Nine years after he was hired, oversaw two World Series wins, endured a martyred firing, and the inevitable sliming on his way out the door, it’s easily forgotten that Terry Francona was selected by the Red Sox for three main reasons:
- He would adhere to organizational edicts regarding strategy
- He would work relatively cheaply for the opportunity
- He was agreeable to Curt Schilling, whom the Red Sox were desperately trying to acquire
Of course there are macro-reasons behind Francona’s hiring such as being salable to fans, that he was well-liked throughout baseball, he wasn’t Grady Little, among others, but it came down to those three simple factors that made him a reasonable choice. In fact, Larry Lucchino had chatted with Bobby Valentine about the job back then, but the chat never went far enough to warrant an interview because—according to Valentine—he wouldn’t criticize Little’s decision to leave Pedro Martinez in to keep pitching in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. It didn’t help that Valentine was Valentine and he would’ve wanted a significantly higher salary than Francona accepted.
Now the Red Sox are said to be interested in reaching back to the Francona coaching staff and hiring (or trading for) John Farrell, current manager of the Blue Jays. There are positives and negatives to hiring Farrell that are reminiscent of the hiring of Francona. The negatives of Francona were his atrocious record as manager of the then-talentless Phillies, that his low salary would’ve made him an easy fire if the team didn’t live up to expectations, and there was a chance that the players would tune him out because this was in the aftermath of Moneyball and the manager was seen as a faceless, nameless, and replaceable functionary operating at the “do this or else” whims of the front office. With his record and popularity in subsequent years, Francona was able to break those shackles and get paid more lucratively while being treated with greater respect, but his power within the organization was limited and, as 2011 showed, there wasn’t much loyalty or appreciation considering all he’d done.
Farrell’s negatives include his strategic weaknesses during games, that he’s going to cost the Red Sox a player (the Blue Jays asked for Clay Buchholz last year; expect something less, but still useful); and he hasn’t been successful in the bottom line with the Blue Jays in spite of a powerful offense and plenty of talent.
The media, fans, and players would be fully onboard with the hire—something Valentine didn’t have; prospective players wouldn’t turn down the Red Sox money specifically because of the manager; and there would be a perception of, “Now we’re getting back to the Red Sox way.”
But are they getting back to the Red Sox “way”? Is Lucchino going to step back and let Ben Cherington do what Theo Epstein did and build a team the way he prefers with on base percentage, power, feisty competitors, and reasonable salaries? Or is he going to meddle, make his presence felt, and shoehorn players and people into the mix when they just don’t improve the recipe?
The Red Sox did a smart thing in getting rid of Josh Beckett (he had to go); Adrian Gonzalez (not cut out for Boston or for a leadership role); and Carl Crawford (miserable in Boston, injured). They slashed money and Valentine is clearly going to be out sooner or later. It’s irrelevant that Valentine’s “controversial” interview yesterday was blown out of proportion for soundbite and attention purposes—it’s not going to work with him. But it just as easily might not have worked for Francona had the Red Sox been as dysfunctional in 2004 as they were with Francona in 2011 and with Valentine in 2012. Would it be better with Farrell? It might if they truly get back to what it was they had in 2004. But everyone longing and promoting Farrell’s return had better realize that if they move forward with this same template of broken links in the chain-of-command, Farrell’s not going to have much more success that Valentine did this season of Francona did in September of 2011. It takes more than a managerial change to fix this mess.