Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Terry Francona Exit

Watching the Francona exit unfold last week, I couldn't help but draw some parrallels to the end of Joe Torre's tenure with the Yankees.

I felt sorry to see Francona go the same way I was sorry to see Torre go in 2007. Two tremendous baseball men who carried themselves with a lot of class and dignity - and most importantly did a lot of winning - in media markets where they are under the microscope 24/7. They both deserved better send-offs. That aside, I think the Francona move, like the Torre move four years ago, is the right move for the Red Sox. Both Francona and Torre were/are good, not great, tactical managers on the field. But where their real genius existed was an ability to always put their players before themselves, protect them from the media limelight, and navigate through all the drama that managing in New York/Boston brings over the course of a long season successfully.

The only issue with that kind of manager, for better or worse, is that it runs its course. It doesn't mean they aren't good managers anymore. It just means they aren't as effective with a particular group. Francona himself admitted he didn't feel he was reaching the players the way he used to, and I imagine Torre might have said a similar thing back in 2007. I guess players get tired of hearing the same thing from the same guy 162 times a year, no matter how good that guy is or how right what he's saying is.

All that said, I was happy to see Francona go out somewhat on his own terms, at least publicly. And at the end of the day, getting compared to Torre, arguably one of the greatest managers of all-time and a first-ballot Hall of Famer, isn't so bad. When the dust settles and emotions dry up from this year's collapse Francona will always be able to fall back on the fact that he brought two World Series to Boston. I suspect he too will be getting Hall of Fame consideration when it's all said and done, if for no other reason than those World Series.

The really unfortunate part about this has been the shots taken at Francona on his way out. We are talking about the most successful Boston manager in nearly a century. Even if issues did develop towards the end of his time at the helm - and Francona wasn't perfect, he certainly played a role in the decline of this team the last 3 seasons - that doesn't erase the totality of his accomplishments in Boston. He deserves a lot better than the things that have been said about him - things that are only coming out now after he's left - the last few days.

One last point on a related but somewhat different note. It's pretty clear at this point the Red Sox have some issues. These things happen in pro sports and teams fix them. One thing that relates here though is that the Sox lack effective player leadership. Guys that were presumed to have some clout - namely Pedroia - obviously do not. And it's not necessarily that a guy like him doesn't want to lead. I'm sure he does. You have to have guys who want to be lead. But the flip side of that is that you want to have a leader that can bring people together, including those who don't are easy to lead. You might not be able to connect with the other 24 guys, but you have to have most of the clubhouse. This does not appear to be the case in Boston, seemed like there were a lot of different groups doing their own thing.

And if you look at it, it makes some sense why leadership is an issue. The Captain is really not a Major League player anymore. He doesn't seem to be a key piece of the clubhouse any longer.

Pedroia is the obvious candidate as the team's best combination of talent and personality. It's not fair to compare him to Jeter, one of the better leaders of this generation, but I'm going to anyway. Pedroia has a lot of those qualities, but he's just not Jeter. Jeter is more Big Man On Campus swagger, Pedroia is more scrapper. It's almost elementary to say but the former is going to have an easier time getting people's attention when he speaks, while the latter might have a tough time being taken seriously. Related, it probably doesn't help that a guy like that is playing Cribbage with the manager every single day. There's nothing wrong with it, but eventually someone who doesn't have the same relationship/appreciation with/for Tito that Pedroia does is going to resent Pedroia for it. Teams don't like perceived favorites.

Youkilis should play the Posada role of enforcer, but it appears he takes it too far. Like Pedroia, if you're too intense all the time you are going to get tuned out. Posada was able to toe that line as an intense guy between the lines who wasn't flipping out at umpires, other players on the other team, other players on his team, and the media all the time.

Finally, and not remotely least importantly, the Sox do not have a Rivera. A guy that when The Big Man On Campus or enforcer are struggling is simultaneously so ridiculously good and such a class act that he commands everybody's respect. This really isn't a fair comparison because these types of guys don't come around very often, but it's worth pointing out nonetheless.

This leadership situation didn't do Francona any favors.

Anyway, congrats to Francona on a truly great run with the Boston Red Sox.

3 comments:

the gm at work said...

Pat,

Good stuff, and what I'm starting to realize is really sad is the fact that not only is the Theo Epstein departure being overshadowed by this group of idiots, with the ownership group at the top of the list, but there's actually some good baseball going on. There's a pretty contentious NLCS going on, especially. And Verlander threw 133 pitches yesterday. Could you imagine anyone on the Red Sox doing that?

To address comments from yesterday, Theo did get himself into the mess that they're now in, and while it may be cowardly for him to leave, it had to happen for the good of both teams. I would have fired him.

Regarding departures, while Torre's departure was plenty disrespectful (a one-year deal with incentives was a pretty low blow), at least nobody went after his family. In both cases, what probably should have happened was "your style ran its course on the field with this group of guys. Thank you and goodbye."

Regarding leadership, Carl Crawford should be the leader on the team. Part of the "talk to the captain" thing probably came from the lack of leadership from the prick who had the C put on his jersey because it was written into his freaking contract. Crawford was a leader in Tampa Bay and he apparently called a players-only meeting in early September to tell everyone to get their heads out of their asses. Fell on deaf ears, probably because he was being undermined by the real leaders on the team who were stirring the drink bad. People like Varitek, who deserves to have his name dragged through the mud big-time.

Pedroia- also a bad leader. You cannot be a truly effective leader if you're perceived as a suck-up. Cribbage everyday is being a suck-up. As I told Pat, my dad once had a T-shirt when his coach either retired or got inducted into a Hall of Fame: The T-shirt said, "I'm not your friend, I'm your coach." That's how it should be. And that broke down with Francona and Pedroia.

Anonymous said...

First, thanks to DV for re-posting one of my comments from back in April. Fun re-read, I suppose.

This entire mess reminds me of a Bill Simmons basketball philosophy of 'no more than two knuckleheads per team' since at that point it is likely they will hang out and cause shenanigans to ensue. Kind of a silly philosophy but the underlying idea is sound, particularly at Fenway, as it seems that the problem is more a lack of guys who could be lead as opposed to a lack of actual leaders.

I think when a lack of player leadership is discussed it tends to assume that the players remaining wanted to be lead. How is that possible when a manager of Francona's accomplishment and class, as PF so excellently summarized, can have no handle on 90% of the team? There is no baseball player on the planet that could have whipped this team into shape and to suggest Pedroia lacked some quality or whatnot, for one example, is to ignore the problem of those he was so-supposedly going to lead.

TimC

Anonymous said...

Timc -

As I said in the post, I think your point about needing guys who wants to be lead is critical. But I do think a lack of leadership is also a factor. Schilling came out and said how this about a number of the guys you would think are leaders, and therewas another article pointing out how Pedroia's relationship with Francona caused him not to be trusted. All of the links are on Boston Dirt Dogs.

- PF