Francona: The Red Sox Years by Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy—Book Review

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It’s a fine line between revenge and clarification. In his new book detailing the eight years he spent as manager of the Boston Red Sox, Terry Francona straddles the territory between the two. In Francona: The Red Sox Years written with Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, Francona does so with a mostly objective point of view and occasional digs at those who sought to undermine him and diminish his substantial accomplishments during his time at the helm.

The book functions as a biography, telling the story of Terry Francona’s father Tito Francona’s Major League career; the younger Francona’s life of frequent address changes as his father switched teams; the experience of hanging around the clubhouses with his dad; his own playing career as a college star and first round draft pick; the injuries that sabotaged him and relegated him to journeyman whose lifelong dream ended at age 31. When he became a manager in the White Sox system, he was making the same innocent climb that players make first running a single A club in Indiana, then spending three years in Double A. The second year was notable because it provided Francona a crash course in a media circus managing basketball star Michael Jordan during his yearlong break from the NBA and foray into baseball.

By the time he was 38, he was named manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1997. The Phillies were a bad team and Francona, by his own account, didn’t do a very good job running the club. Fired after four seasons, he seemed more relieved than unhappy. Following the firing after the 2000 season, he burnished his resume by working in the Indians’ front office in 2001, as the bench coach for Buck Showalter with the Rangers in 2002, and Ken Macha with the Athletics in 2003.

While with the Athletics, Francona received a first hand look at his future in two different ways, neither of which he likely saw when he was traveling with his dad, playing or working his way up as a field boss: the general manager of the new millennium was openly interfering with the way in which a manager ran the games. All through 2003, Macha was constantly fending off the regular “suggestions” (more like interrogations) that the A’s manager was forced to endure from the newly minted star of Moneyball, Billy Beane. Also in 2003, Francona was on the opposite bench when the Red Sox, then managed by Grady Little and in year one of their remaking with Theo Epstein as their GM, came from 2 games to 0 behind to defeat the Athletics in a dramatic 5 games series. It was a glimpse into the future for Francona with the tentacles of chance gripping him, Little, Epstein and the Red Sox, sometimes around their throats.

In the very next series, Little’s decision to leave Pedro Martinez in to pitch game 7 of the ALCS against the Yankees cost him the job and opened it for Francona. Francona, ironically, was friends with Little for years and they even lived together when Francona served as Little’s bench coach in the Arizona Fall League in 1992. Also ironically, Francona—jokingly or not—told the Red Sox during the arduous interview process that he would have taken Pedro out of game 7 of the ALCS as Little was supposed to do. The interview process included written tests and games of the computer simulated baseball game “Diamond Mind” against Epstein’s assistants to see how Francona would react to game circumstances. Did Francona tell the Red Sox people what he knew they wanted to hear in terms of Little or would he have acquiesced to the demands of the numbers and ignored that the Red Sox bullpen didn’t have that one big arm in the bullpen that the manager could unequivocally trust in lieu of his ace?

Only Francona knows, but given the old-school sensibilities he exhibited, it’s not as cut-and-dried as implied that he wouldn’t have done the exact same thing Little did—the thing that got him fired.

This clash of civilizations is a key contention in this book and the books written by other managers such as Joe Torre with the Yankees who were unceremoniously relieved of their duties after immeasurable success that had not been enjoyed by their respective clubs for decades prior to their arrivals. The new landscape in baseball makes it necessary for managers to agree to listen to information that may or may not have real world validity in an exercise of going along to get along. Some managers like Joe Maddon embrace it; others, like Torre and Little, rebel against it with a head shake and bemused smirk; still others like Francona and Joe Girardi listen to the advice and try to incorporate it where applicable.

The fundamental civil war makes being a big league manager in today’s game an exercise in tightrope walking by maintaining respect with the players and not appear as a puppet while accessing and sifting through the reams of information burying them like corn in a silo. Torre, in fact, had his own issues magnified due to the presence of the big market rival using stats to build a club that was cheaper and better than his Yankees were. The Red Sox were Patient X in this experiment and where the entire virus got its start.

Little unabashedly ignored the advice. Francona was nuanced as he ignored some of it too, rebelling when he couldn’t tolerate it and telling Epstein to have his people back off a bit.

If anyone has the breadth of experience to be a manager and do his job without the overbearing interference of a staff of numbers crunchers and find methods to meld the highly paid egos, deal with the media, and make the players perform on the field, it’s Francona. The numbers crunchers that managers are forced to endure today may never have picked up a baseball and would be swallowed alive after two days of inhabiting the same space as Manny Ramirez, yet they see fit to question, criticize and send suggestions that eventually take the tone of orders.

For a pure baseball lifer, it’s a conundrum and necessary concession. Any manager who doesn’t adapt to the way baseball is run today is not going to get a job.

The battles he fought as manager were mostly with a front office that in the ownership suite didn’t appreciate the job he was doing. Francona was lowballed in his contract when he was initially hired and was saddled with the onus that he was taking orders from his bosses in every single aspect of on-field decisionmaking (this was right after the publication of Moneyball), and that he was selected because he was one of the few managers for whom Curt Schilling wanted to play. The Red Sox were closing in on acquiring Schilling simultaneously to hiring Francona. The Red Sox and Francona deny this, but the denial is formulated on a shaky premise. They didn’t decide out of the blue to get Schilling and it would certainly help to grease the negotiations if he knew he was getting a manager he wanted to play for instead of, say, Bobby Valentine.

The book doesn’t discuss significant conflict between Francona and Epstein in spite of Epstein making Francona’s life difficult with the overbearing and constant presence of the GM and his youthful assistants, or with acquisitions of the likes of David Wells, but there’s an unexplored and unmentioned tension that Francona may not admit or realize existed between him and Epstein.

Epstein, in fact, comes off as profoundly immature when the Red Sox fell behind the Yankees 3 games to 0 in the 2004 ALCS and his assistants decided that he couldn’t be left alone. Did they think he was suicidal? He couldn’t be left alone? It was a baseball game that they lost badly in a series they were about to lose, not life or death.

Rather than jump off the Green Monster, Epstein got drunk on a friend’s couch and passed out. As the GM was drowning his sorrows, the manager who was supposed to be manipulated by the “geniuses” in the front office was calmly saying that his team would show up to play and the series wasn’t over. While Epstein has continually denied the story of breaking furniture in Nicaragua when the Red Sox lost the bidding for free agent Cuban Jose Contreras to the Yankees, this type of story makes me believe that maybe he really did break the furniture in a tantrum that a 20-something is known to throw when he doesn’t get his way.

Reading between the lines, Epstein comes off looking immature, arrogant and self-centered.

The owners John Henry and Tom Werner, along with CEO Larry Lucchino are presented as the nemeses of Francona with Epstein serving as a buffer between the manager and the out-of-touch front office, but the book—again in an unsaid manner—presents Lucchino as the hatchet man carrying out the edicts of the two owners. More a devil’s advocate and overseer, Lucchino didn’t harass Epstein and Francona as much as he dared to question them and want an answer other than a spiraling stack of sludge that would placate a less-informed front office person or owner.

Francona’s health problems were much more serious than has ever been publicly revealed and his life was in jeopardy due to blood clots. He still endures terrible pain because of his wounds from a long playing career and the well-known issues with deep vein thrombosis. His use of pain medication was a point of contention and weaponized by someone with the Red Sox to impugn Francona’s reputation and justify his firing as if he was an addict whose use of the medicines, combined with the separation from his wife, led to a lack of focus allowing the players to run roughshod over all sense of propriety and culminating in the beer and chicken “scandal” that engulfed Francona and his team during their collapse in September 2011. The book explains Francona’s use of the medication in an evenhanded manner.

The players took advantage of Francona’s old-school demeanor in letting the players run their clubhouse. It’s an excuse to say that the beer and chicken had little to do with the collapse. If the players—especially pitchers Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and John Lackey—had been in better shape, perhaps they wouldn’t have pitched as poorly as they did down the stretch and the team wouldn’t have missed the playoffs in the first place.

What Francona getting and losing the job hinged on was chance and the slippery slope of “if-thens.”  Would he have gotten the nod had Bernie Williams’s looping single in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS fallen into the glove of Nomar Garciaparra and the Red Sox held on to win the game and advanced to the World Series? Would he have retained the job if Dave Roberts hadn’t been safe by a hair on his stolen base in the ninth inning of game 4 in 2004, sparking the inconceivable four game comeback? Would he have lost the job if the Red Sox had been able to win two more games in September of 2011?

The final portion of the book centers around Francona’s estrangement from the Red Sox and his continued and understandably obsessive questioning of everyone as to who leaked to the media that he had a problem with prescription medications. Lucchino is alleged to have said he was going to find out who it was, but never did. Henry, the detached Dracula whose presence was rare and awkward, contributed his beloved stats and was notably out-of-touch in his attempts to get a grip on his crumbling would-be dynasty, had no reply for Francona. Werner was too busy trying to bolster his own bona fides and overemphasize his influence.

The book is not a vengeful and vicious, “I’m gonna get back at the guys who screwed me,” as Torre’s, at times, was. It tells Francona’s side in a context to put him in the best possible light, to be sure; he’s more calculating than an “Aw shucks,” baseball man who’s happiest at the ballpark and with the players. Clearly he’s hurt by the way his tenure ended especially considering he accomplished something in winning a World Series that hadn’t happened for 86 years prior to his arrival, then he turned around and won another title three years later. The concerns about his perception might have been the catalyst to jump back in the ring in a situation that isn’t ready-made to win immediately with the Indians. He took a job while the jobs were still being offered.

Francona gets his story out there, highlights how difficult the job of Red Sox manager truly is, and that it’s a borderline miracle that he: A) lasted as long as he did; and B) had the success he had while maintaining some semblance of sanity.

//

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Your Alternate Red Sox Universe

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You’ve all heard and read about the Red Sox players running to ownership to complain about Bobby Valentine. Analysis of this is rampant, but I’m going to do something different. Let’s say that Terry Francona wasn’t forced out and as a corollary to that decision, Theo Epstein stayed on as GM to fulfill the final year of his contract. What would the Red Sox look like right now without Valentine as manager; without Ben Cherington in this no-win situation and having his power usurped by Larry Lucchino; without the moves they made to patch over holes while keeping the foundation of the team intact?

Epstein said that his future with the Red Sox was tied to Francona. Epstein was entering the final year of his contract and, in a benevolently arrogant Theo way, would’ve done the Red Sox a favor and stayed under those terms contingent on Francona being retained as manager.

I think Francona wanted freedom from the out-of-control nuthouse and expectations the Red Sox had become. I think his desire to leave was due to his physical and mental health. What had once been appreciated was no longer so; in a state of World Series win or bust, there’s no enjoyment, only relief in winning or devastation in losing. Francona had had it.

I also think Epstein wanted out. Whether it was to escape the pressure of his hometown and the victories that had turned into a burden or that he wanted a new challenge, he needed to move on. Both achieved their ends. Francona is able to sit in an ESPN booth and luxuriate in the accolades of what he presided over and be absolved of the blame for the lack of discipline, overt disrespect, poor play, and questionable decisions that led to the 2011 collapse and set the stage for the exodus.

Is it something new for voices in the Red Sox organization to unload on employees who’ve departed by choice or by force? They did it with Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Johnny Damon, and now Francona. This offended the players? It’s par for the course. They ripped David Ortiz and Jason Varitek before both decided to stay. In 2005 Epstein left in a power grabbing snit and came back. It’s the way things go in Boston. The “grand returns as beloved conquering heroes” for these star players as if there was no bad blood is inherent and hypocritical. It’s not going to change.

Would the 2012 team be different with Epstein and Francona? Would Josh Beckett be pitching better? Would Jon Lester? Would they have moved forward with Kevin Youkilis?

Considering how he views the closer role as easily replaceable, I can tell you now that Epstein would not have traded Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey. Epstein would also have blunted Lucchino’s incursion into the baseball operations. But it was Epstein who put together the 2011 team. It was Epstein who paid over $100 million for Daisuke Matsuzaka; signed Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Bobby Jenks. Most of the roster and the players who are underperforming and throwing tantrums were brought in by Epstein. It was Francona who let the players run roughshod over all propriety and behave as if they were entitled to do whatever they wanted just because. To think that the club would be better now if Francona and Epstein had stayed is ignoring the fundamental issues that caused the 2011 collapse in the first place.

Both Epstein and Francona can feel badly for players they have affinity for and who played hard for them like Dustin Pedroia, but privately don’t you think they’re wallowing in what the Red Sox are going through now? Loving it? Sitting there with smug half-smiles as they’ve moved along and their former organization is teetering on the brink of revolution?

The Red Sox are 57-60 and are not making the playoffs. It would be the same circumstances with different actors in the drama if Epstein and Francona had stayed. If that had happened, Epstein’s expiring contract would be the hot topic of discussion and those who are looking back on Francona’s tenure with the remembrances of a long-lost love would’ve called for his head in May and the Red Sox would’ve had no choice but to fire him. Do you think the players would’ve defended him? Or, just as they leaked the meeting with ownership regarding Valentine, would they be privately saying that the clubhouse had tuned Francona out and a change needed to be made?

This is not a good team. Valentine has brought on many of the problems himself because of who and how he is, but the players were ready to mutiny the second he was hired before even talking to him and it was all based on reputation. He was a bad choice to patch over the holes that led to the massive changes, but it was either make structural changes to the personnel or put a Band-Aid on them and try to find someone who they felt would handle the stat-studded roster they were stuck with. It hasn’t worked, but they wouldn’t be in a better position with Francona; with Gene Lamont; with Dale Sveum; with John Farrell; with anyone.

The issue of the players failing to look in the mirror and accepting that they’re part of the problem still remains sans Francona and Epstein and with Valentine targeted for elimination. Beckett refused to take responsibility for being out of shape, arrogant and selfish last season and the same issues are in play now. Adrian Gonzalez’s looking toward the heavens and referencing God’s plan at the conclusion of 2011 along with him having been the star player for three teams that have collapsed and his whining about Valentine are validating the perception that he’s not a leader and has a preference to being a background player rather than the out-front star.

Is Valentine to blame for Beckett? For Lester? For Daniel Bard? For Crawford?

No. But he’s the scapegoat.

Red Sox ownership is going to have to confront these hard truths. Yes, they can fire Valentine and install whomever as the new manager, but is that going to fix things? Will the players suddenly rediscover a work ethic that’s sorely lacking? And if Pedroia is so hell-bent on winning and doing things the “right” way, why didn’t he confront the players who were clearly acting in a manner that was diametrically opposed to winning and was affecting the team negatively last September?

The team doesn’t need a new manager. It needs a mirror. A big one.

//

Finding Reason with the Red Sox

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The Red Sox have seemed discombobulated since September and that didn’t change once the statuses of manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein were resolved.

(If you were in hibernation, they both left.)

There’s an air of dysfunction remaining as the continuity of maneuvers that was there under Epstein is gone.

Who’s in charge?

Is it new GM Ben Cherington?

Is it CEO Larry Lucchino?

How much say is new manager Bobby Valentine having in the team construction?

Does anyone know?

Epstein deserves a large portion of the blame for the way the team came apart in 2011. Going back as far as 2007, Epstein was purchasing products to impress his neighbors rather than adhering to a plan of attack. It worked in 2007 as they won the World Series, but in subsequent years it became a case of diminishing returns. They literally and figuratively got fat with a bloated payroll and disinterested demeanor.

Regardless of how you view Epstein’s tenure with the Red Sox—whether you think he received too much credit as a media creation backed up by money or was a true front office visionary—there was no question of who was in charge. Following his tantrum-fueled resignation after the 2005 season and eventual return, he won the power struggle with Lucchino.

It was Theo’s team.

Once Epstein left, Lucchino wasted no time in asserting himself with Cherington and whispering in the ear of owner John Henry.

The simplest question as to whom is truly running things was answered when Valentine was hired as manager.

Ask yourself this: Had Epstein stayed, would the Red Sox have hired Valentine?

No.

Cherington was Epstein’s protégé and he would’ve wanted to hire a manager who had less personality, a closed mouth and did what he was told by upper management.

That’s not Valentine.

The latest maneuver the Red Sox made is under scrutiny as they traded shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen.

This is a clear salary dump and the speculation has centered around freeing up money to sign Roy Oswalt and fill a glaring need in the starting rotation.

You may ask, why would a team like the Red Sox, with a $160 million+ payroll, be worried about the relative pittance that Scutaro is making in 2012, $6 million?

It’s clear by now that the vault is closed. Partially due to the new luxury tax rules that are coming into effect and partially due to the failures of the high-priced signings made by Epstein—Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Bobby Jenks—they’re not going to toss more money into the air to fix it anymore.

It comes down to this: they have enough offense to cover for a lighter-hitting shortstop than Scutaro and can get by with a combination of Mike Aviles and Nick Punto as long as they’re not utterly inept with the glove and bat. They need an arm and needed to clear some cash to get it, so they dumped Scutaro.

Some have suggested that they might shut their eyes and play rookie Jose Iglesias for his glove. I can tell you right now that Valentine is not going to play an untested rookie shortstop while he’s under the mandate to win and working under a 2-year contract.

It’s going to be the veterans Aviles and Punto and the Red Sox are going to make a move on a pitcher.

Would Epstein have done this?

It doesn’t really matter, does it?

Because he’s gone.

But that’s not the problem.

There biggest issue with Epstein’s departure isn’t that he’s irreplaceable; it’s that no one seems to know who’s in charge.

And it doesn’t appear as if the Red Sox know either.

//

The Red Sox Out-of-Book Experience with Bobby Valentine

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The Red Sox made the smart and gutsy decision to shun the “middle-manager” nonsense that came en vogue after Moneyball and hired Bobby Valentine to take over as their new manager.

Here’s what to expect.

The beer and chicken parties are over.

The somewhat overblown Red Sox beer and chicken parties of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and their crew are referenced as the fatal symptoms of apathy under Terry Francona.

When Valentine’s name was mentioned as a candidate amid the “new sheriff in town” mentality, the 1999 NLCS card-playing incident is presented as an example of what went on with the Mets under Valentine.

What’s missed by those who constantly mention the Bobby BonillaRickey Henderson card game as the Mets dejectedly entered the Turner Field clubhouse after their game 6 and series loss is that Bonilla was gone after the season (at a significant cost to the Mets that they’re still paying); and Henderson was released the next May.

Those who expect Valentine to storm in and start getting in the faces of the players immediately are wrong.

He won’t tolerate any garbage, but it’s not going to be a both-guns-blazing, walking through the door of the saloon like Clint Eastwood bit.

He’ll try a more smooth approach at first, telling them what the rules are, what’s expected and demanded and what won’t be tolerated. If he’s pushed, he’ll make an example of someone and it’s going to happen fast.

This is not to say that he’s an old-school social conservative who’s going to interfere with his players’ personal business. Bobby V liked chewing his dip when he was managing the Mets; he treats his players like men; but if their off-field activities are affecting on-field production—as was the case with Todd Hundley and Pete Harnisch—they’re going to hear about it. It will be done privately at first, then publicly if it continues.

His big theme concerning the way the players behave will be “don’t make me look like an idiot”.

The stuff that went on under the watch of Francona was more embarrassing than damaging. If the players had been performing their due diligence in workouts and not been so brazen about their clubhouse time, it wouldn’t have been an issue. But because they so cavalierly loafed and lazed, seemingly not caring what was happening on the field, it snowballed and became a flashpoint to the lax discipline of Francona and festered into unnecessary problems.

Relationships with opponents, umpires and the media.

Valentine has endured public spats with many other managers and hasn’t shied from any of them, even suggesting they possibly turn physical if need be.

During his playing days, no one wanted to mess with Don Baylor. Baylor, who crowded the plate and steadfastly refused to move when a ball was heading in his direction, led the league in getting hit-by-pitches eight times. Valentine had protested a mistake the then-Cubs manager Baylor had made on his lineup card when the Mets and Cubs played the season-opening series of 2000 in Japan; Baylor made some comments about it; Valentine, who never brought the lineup card to the plate as Mets manager, did so in the first game of the Mets-Cubs series in May; Valentine asked Baylor if the two had a problem, Baylor said no and that was it.

This was indicative of the personality and gamesmanship of Valentine. Managers and players from other teams don’t like him, but he doesn’t care.

As Red Sox manager, he’s going to bait Joe Girardi; he’ll annoy Joe Maddon; he and Buck Showalter will glare at each other from across the field at who can be more nitpicky in a chess match of “I’m smarter than you”; he knows the rules better than the umpires and finds the smallest and most obscure ones to get an advantage for his team; he manipulates the media and his temper gets the better of him—he’ll say he’s not going to talk about something, then talk about if for 20 minutes; and his foghorn voice will echo across all of baseball to let everyone know the Red Sox are in town.

Francona was well-liked by everyone.

Valentine won’t be. And he doesn’t care.

Valentine can be annoying. He was a three-sport star in high school and a ballroom dancing champion, is married to his high school sweetheart and is still remarkably handsome even at age 61; he was Tommy Lasorda‘s pet in the minor leagues and his teammates loathed him—he grates on people because of his seeming superiority and perfection.

He’s not irritating people intentionally unless he thinks it will help him win a game—it’s just Bobby V being Bobby V.

The GM/manager dynamic.

Did new Red Sox GM Ben Cherington want Valentine?

There will be an across-the-board series of analysis why he did and didn’t—most will detail why he didn’t.

But does it matter?

The whole concept of Valentine being impossible to handle, undermining, subversive and Machiavellian stem from his inter-organizational battles with Steve Phillips when the duo were the GM/manager combination for the Mets.

Valentine hated Phillips and vice versa; it wasn’t simply that Valentine hated Phillips as a GM, he hated him as a human being more.

But Phillips’s personal behaviors weren’t publicly known to the degree that they are now; it’s doubtful that Cherington will be stupid enough to get caught up in the number of foibles that have befallen Phillips and sabotaged someone who was a better GM than he’s given credit for and an excellent and insightful broadcaster.

Despite the disputes and cold war, something about the Valentine-Phillips relationship worked.

As long as there’s a mutual respect between Valentine and Cherington, what’s wrong with a little passionate debate even if it’s of the screaming, yelling and throwing things variety?

It’s better than the alternative of King Lear—the lonely man seeking to salvage what’s left of his crumbling monarchy—as there is in Oakland with Billy Beane; or what we saw eventually disintegrate with Theo Epstein’s and Larry Lucchino’s Macbeth and Duncan reprise with the Red Sox.

The only difference between the managers who are installed as a matter of following the script and out of convenience—as Francona was—and Valentine is that Valentine’s not disposable as the prototypical Moneyball middle-managers are and the Red Sox have to pay him a salary far greater than they would’ve had to pay Gene Lamont or Torey Lovullo.

In the final analysis financially, it’s cheaper to hire and pay Valentine than it would be to hire a retread or an unknown and run the risk of a total explosion of the team early in 2012 and having to clean house while enduring a lost season and revenues.

Valentine can tape together what’s currently there better than the other candidates could.

There will be disagreements and if Valentine has to, he’ll go over Cherington’s head to Lucchino or use the media to get what he wants. It’s Cherington’s first GM job; he won’t want to screw it up; plus, it’s a no-lose situation for him because if things go wrong, there’s always the head shake and gesture towards Bobby V and Lucchino to explain away what went wrong and why it’s not Cherington’s fault.

Even if it is.

Strategies.

Valentine isn’t Grady Little and won’t ignore the numbers; he was one of the first stat-savvy managers  who accessed the work of Bill James when he took over the Rangers in 1985.

That’s not to say he won’t make moves against the so-called new age stats that make sense on paper, but are idiotic or unrealistic in practice. He’s not going to demand his switch-hitters bat lefty against lefty pitchers because of an obscure and out-of-context number; he’ll let his relievers know what’s expected of them in a “defined role” sense (to keep the peace); and he’s going to tweak his lineups based on the opponent.

He doles out his pitchers innings evenly and finds players who may have underappreicated talents and places them in a situation to succeed—sounds like a stat guy concept.

Players.

With the Mets, there was a notion that Valentine preferred to have a roster of interchangeable parts with non-stars; functional players he could bench without hearing the entreaties that he has to play <BLANK> because of his salary.

Valentine might prefer to have a clear path to do what’s right for a particular game without having to worry about how it’s framed or answering stupid questions after the fact, but he dealt with his star players—Mike Piazza; Mike Hampton; Al Leiter; Robin Ventura—well enough.

What Valentine is truly good at is finding the players who have been ignored or weren’t given a chance and giving them their opportunity.

Todd Pratt, Rick Reed, Benny Agbayani, Desi Relaford, Timo Perez, Melvin Mora, Masato Yoshii were all Valentine “guys” who he trusted and fought for. All contributed to the Mets during Valentine’s tenure.

If anyone can get something out of Daisuke Matsuzaka, it’s Valentine; if anyone can put Carl Crawford in the lineup spot where he’ll be most productive—irrespective of Crawford’s personal preferences—it’s Valentine; and if anyone can work Jose Iglesias into the lineup without undue pressure, it’s Valentine.

Concerns.

While he managed in Japan for several years in the interim, Valentine hasn’t managed in the big leagues since 2002. Veteran managers sometimes hit the ground running after a long break as Jim Leyland did with the Tigers; or they embody the perception that they’ve lost something off their managerial fastball—I got that impression with Davey Johnson managing the Nationals in 2011.

Valentine’s 61 and in good shape, but ten years is a long time to be away from the trenches.

There will be a honeymoon period with the media and fans, but like the Red Sox attempt to hire Beane to be the GM after 2002, how long is this honeymoon going to last if the Red Sox are 19-21 after 40 games with the expectations and payroll what they are.

It’s hard to stick to the script as the Yankees fans are laughing at them; mired in a division with three other strong teams in the Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays possibly ahead of them; and the fans and media are bellowing for something—anything—to be done.

Valentine’s Mets teams tended to fade, tighten and panic at the ends of seasons. It happened in 1998 and 1999; in 1999 they squeaked into the playoffs after a frenetic late-season run and, once they were in, relaxed to put up a good, borderline heroic showing before losing to the Braves in the NLCS.

There will be players who ridicule, mock and question him. John Franco took the opportunity to get his revenge against Valentine by helping Phillips’s case to fire him in 2002 because Valentine had taken Franco’s closer role away and given it to Armando Benitez while Franco was injured.

Will Beckett push Valentine so one of them has to go? I doubt it, but Beckett’s a bully and won’t like being told what to do.

Will Bobby Jenks‘s attitude or Kevin Youkilis‘s whining cause Valentine to call them out publicly?

Will it damage the team if there’s an early insurrection or will it embolden the front office that a stricter force was necessary?

The real issues.

It’s nice that the Red Sox have hired a proven, veteran manager; a known quantity; someone they can sell to the media and fans, but it doesn’t address the player issues that sabotaged the team as they collapsed in September.

John Lackey is out for the year with Tommy John surgery and they need starting pitching.

David Ortiz is a free agent.

They need a bat.

They have to hope that Crawford straightens out and becomes the player they paid for.

Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia have been enduring multiple injuries.

Clay Buchholz is returning from a back problem.

They don’t know who their closer is going to be.

More than anything else, the Red Sox 2012 season is going to be determined by how these holes are patched and filled.

But the manager’s office is taken care of and they’re indulging in an out-of-book experience in hiring Bobby Valentine.

And it’s a great move.

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The Papelbon Aftershocks

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Let’s separate the Jonathan Papelbon aftershocks by reaction and affect.

Jonathan Papelbon

Papelbon has never been fully appreciated for how good he’s been—especially by the Red Sox.

He has a clean motion; the post-season history of success; has done the job in a smothering atmosphere of scrutiny; is durable; throws strikes; and is an accountable team player.

Naturally, as they usually do, the Red Sox will start talking about some phantom malady that “concerned” them; in this case it will be Papelbon’s shoulder. A shoulder for which he’s missed zero time since 2006.

Statistics don’t tell the whole story with Papelbon. Because his blowups generally include 4-5 games a season where he’ll allow a crooked number of 3-5 runs, his ERA and ERA+ are always higher than they’d normally be if the lowest grades were dropped.

It’s a simplistic and self-serving effort to bolster a narrow argument to say that Papelbon is a “fly ball pitcher” and his home games being played in Citizens Bank Park will yield a larger number of home runs. His splits between fly balls and ground balls are negligible and slightly higher for fly balls; but he also strikes out over 10 hitters per 9 innings.

He’s a strikeout pitcher with a searing fastball and a vicious splitter.

He allowed 3 homers all season in 2011; 2 in Fenway Park (9th in homers out of all ballparks in baseball) and 1 in Cleveland (tied for 11th in homers).

The ballpark in Philadelphia is not going to be an issue for Papelbon; nor will the tough fans, the expectant media and the pressure of a championship or bust team upon whose hopes may ride on his shoulders.

He’s been through it before and come through repeatedly.

Philadelphia Phillies

This is as simple as it gets.

The Phillies have a superlative starting rotation; they’re old; they have money to spend and a short window to win another championship or two.

They spent a reported $50 million on the top closer on the market after the breakdown in negotiations for Ryan Madson.

They’ve acquired a known quantity for slightly more money than Madson’s asking price.

It’s a championship or nothing for the Phillies. With their success or failure no longer based on a winning season or making the playoffs, they needed someone they trust in the playoffs and World Series. Papelbon gives them that.

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox have a compulsive, fervent, almost blindly faithful reluctance to accept the fact that they need a legitimate closer to win.

They never appreciated what they had in Papelbon even after having endured the nightmares of 2003 and 2005 when they didn’t have a closer and it cost them dearly; they tried to go with the closer-by-committee nonsense again in 2007 and were saved from themselves by Papelbon seeing where the team was headed and offering to move back to the bullpen after an ill-advised spring stint as a starter.

Papelbon could’ve been signed to an extension, but the club never broached the subject with any seriousness. This is while they tossed money into the trash for Daisuke Matsuzaka, Matt Clement, Bobby Jenks and Julio Lugo.

They paid Keith Foulke $20 million over three years for what amounted to one season of production—and he was worth it because they won a championship they wouldn’t have won without him.

They’re not overspending to replace Papelbon; they’re not going after Ryan Madson and trust me when I say the Red Sox fans do not want Heath Bell.

Daniel Bard is fully capable of taking over for Papelbon in the regular season; but like the Phillies, the Red Sox metric is not the regular season, it’s the playoffs and that’s when Bard will be tested and judged…if the Red Sox get there at all.

Brad Lidge and Joe Nathan are more likely for the Red Sox to sign to cheap deals; they could try to trade for Joakim Soria or approach Theo Epstein to see if he’d like to move Carlos Marmol.

There won’t be a retaliatory strike of “we lost Papelbon so we need a ‘name’ to replace him”—that’s not what the Red Sox do.

Comparisons

B.J. Ryan and Papelbon are human beings; both pitched and made their living as short relievers; Ryan was 30 when he signed with the Blue Jays; Papelbon will be 31 next week.

Apart from that, I see zero connection between the two pitchers.

Ryan was lefty; Papelbon righty.

Ryan’s mechanics were among the worst I’ve ever seen; Papelbon’s are picture perfect.

Ryan was leaving an atrocious Orioles team and heading for a team that was a fringe contender at best with the Blue Jays; Papelbon’s going from one team that was picked for the World Series in 2011 to the other team that was picked for the World Series in 2011.

If there’s a legitimate comparison between two pitchers in this murky plot, it’s Madson and Ryan.

Madson’s mechanics are herky jerky and stressful—they’re not as bad as Ryan’s, but they’re not to be ignored as a non-issue either. Madson missed time with a strained shoulder in 2007.

Madson has been a closer for 2011 only; he hasn’t done it long-term; he is not a strikeout pitcher and uses different strategies with a fastball, cut fastball and excellent changeup than Papelbon does with his power fastball and strikeout-begetting split-finger.

It’s short-sighted and simplistic—the same accusations stat people levy against old-schoolers—to reference numbers as the final word without examining the other aspects of the overall equation—and I don’t mean numbers.

B.J. Ryan is not Jonathan Papelbon; Papelbon is not Ryan Madson.

There’s no connection other than the specious reasoning in equating contracts and variable statistics.

Some have suggested that Madson is “better” than Papelbon based on selective use of said statistics. Madson’s agent Scott Boras appeared close to completing another inexplicable financial coup with the $44 million rumored deal with the Phillies. That’s gone. Now Boras is going to whip out his Madson “book of accomplishments” and numbers crunching of his own to “prove” that his charge not only deserves a Papelbon contract, but more than a Papelbon contract.

The problem is there’s no one who’s going to give it to him.

I liken this situation to the Braves in 1997. Jeff Blauser was coming off a terrific season and was negotiating a new contract as a free agent. His agent was Scott Boras. Blauser felt he was worth the same money that Jay Bell received from the Diamondbacks ($35 million); Braves GM John Schuerholz reacted to this leap of logic by telling Blauser and Boras to take a hike and signed the superior defensive shortstop Walt Weiss. If Boras compares Madson to Papelbon and Mariano Rivera—and he will—any sane team is going to walk away.

Media/Fans

The one legitimate gripe from fans of other clubs is that the Phillies have blown up the market for closers with the Papelbon contract. That said, Papelbon was the number one guy on the market and he got the most money any closer is going to get. No one’s giving Madson that money or anywhere close to it. Nor should they.

Why the fans are worried about Papelbon’s years and dollars is beyond me. My criteria for a contract that’s too expensive is if a want precludes a need. If there’s an overpay for a want and you can’t buy what you need, it’s a bad deal.

The Phillies needed Papelbon and they bought him.

Everything else—the draft, the after-effects, the market—are subsidiary.

You cannot make the suggestion that Madson is “better” as Keith Law does, and then ignore his mechanical issues; you can’t dismiss the closer designation as a meaningless mental exercise as Jonah Keri does in playing up the Rays use of Kyle Farnsworth on the cheap while failing to mention that Rays manager Joe Maddon intentionally declined to name Farnsworth the “closer” because he didn’t want his skittish pitcher thinking about being the closer.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said that Madson wasn’t good at closing. He used him in the role out of necessity and, with a great sense of timing, Madson did well in 2011.

The Blue Jays erred in overpaying for Ryan. That won’t be replicated with Madson. Or Papelbon.

As for the suggestion that the Phillies don’t understand where they are and what they’re doing, it’s the height of outsider arrogance and “I’m smarter than you” pomposity.

They know.

They know that by 2014 they’re going to be ancient, super-expensive and probably on the downslide. Will it be worth it if the Phillies are hoisting a championship or two because of the players they have now? Absolutely. GM Ruben Amaro tried to maintain the farm system while simultaneously contending and keeping financial sanity and it didn’t work; the Red Sox tried to do it and it didn’t work.

They’re paying the price to win now and will pay in the future as well.

Papelbon is proven; he’s better; he’s what the Phillies needed; and they got him.

It’s not difficult to comprehend—tremors and madness irrelevant.

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Firing Francona Is Plain Stupid

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I’m the first one to say fire the manager when things don’t go as planned.

It doesn’t have to be his fault. If the team isn’t responding; if a shakeup is needed; if there are strategic blunders; or if there’s someone better available—all are viable reasons.

There doesn’t even have to be a reason. This is one of the things I never understood about the Billy Beane decision to fire Ken Macha after the 2006 ALCS playoff loss and he was searching for something to feed to his media idolators and claimed it was due to “lack of communication”; Beane didn’t exactly distinguish himself with Macha or Bob Geren when he blamed Geren’s firing on the continued media onslaught that was questioning Geren’s job security. Geren was the one who didn’t communicate with his players—the higher paid ones as well including Brian Fuentes.

Macha didn’t talk to backup catcher Adam Melhuse.

What could he possibly have to say to a fringe major leaguer and backup catcher? “Go warm up the pitcher.” What else is there?

All the GM has to say is, “I felt like making a change.”

End of story. But there always has to be some litany of criticisms to justify it; this is a new phenomenon accompanying the rock star status of some GMs in today’s game.

With the Red Sox, Theo Epstein is a rock star and there’s talk that Terry Francona could be in trouble if they blow their playoff spot.

It’s an easy decision to make if it’s decided that it’s Francona’s fault that John Lackey is one of the worst free agent signings in the history of the sport this side of Carl Pavano and Jason Schmidt. But at least Pavano and Schmidt were hurt; Lackey’s just awful.

Is Francona the one who caused the injuries to Clay Buchholz and Bobby Jenks? Has he sabotaged Daniel Bard?

Francona is a good man and a good manager. He acquitted himself well managing the Phillies as they were terrible on an annual basis—they had no talent.

He handled the media firestorm of being Michael Jordan’s manager during the basketball legend’s foray into baseball in Double A for the White Sox; he was a bench coach and a front office assistant with some very well-run teams with the Athletics and Indians.

Francona did not get the Red Sox job because of his managerial brilliance nor that experience. They were part of the work experiences that made him a candidate, but not the most enticing aspects of his resume.

These are in no particular order, but Francona got the job because he was willing to take a short-money contract for the opportunity; he would acquiesce to front office edicts in terms of strategy based on stats; he was agreeable to Curt Schilling, whom he’d managed with the Phillies and the Red Sox were desperate to acquire; and he wasn’t Grady Little.

The Red Sox were notoriously adamant about having a manager who wouldn’t ignore orders as Little did.

My question regarding the Red Sox and Little goes back well before the fateful decision to leave Pedro Martinez in the game when he was clearly exhausted in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.

Why did it get to that point?

If the Red Sox didn’t trust Little to manage correctly (or the way they wanted) in the biggest game of the year without going off the reservation, they should’ve fired him long before the ALCS.

After dumping Little, the Red Sox spoke to Bobby Valentine while they were searching for a new manager. Valentine refused to criticize Little’s decision saying that he wasn’t in the dugout and didn’t know what he would’ve done in that situation.

That’s not what the Red Sox wanted to hear.

So Francona got the job; the Red Sox got a calm, guiding hand that players want to play for and someone who can navigate the all-but-impossible terrain of managing that team in that town.

Now if they miss the playoffs because of circumstances out of his control, he might be in trouble?

Fine.

He’ll be out of work for five seconds and will get another job in a good situation or he’ll sit out and wait until a high-profile, big money job opens up.

I can only hope that the Red Sox won’t use the corporate crud they used when they fired Little by saying they simply weren’t renewing Francona’s contract.

And I can’t wait to start writing if they go the road of Beane and provide some incomprehensible and unbelievable bit of spin to the media hordes who think every word is gospel. If they fire him, say what it is: We’re blaming Terry for our own mishaps.

It would be nothing more and nothing less than the search for an undeserving scapegoat; if they do that, they’ll deserve their collective fates.

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Combustibility And The Marlins

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The most prominent name associated with the job as Marlins’ manager for 2012 has been current White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. Guillen has a contract with the White Sox for next season and owner Jerry Reinsdorf has said he wants both Guillen and GM Kenny Williams back, but if the Marlins come calling, it’s very possible that the White Sox will let Guillen leave without compensation and move on. This is the third straight season in which the White Sox will miss the playoffs amid preseason expectations of contention; the last two seasons especially have been major disappointments. Williams isn’t going anywhere, so if the White Sox make a change, it will be in the manager’s office and not the GM.

So what would happen with Guillen and the Marlins?

It’s hard to say what kind of sparks would fly when the combustible personalities of Guillen, owner Jeffrey Loria and team president David Samson all exist in the same vacuum. Guillen is going to make his presence felt and he’s most definitely not going to tolerate the diva act from Hanley Ramirez; on the other side of the coin Guillen—a social media user himself—won’t give Logan Morrison a hard time about his Twitter account.

Guillen has experience with difficult players. He won a World Series with A.J. Pierzynski, Carl Everett and Bobby Jenks on his roster so he can handle the Marlins. It might be that Loria, while not wanting to trade Ramirez as some (Jeff Conine, Keith Hernandez and myself) have suggested, he might want someone to reign in his prodigal and wayward son.

Under Loria, the Marlins have hired: Jeff Torborg; Jack McKeon; Joe Girardi; Fredi Gonzalez; Edwin Rodriguez and McKeon again. All were forced out in one way or another. Torborg had the team playing the way Torborg’s teams generally have in all his managerial stops—stiff and mediocre at best; with the team reeling in May of 2003, he was replaced by McKeon and the Marlins wound up winning the World Series under McKeon’s old school leadership style; Girardi clashed with Loria and was fired despite winning Manager of the Year with an overachieving, young and minimalist roster; Gonzalez’s teams played at or above expectations and he was fired because of strategic differences with upper management and overreaching beliefs that they should’ve done better; Rodriguez acquitted himself well, but resigned as the team came apart this past June; McKeon was kicked upstairs after 2005, went back into the dugout to replace Rodriguez and isn’t going to be back next season.

Loria, as is his right as owner, has been very free with the “you’re fired” card.

I have no issue with that. I don’t begrudge any manager or GM—from the late George Steinbrenner to Billy Beane—the right to make a managerial change for whatever reason he wants—he doesn’t have to give a reason. “I wanted to make a change” is good enough for me.

But what will Loria do with Guillen if he’s the choice? Samson notably got into an argument with Bobby Valentine during Valentine’s interview to replace Gonzalez; Valentine would have and would still be an excellent choice for a talented Marlins squad that needs discipline and a solid strategist.

But Guillen would be a good choice as well.

Loria wouldn’t be able to fire him though. And how the Marlins organization would function with that kind of restraint over their petulant owner is an interesting dynamic that has to be considered before making the move for an established manager who’s going to require a lot of guaranteed money and say-so to take the job.

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