The date is September 30, 2011.
The Red Sox are holding a press conference to announce a decision: Terry Francona will no longer be the manager of the Boston Red Sox.
After a historic September collapse for the Red Sox, Francona told the public that he and Boston’s upper management group both agreed to part ways. However, as Dan Shaughnessy wrote in an article for the Boston Globe back in 2011, Francona was actually fired.
“Francona turns out to be the first victim of the greatest collapse in baseball history,” wrote Shaughnessy. “The 7-20 finish made Francona the perfect scapegoat.”
Now fast forward to this offseason. Francona is the manager of a talented Cleveland Indians team, and the Red Sox just fired their most recent manager, John Farrell, and elected to hire Alex Cora as the new leader of the 2018 group.
Since 2002, the Red Sox have had five different managers. At first glance, that number does not sound significant. But when you look at the time span for these managers, it does not take a genius to realize that the Red Sox’s upper management, like many MLB teams’, have made multiple mistakes at hiring managers.
Here is the list of Red Sox managers and the length of their tenures since 2002:
Grady Little — 2002-03: ALCS loss
Francona — 2004-11: two World Series wins
Bobby Valentine — 2012: last place
Farrell — 2013-17: one World Series win
Cora — 2018
Everybody knows how Little’s tenure ended with the Red Sox. In Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Little left Pedro Martinez in the game when the whole world knew that Pedro was done. With Martinez in the game, the Yankees came back and ultimately won on an Aaron Boone walkoff home run off of Tim Wakefield.
The decision to leave Pedro in the game went down in Red Sox history as yet another horrible playoff moment for the Sox.
In stepped Francona. Francona was known as a players’ manager who was very likable around the league. One of the main reasons Curt Schilling came to Boston was because he liked Francona.
How did Francona do in his first year with the new club? He gave the Sox a World Series for the first time since 1918. Not only that, but the Red Sox became the only team to ever win a postseason series after being down 3-0.
People talk about the players during that amazing comeback against the Yankees. But you also need the right leader and manager during that high-intensity, high-pressure series. Francona was the perfect guy to keep the team relaxed at that moment. Not only did he have the perfect demeanor, but he also made the timely managerial decisions. Francona was the one who gave Dave Roberts the steal sign against the Yankees in that crucial moment.
Obviously, that was not a genius move, but it still took guts to call. Francona was the one who mixed and matched the right pieces with Doug Mientkiewicz and Pokey Reese and all of the others during the season. Francona was the one who stepped into a team with 86 years of heartbreak and high expectations and delivered in his first year.
Not only that, but he did it again. After 2004, Francona led the Sox to another championship in 2007. He didn’t always make the right moves. No manager does. But there was a trust from the fans that Francona knew what he was doing the majority of the time. He used the bullpen well, he knew when to pinch hit for guys, and he pinched hit the right guys. As a fan, you knew that Francona was usually going to make the right baseball move.
Despite his success, Francona was gone as Red Sox manager after that horrible 2011 collapse.
In eight seasons, Francona had a .574 winning percentage, won two pennants and captured two World Series. But after 2011, he was out.
Next up: Valentine. I won’t even describe his time with the Red Sox. It was that much of a disaster. After one season, the Sox fired Bobby V and brought in Farrell.
Amazingly, just like Francona stepped in during his first year as manager of the Sox and won a World Series, so did Farrell in 2013. However, as everyone said, the team “caught fire in a bottle,” and it was one of those crazy years.
To throw out that World Series is ridiculous. Farrell deserves credit for that title. However, as most fans began to realize over the next five years, Farrell was a terrible manager. Whether it was pinch-hitting the wrong guys at the wrong time, messing up in-game decisions, or misusing his bullpen, there always seemed to be one thing he did during a game where you thought, “What is he thinking?”
There was no trust between Red Sox fans and Farrell. With Francona, you could trust he would make the right decision. With Farrell, it was the exact opposite. You expected him to make the wrong decision.
When the Red Sox faced the Cleveland Indians two years ago, Francona clearly out-managed Farrell and propelled the Indians into the World Series. How he used his bullpen and utilized Andrew Miller simply won the series for the Indians.
When Francona was in Boston, we took him for granted. I sure did. But after seeing him manage the Indians, and after witnessing Valentine and Farrell manage this team, it is clear that the Red Sox should never have let Francona go after the 2011 season.
Yes, the team needed a change. That is for sure. However, the change needed to be with the players, not the manager.
In a 2011 article on ESPN.com, Dustin Pedroia explained that Boston’s collapse was not Francona’s fault.
“It’s hard, man, with the way we played this year, but by no means is it Tito’s fault,” Pedroia said. “We get paid a lot of money and the biggest thing that I am upset with, and I think a lot of guys are upset with, is the accountability of each other. It’s not the manager’s fault. We need to hold ourselves more accountable as a team, as players. There are a lot of things that went on that was disrespectful and we played like it. That’s basically it, but Tito’s had every single guy’s back in that clubhouse from day one.”
Francona does deserve blame for the fiasco in the clubhouse. He is the leader and when bad things are happening, he is the one who should be held accountable.
However, that was a horrible group of players and Francona never should have been fired. Blamed? Yes. Fired? No.
Right now, with this young core group of players, the Red Sox sure could use a manager like Francona. Over the offseason, the Sox finally made the right move by firing Farrell and hiring Cora.
It is hard to predict how Cora will perform as the manager. The tone already seems better with Cora than with Farrell, but that is not saying much. Listening to Farrell talk day-to-day was simply like hearing nails on a chalkboard.
Cora seems engaged, excited and ready to change the culture of the team. Let’s see if it happens.
But as the Indians continue to have success with their group of players, one thought will continue to persist in my mind: Terry Francona should still be the manager of the Boston Red Sox.