The Boston Globe has reported that the owner of the Red Sox John Henry has decided that Manager Terry Francona, the best thing to happen to baseball in Boston since the day that Babe Ruth signed with the New York Yankees will not exercise Francona’s contract option to return to the Red Sox next year. On Thursday GM Theo Epstein sat next to Francona and said “Collectively it was a failure, I’m the general manager so I take more responsibility than anybody. I don’t think we believe in — I know we don’t believe in scapegoats. In particular, no one blames Tito for what happened in September. Look, we all failed collectively. We kind of failed collectively in this one and we have to live with that.” On Friday there were multiple reports that the player friendly Francona was out.
The reports were accurate but Epstein sent out a press release today which said “John Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino, Ben Cherington and I met with Terry Francona this morning at Fenway Park to exchange thoughts and information on the 2011 season and discuss areas for improvement going forward. We all plan on taking some time to process the thoughts expressed in the meeting. There are no immediate plans for an announcement.”
The Red Sox had 10 days from the end of the season to make the decision to retain or release Francona but around5:30 PMa joint announcement was made that the team was not picking up its option on Francona’s contract and that he would not be back in 2012. Epstein released another statement in the evening saying:
“Nobody at the Red Sox blames Tito for what happened at the end of this season; we own that as an organization. This year was certainly a difficult and draining one for him and for us. Ultimately, he decided that there were certain things that needed to be done that he couldn’t do after eight years here, and that this team would benefit from hearing a new voice. While this may be true, his next team will benefit more than it knows from hearing Tito’s voice. I will miss seeing Tito every day in the manager’s office, and I wish him and his family nothing but the best in their next chapter.
The Red Sox front office also released a statement which praised Francona:
“We have enormous respect, admiration and appreciation for Tito and the job that he did for eight years, including two World Series championship seasons and five playoff appearances,” the statement read. “His poise during the 2004 postseason was a key factor in the greatest comeback in baseball history, and his place in Red Sox history will never be forgotten. We wish him only the best going forward.”
“We met this morning to look back on the 2011 season and to consider the future of the Boston Red Sox, including my involvement with the club. I passed along my frustrations at my inability to effectively reach the players. After many conversations and much consideration, I ultimately felt that, out of respect to this team, it was time for me to move on. I’ve always maintained that it is not only the right, but the obligation, of ownership to have the right person doing this job. I told them that out of my enormous respect for this organization and the people in it, they may need to find a different voice to lead the team.”
Francona who managed a Red Sox team that had not won a World Series since 1918 brought not one but two World Series titles to Beantown and led the Sox to the playoffs 5 times in his 8 years as the team’s manager. He won with a loose and player friendly approach and when the team won the Red Sox Nation cheered his “idiots.” Now it appears that the Red Sox ownership is ready to let Francona go and many of the younger members of the Red Sox Nation are looking to blame someone.
Yes the Red Sox collapse was epic, the worst ever in the history of Major League Baseball. They had a nine game lead in the Wild Card Race and went 7-20 in September. The collapse was made even worse by how they lost the final game of the season to the suddenly hot last place Baltimore Orioles. They had the Orioles down to their last strike in the bottom of the 9th inning and lost with their ace closer Jonathan Papelbon on the hill. It was an unthinkable and humiliating blow.
However to simply assign Francona the blame is to take the easy way out. Many factors contributed the most important was how the Red Sox went from playing “Money Ball” with a lot more money than Billy Beane aver had in Oakland to trying to screw what made them successful and try to spend money on “talent” to compete with the Yankees now. But the talent that they purchased was overpriced and underperforming. John Lackey and Carl Crawford, both solid players in their own right failed to live up to the expectations set before them and the money that the organization paid them. The Red Sox set the price for both with exorbitant contracts to ensure that neither went to their hated arch rival Yankees.
But there were other factors on and off the field especially regarding the pitching staff which collapsed and that some pitchers routinely drank in the clubhouse on their off days.
David Ortiz seemed to indicate that there were problems in the dugout saying “I worry about playing baseball more than anything else, I know we have some players that (the organization thought were) worried about some other s— and sometimes there were certain things that no one in the clubhouse can control. I was trying and I have no issues.”
Jackie MacMullan wrote an article today that really laid out a case for how everyone had a part in this epic collapse. But one thing that she pointed out was something that almost any observer could tell. The Red Sox had become unlikable, arrogant and complacent.
“While the Rays were young, hungry and edgy, the Red Sox were arrogant, complacent and, worst of all, entitled. They took their baseball gifts for granted, and when those gifts abandoned them, as they almost always do during a long baseball season, they were either too lazy or too cocksure to recognize what was required of them to maintain the consistency that is so vital in baseball. So they complained about the absence of the designated hitter in inter-league play, bemoaned injuries that robbed them of key players, even suggested their schedule was too grueling because they played too many televised night games (Adrian Gonzalez can lay claim to that gem). Back in the good old days, the Red Sox famously dubbed the Yankees “the Evil Empire” because they were arrogant, complacent and, yes, entitled. When New York failed, it merely outspent everyone else to pluck the best players from free agency and rejigger its lineup. Somewhere along the way, the Red Sox became what they once abhorred.”
Players defended Francona. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez said “It’s not Tito’s fault he’s not on the field playing. You can’t blame the manager who has kept an even keel the whole time. That’s what he’s supposed to do. You want him to show panic and put pressure on us? No. He did his job and us as players just didn’t get it done.”
Venerable Red Sox Captain Jason Varitek who played a part time role on the team in 2011 said “I don’t think right now there’s a reason to point any fingers, we as players didn’t get our job done.”
However Francona has to bear some of the blame. Yet his part in the collapse compared to decisions made by Theo Epstein, Red Sox ownership and failure of players to perform his place in the blame game is in my mind smaller. But he is the on-field manager and like the Captain of a ship he gets blamed for the actions of his subordinates as well as those above him. That is the nature of the game.
Personally I like Francona’s leadership style. I have a similar one. However, as Francona found out it can reach back and bite you in the ass if you are not careful. I personally believe that he was let down by his team which since 2008 has not performed in the playoff and finished 3rd in the AL East twice. Likewise the GM and ownership have a large amount of blame to bear for this debacle.
Francona is the best manager the Red Sox have ever had. The Red Sox went 744-552 under Francona, and 8-0 in World Series games under him. I do not know who could replace him. The fact is that what happened to the Red Sox this season will not be easy to fix. Many changes will have to be made and it could take the team years to recover. The hardest thing to recover will be what they lost along the way; the Red Sox need to rediscover their soul. For the rest of the American League East it could mean that the road to challenge the Yankees will have one less obstacle in the way.