken or written many times by others. But this book lays out the chronology and context for the narrative in a way no one has before.

The trick the authors turn is in making the reader understand the forces that were acting upon Tito and the team.  It was not just that something was wrong with the Sox, it was that most everything was wrong.

It was a perfect storm. Veteran coaches had left and with them went the established connection points to the team that Francona used to discuss bad behavior or poor play.    This was a critical change.  If you read Michael Holley’s book about Francona, Red Sox Rule, then you know that Tito used peers, coaches and team leaders to keep the team on track.

Problems emerged every where. Youkilis said there was a festering conflict between position players and the pitching staff. Three starters (Lackey, Lester & Beckett) had enormous egos, all having pitched a WS clincher by age 26, and they formed a narcissistic clique that became unconcerned with management and team. Aging players were in the final year of their contracts and grew discontented. Players placed personal rewards above team success. Rumors broke out about Theo Epstein going to the Cubs as G.M. Injuries abounded. The medical staff was cluttered and nervous. The owners were fixated on playing all 81 home dates in order to maximize revenue even as Hurricane Irene threatened. The bullpen ran out of gas. All of the above…..all at once.

The tipping point came on Saturday, August 27, the day before Irene punished the Massachusetts coast. After a long road trip the owners insisted that a day-night doubleheader be played. Not hiding their unhappiness, the players performances thereafter landed in the outhouse, never to rise again in 2011.  Or in 2012.

A lot has been said about how Francona criticizes Lucchino, Werner & Henry in the book. There are several instances in which the ex-manager reveals their shortcomings but I didn’t read anything new or surprising. I’d have been surprised if Tito had written that Larry is a paternal cuddlebunny, another Johnny Pesky.

Larry is a bit of a tough guy. Theo can be manipulative. Henry is a geek. Werner is best suited to running NESN. So what. That sounds like the expected case.

Terry comes off as a flexible and devoted boss.  He’s not going to quote Winston Churchill like Theo. He is going to drop F-bombs. He may even moon you, as he mooned Theo and the coaches in the privacy of the manager’s office one day (when PR chief Pam Ganley barged in).

He’s down to earth.   He honors the 15 men who managed him as a player, spelling out which valuable lesson he learned from each one in a lovely Acknowlegdement at the end of the book.  These men were his highschool, minor league and big league skippers.  Even the one that scared the heck out of him, Dick Williams.

I like that about Tito. He’s a true diamond lifer who will never take himself too seriously or place his value high above his brothers and sisters.

He is the greatest Boston Red Sox manager in my 47 years of fandom. He’s probably the best in the history of the Sox.

No one was better at handling the press. Or difficult personalities.

This book is a must read. Don’t miss it.

Go Sox.

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