Would Terry Francona Have Basis for a Lawsuit Against the Red Sox?

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In an interview with WEEI radio, former Red Sox manager Terry Francona lashed out against the person or persons who leaked the story that painkillers were an issue for him this season—Boston.com story.

Given his anger at how the Red Sox slammed him on the way out the door and the anonymous sources that suggested Francona had a prescription drug problem, does the former manager have a case to sue the Red Sox and the Boston Globe for slander and libel respectively?

There were two openings that Francona was up for following his departure from the Red Sox. One was with the Cubs and the other the Cardinals.

The man who hired him in Boston, Theo Epstein, is now the team president of the Cubs; presumably Epstein knew the whole story with Francona’s pain medication and what really happened in Boston; but the Cubs chose Dale Sveum as their manager. That doesn’t say anything about Francona personally; Sveum is a good choice and probably a better fit for the Cubs in their current state.

Francona was asked about it in his interview to manage the Cardinals. The Cardinals were a solid landing spot for a proven manager. We’ll never know whether his failure to get that job had something to do with the allegations—the Cardinals wouldn’t admit it if it did—but the idea of it being a reason they didn’t select him can’t be dismissed out of hand as they chose the neophyte Mike Matheny over Francona.

Francona is now out of work. His contract with the Red Sox was technically not renewed so he wasn’t fired. Having acquitted himself well as a broadcaster during the ALCS filling in for Tim McCarver, he’ll be a broadcaster in 2012 and those jobs tend to pay well.

He’s very well-liked as a person as well and if he grew desperate, he could find employment without being the manager of a team; Francona worked in the Indians front office after he was fired as Phillies manager and was a bench coach for the Athletics. But it’s a major comedown financially and in stature for a manager with Francona’s pedigree of two World Series wins to have to grovel to sit next to a manager who is undoubtedly not going to have the resume that Francona does.

This is different than the Red Sox saying Nomar Garciaparra was being a petulant, self-indulgent baby when they traded him; somewhat different from saying Pedro Martinez‘s arm wasn’t going to hold up for the length of a 4-year contract and claiming the Jason Bay‘s knees and subpar defense made him a poor signing for the amount of money and years he wanted and wound up getting from the Mets.

This is what the Red Sox do; they continued the tradition by saying negative things about Francona to justify the parting of ways as a means of self-protection for the inevitable backlash for letting the popular manager go.

If Francona has a doctor to back up his version of events and he doesn’t get a managerial position when he chooses to truly pursue one, would he have legal recourse to say the Red Sox impugned his reputation and cost him other opportunities?

I said at the time that the Red Sox—with the amount of money they spent on the 2011 team and the horrific collapse stemming in large part from lax discipline on the part of Francona—had a right to make a change if they felt another manager would handle the club better on and off the field.

But they didn’t have to spread these stories.

Could Francona sue the Red Sox?

It would be a bad idea. This is baseball. A lawsuit might lead to him being blackballed to a greater degree than an addiction; but if he feels they’re doing this intentionally and whispering lies to hurt his career in an effort to look better themselves, he has a legal right to look into it seriously if he has to.

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