Theo Epstein’s Masquerade

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The increased use of analytics has also given rise to the loquaciousness of the decision-makers. You can pick any of the new age general managers in baseball and find one of their statements when a somewhat controversial decision is made and interchange them. When they fire a manager, it’s generally even longer. The explanation is convoluted and rife with semantics designed to protect their own interests.

This was evident again today when Theo Epstein – someone who clearly loves to hear his own voice whatever the circumstances – gave this long-winded statement as to why the Cubs’ hand-picked manager to oversee their extended rebuild, Dale Sveum, was fired following a 66-96 campaign. The accolades and qualifications Epstein gave to justify Sveum’s firing are little more than a dressing up of the dismissal of an employee.

Was it justified? Did Sveum deserve to take the fall for what was an organizational failure? Should the Cubs have been better than they were?

Considering the expectations (I had the Cubs’ record exactly right in my preseason predictions) they weren’t supposed to be contenders. They traded away veterans Alfonso Soriano and Scott Feldman during the season. They were functioning with journeyman Kevin Gregg as the closer. A team like the Cubs isn’t meant to be judged based on their record alone which lends more credence to the idea that Sveum is being thrown overboard to quiet the rising number of critics wondering when they’ll get Red Sox-like results from Epstein.

With the number of prospects they have on the way up, if the young players like Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney and Jeff Samardzija take steps back, then the manager is going to take the fall for it. That doesn’t mean he gets the blame.

Much like the Red Sox failure in 2003 was passed off on Grady Little’s call not to pull a clearly tired Pedro Martinez in game seven of the ALCS against the Yankees, the Cubs are holding the manager in front of the GM, president and owner like a human shield. Little’s choice in not yanking Martinez was due in part to an old school decision that if he was going to lose, he’d lose with his best. It was also done in part because the Epstein regime had made the conscious choice to go with a favorite concept of the stat guy in the closer by committee and didn’t give Little a competent short reliever he could trust in a game of that magnitude. It all turned out fine as the Red Sox won the World Series the next year only after signing Keith Foulke, a legitimate closer. Crisis averted.

With the Cubs, Epstein has been lauded for his and GM Jed Hoyer’s trades and restructuring of the minor league system. Whether or not that credit will bear fruit in the coming years for the new manager remains to be seen. Until they perform, prospects are only prospects.

Epstein’s big name free agent signings have long been inconsistent. With the Red Sox, he was able to cover it up with John Henry’s money. Whether that will be the case for the Cubs is as unknown as their young players’ development. For the Cubs this season, he signed Edwin Jackson to a four year, $52 million deal. Jackson went 8-18 with an ERA of nearly five. He signed Kyuji Fujikawa to a two year, $9.5 million deal and Fujikawa wilted under the pressure as set-up man and closer before requiring Tommy John surgery. It cannot be said that these were worthwhile and cost-efficient signings.

When Epstein says, “Jed and I take full responsibility for that,” as he discusses the state of the big league product, it’s little more than a hollow accepting of responsibility. He’s been on the job with the Cubs for two years and is ensconced in his job. There might be a small amount of pressure on him because of his reputation and the expectations that surround his high-profile hiring, lucrative contract of five years at $18.5 million and final say powers, but he’s going to get at least two more years before he’s on the firing line. Hoyer is Epstein’s front man and is safe as well.

If the duo is taking “responsibility,” what’s the punishment? They’ll get roasted on talk shows and in print for a while. Attention will be paid to who they hire as manager because GMs and team presidents, no matter how respected, generally get two managerial hirings before the focus of blame falls to them. For now, though, he’s safe.

He says that Sveum isn’t a “scapegoat,” but then two paragraphs later says that the team needs a “dynamic, new voice…” It certainly sounds like scapegoating to me.

I’m not defending Sveum and many times when a firing of this kind is made, there are behind the scenes issues that the public isn’t privy to. Epstein and Hoyer can fire Sveum if they want to. It’s completely up to them. There’s never been anything wrong with firing the manager for any reason that the front office wants to give. In fact, they don’t even need to give a reason. “I felt like making a change,” is a perfectly acceptable response.

However, to take the firing as an opportunity to provide a new line of defense of the front office and disguise it as a “we’re all at fault” line of faux solidarity is an insult to the intelligence of any person who’s been an observer of Epstein’s behavior since he first came to prominence a decade ago as a 28 year old “genius” who was going to lead the game into a new age with his youth and creativity. Getting past the mask, he’s little more than a younger and supposedly more handsome version of the 1960s era of GMs who threatened and bullied employees just because they could and had a job for life. It sounds like the common “blame the manager” rhetoric. The only difference is that it’s camouflaged by a Yale graduate’s skill with the language and ability to make circular sludge sound like the dulcet tones of a gifted tenor.

The firing of Sveum might be retrospectively seen as a the catalyst to the Cubs jumping into contention and breaking their World Series drought. Even if that happens, it can’t be masqueraded as anything more than what it is: they’re blaming the manager. No amount of verbal deftness will alter that fact whether it’s coming from Epstein or anyone else.




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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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The Red Sox Hire Pedro Martinez To…Um….Do Stuff(?)

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If a baseball organization is viewed as a small society, then the resident sociopath of Red Sox Nation from 2000 through 2008 was Manny Ramirez. Manny continually received passes for his baseball-related crimes of propriety and decorum because, when he wanted to be, he was an unstoppable force at the plate. On a lesser scale, the moderate troublemaker—i.e. the person who bent the rules and was allowed to bend the rules because the nation couldn’t function without him—was Pedro Martinez.

In terms of on-field contributions to the club, Pedro was more valuable than Manny was because he was all but impossible to replace when he was in his heyday. Pedro was unhittable for the majority of a six year period from 1998-2003 and almost singlehandedly carried mostly pedestrian teams to the playoffs in 1998, 1999 and even 2003. When he began to fade, he was still very good but not worth the money he was demanding as a free agent after the 2004 season—ironically the first year in his tenure when he was a background performer and they won the World Series.

The Red Sox didn’t sign him to an extension and let him leave as a free agent to the Mets. As it turned out, this was wise. In some respects, there was relief that he was gone. The relief wasn’t on a level of “finally” as it was when the club had had enough of Manny and traded him away at mid-season 2008, but it made the franchise’s life easier not to have to endure the behind-the-scenes, passive aggressive tantrums Pedro threw on a regular basis by showing up to spring training late; saying stupid things publicly about how the organization disrespected him; contract complaints; media dustups; and simultaneously proud, arrogant and insecure reactions to the concept that Curt Schilling was replacing him as the team ace. It certainly benefited them not having to pay for three years of diminishing effectiveness and stints on the disabled list while clinging to sway for what he was.

Manny made the Red Sox work environment uncomfortable, but because he was so productive the team let him get away with petulance, laziness, fake injuries, and disrespect to authority figures. It was only when he turned to violence with the traveling secretary that enough was enough and he was moved.

It’s not out of the realm to wonder whether the hiring of Pedro would be similar to hiring Manny. Both were difficult to deal with and left on bad terms. Neither ever put forth the image of a person who had any interest in working in a front office. Manny’s transgressions were far worse, but they were in the same context. This week, Pedro was named the special assistant to general manager Ben Cherington. What that undefined job entails is anyone’s guess. Do they want him to actually do anything? Is Pedro going to guide young players? Or is this to garner some positive press with a link to the club’s glory days as a reaction to the skeletons and scars being dragged out and sliced open in public with Terry Francona’s new book, The Red Sox Years by the former manager and Dan Shaughnessy?

My review of the book will be coming this week. Without giving too much away, from top-to-bottom the organization comes out appearing, to be kind, dysfunctional. As much as Pedro and Manny contributed to the good they accomplished, both were difficult to handle. So why would the front office want to bring Pedro onboard for any reason other than improved coverage and to hypnotize fans by subliminally reminding them of the glory days as if the heroes of the past will beget a repeat in the future?

This smacks of a PR maneuver with Tom Werner’s lust for “star” power; John Henry’s detached, ham-handed view of what will pander to his constituents; and Larry Lucchino left to be the bad guy and implement the scheme. Cherington, much like last year, is a workaday functionary to whom they’re handing tools and telling him to build something and not providing a blueprint or mandate other than warning him that it had better come out good.

What created the Red Sox from 2003 to most of 2011 wasn’t a desperate grasping at the past—a past that resulted in 86 years of futility in the quest for a championship. It was a decided departure from what the team did previously by using cutting edge techniques statistically, a business plan, and a ruthlessness in dispatching of people who no longer fit into the template. That included Pedro.

After a disastrous year with Bobby Valentine, they brought back John Farrell because he was respected and liked by everyone and was part of the successful regime. It’s being ignored that he’s not a good manager, which is what they need more than someone they like and who brings back warm, fuzzy feelings of what was.

They’re putting forth the “back to the way we did it” dynamic with Cherington presented as “in charge.” They’re signing character people and returning to the developmental methods that yielded Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury. But like the decision to hire Pedro, there’s a phoniness about it; a tone of “this is what the public wants” instead of “this is what will work.”

A fanbase such as that of the Red Sox, as loyal as they are to those who have performed for them, is undoubtedly happy that Pedro’s back in the fold. The joy will last for a while, then the fans will forget while Cherington has to find activities for his new assistant. The fans aren’t privy nor particularly interested in that. He’s supposedly going to do a lot of “things” and Cherington compared his presence to that of Jason Varitek. The difference is that Varitek wasn’t a pain and Pedro was. Varitek has an eye on a career as a manager or front office person and Pedro doesn’t. Varitek was hired because they wanted him in the organization. Pedro looks like he was hired as a placating gesture to the fans who are sitting on Metro Boston reading Francona’s book and taking the side of their beloved Tito because that’s what they want to do. He’s gone and the people who remain presided over a 2012 travesty that the fans aren’t sure is over. In fact, it’s just beginning. That realization might be clear to the front office and they’re trying everything they can to cloud the horrifying reality.

As great at Pedro was, he undermined manager Jimy Williams and chafed at Williams’s disciplinary procedures when Pedro was clearly wrong. He embarrassed interim manager and former pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. He was initially supportive of Grady Little, then backtracked on that support when Little was dumped. He was a handful for Francona in the two years they spent together.

Is Pedro going to suddenly become an organizational mouthpiece and preach to players the value of being a company man when he wouldn’t do it himself while the team was paying him $15 million a year?

This is a hiring for show. There’s no harm in it and while it won’t matter because Pedro isn’t going to be doing much of anything, it’s indicative that the organization is clawing at the the wrong past. They’re hiring and acquiring based on public perception and not on what’s going to help the team. It’s micro-meaningless and macro-meaningful at the same time and it’s a bad sign for where they’re headed. It’s a pretentious signal that something has changed when it hasn’t changed at all.

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John Farrell From North of the Border and Back

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The Red Sox traded infielder Mike Aviles to the Blue Jays for the rights to manager John Farrell. Rumors briefly had Adam Lind being dealt to the Red Sox as well, but that’s been denied for now–link.

Let’s look at this maneuver from all the angles.

For the Red Sox

It’s a colossal waste of time to take individual circumstances and compare them as if they’re identical and will yield an identical result. Teams have traded for managers in the past, but the results are meaningless because one thing has nothing to do with the other. It’s the same as comparing a team that traded first basemen for pitchers. Without identifying and interpreting the individuals, it’s broad-based and empty.

A year ago, the Red Sox wanted Farrell, balked at the Blue Jays’ demands for him (reportedly Clay Buchholz) and instead hired Bobby Valentine. That turned out to be a disaster and it wasn’t the fault of Valentine. Had the Red Sox put the exact same team on the field with the rampant front office disarray and factional power struggles, they might’ve wound up closer to .500 than they did under Valentine because they wouldn’t have cleaned out the house at mid-season. They still wouldn’t have been contenders and the end result would’ve been equally as unacceptable in Boston, but there wouldn’t have been anyone like Valentine to kick out the door.

This hiring is more in line with what the Red Sox did with Terry Francona as Farrell is an agreeable presence to the remaining Red Sox veterans, is beloved by the media and liked by the fans. All are susceptible to positive feelings from their years as a title contender and Farrell is a conduit to those days.

But that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to work unless fundamental changes are made to the constitution of the roster. The Red Sox veterans embarrassed and tuned out Francona; they pigeonholed Valentine as an unwanted interloper and did everything they could to make this season happen exactly as it did. To think that Farrell need do nothing more than walk in to make it all okay; that his sheer presence will eliminate the personnel issues that were present as far as the 2011 season, is delusional.

Unlike Valentine, Farrell has a good reputation among the players so there won’t be the avoidance there was under Valentine. They now have money to spend; it sounds as if they’re retreating to the strategy that helped build the championship contender in the first place with intelligent acquisitions rather than competing with the Yankees for big names; and they got the manager they want. Trading Aviles and possibly getting Lind are side-notes to the main story of the Red Sox wanting Farrell. They got what they wanted.

For the Blue Jays

They had a choice: they could be hardliners and try to acquire decent prospects to give the Red Sox the right to talk to and hire Farrell, or they could do as they did and bring in the useful utility veteran Aviles (and his approximate $2.5 million salary for 2013), and perhaps add Lind to the mix with his $7 million contract and move on.

The Blue Jays didn’t want Farrell back and in the coming days as this story settles down, the anonymous whispers will reveal the truth that Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos and the baseball people were unhappy with Farrell’s complaining about the Blue Jays not spending money and casting his lovestruck gaze back toward Boston as if he was straddling the border between the United States and Canada. There won’t be open warfare, but the off-the-record stories will be leaked as to what really happened in Farrell’s two years as the Blue Jays manager.

There appears to be an experiment in baseball engineering with the Blue Jays under Anthopoulos. He’s taken great effort to make sure he’s not perceived as a stat-guy or a scouting guy. He’s using both, as he should, and doing it in a “let’s try this and see if it works” fashion and, as of right now, it’s not working. They need to hire a manager who has some experience or whom they trust not to make the same strategic missteps and have his eye on greener pastures (money-wise in pay for himself and spending on players) as Farrell clearly did.

The talk as replacement is centering around Sandy Alomar Jr. and a few other pedestrian names like Don Wakamatsu. I would not do that. I would hire a veteran manager who is strategically oriented and won’t take crap, someone like Larry Bowa. There’s talent in Toronto—a lot of it—but they can’t afford to have a manager who, bluntly, doesn’t know what he’s doing strategically and that was a major problem with the former pitcher and neophyte manager Farrell.

For John Farrell

Be careful what you wish for. This goes for both the Red Sox and Farrell.

If you were casting a movie and needed a “manager” with the square jaw, dominating physical presence, handsome looks, and manager movements, Farrell would be the first one called in. That doesn’t mean he’s a good manager. Being good and being successful are two different things. The Red Sox need a manager now and not someone to fill the uniform and mandate as Francona did when he was hired.

If Farrell thinks he’s bounding back into Boston and is taking the mantle from Francona and it will be the same situation as it was when he left in 2010, he’s got another thing coming. While the Red Sox have money to spend, they’re not repeating the same mistakes they made that got them into the 2011-2012 mess in the first place by ignoring such aspects as suitability to Boston and the pressure therein, attitude, and professionalism. Farrell can have an affect on that, but bad actors are bad actors and, by definition, are going to act badly.

It’s a lot easier to be the backup quarterback, holding a clipboard with his hat backwards, drinking in the adulation that doesn’t come from anything he’s done, but because he’s not the guy who was there before. It’s an easy sell to take the chanting of his name as validation of his value. But he’s now the one who’s under scrutiny when he actually has the job and the responsibility. It was said years ago when an assistant football coach was hired as the head coach, “Now he’s responsible for the losses.”

The honeymoon is not going to last very long if the Red Sox are 15-25 after 40 games in 2013. We won’t hear about it, but logic dictates that Farrell was in contact with Red Sox people for a long while and made it clear that he wanted the job; that he was unhappy in Toronto; and that they should make it happen if possible. Was Farrell made promises by the Blue Jays that weren’t kept? Probably. Did he, as a totally inexperienced manager knowing that the team was still building, deserve more than that? No.

He didn’t distinguish himself strategically and the players knew it. I got the impression that when Farrell was a big league pitcher and pitching coach, it bothered him when there were runners on base and they were a threat to steal at any moment, so that’s what he encouraged his baserunners to do as a manager. But like a catcher who calls for pitches that are easier for him to throw out runners stealing or arrogantly thinks that pitches he can’t hit are pitches that no hitter can hit, it mistakenly permeates his strategies. Farrell let his Blue Jays runners go bonkers on the basepaths and run themselves out of innings. They were weak fundamentally as well. That falls to Farrell.

The Red Sox under Francona played the game the right way and that’s what the organization has come to expect. The Red Sox of the Francona years didn’t have much strategy for Francona to impart. Everything was delineated from the way the starting pitchers were used to the roles of the relievers to the way the hitters approached their at bats. Francona wasn’t Grady Little and listened to the front office. Farrell isn’t Valentine and is returning to the warm welcome as a savior. This combination is troubling.

Is he a savior? If he thinks he is, it’s a problem. If he takes over and follows the strategies that worked while he was the pitching coach and the Red Sox get better players, it can work.

I’m not convinced that’s what Farrell has in mind.

Everyone here gets what they want.

That’s not always good.

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Terry Francona Chooses the Indians—Why?

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Terry Francona could conceivably have had his choice of jobs as the baseball managerial wheel spins. But, shockingly (to me at least), he decided to take over as the manager of the Cleveland Indians on a 4-year contract. The move is being lauded widely, but is it the right one for both sides?

Let’s see what this means for the Indians and Francona and why it might’ve happened.

Francona wants to prove himself

After his tenure in Philadelphia and in the throes of the Moneyball craze in which a manager was seen as little more than a faceless automaton whose prime directive is to follow orders from the front office, Francona took over as the Red Sox manager. He was hired because he was willing to do what he was told; would take short money; was agreeable to the players and especially Curt Schilling, whom the Red Sox were trying to acquire from the Diamondbacks; and he wasn’t Grady Little.

Even as the Red Sox won their long-elusive championship and another one three years later, there was forever an underlying feeling that Francona—in spite of his likability and deft handling of the media and egos in the Red Sox clubhouse—was along for the ride. Perhaps he’d like to show off his managerial skills in a less financially free situation such as that of the Indians. The Indians have some talent on the big league roster. Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall, Shin-Soo Choo, Justin Masterson, and Ubaldo Jimenez are the foundation for a decent club. They should also have some money to spend on mid-level improvements with both Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore coming off the books.

In order for a manager to eliminate the perception of what he was in his prior stop, he has to go to a totally different situation. Francona certainly has that with the Indians.

He enjoyed his time with the Indians, has ties to Cleveland, and misses the competition

Francona was a former front office assistant with the Indians and his father Tito Francona was an All-Star player for the Indians in the early-1960s. He knows the front office and there will be a cohesiveness that wasn’t present with the Red Sox. As successful as Francona was in Boston, there was a limit to his sway. With the Indians, his opinions will be heard and he must feel they’ll be adhered to.

That’s not necessarily a good thing. If a club is rebuilding and the manager is trying to justify his reputation, he’s going to want to win. There’s a tug-of-war at play when a manager wants to win and the organization is trying to develop. Francona might not be the same person he was when working for the Indians in his pre-Red Sox days and if the Indians aren’t willing to mortgage the future in a win-now maneuver, there could be unexpected friction.

Being around baseball as a broadcaster isn’t the same as being in the middle of the fight. Francona recharged his batteries, or may think he recharged his batteries after a year away, and wants to jump back into the fray.

He didn’t want to wait and see about other, higher-pressure jobs

The implication of Francona as the prototypical “nice guy” isn’t exactly accurate. He, like Joe Torre, has been a far more calculating presence than his portrayal and persona suggests. He played the martyr following the Red Sox collapse and became a victim to the players’ decision to disrespect him and the front office need to kick someone overboard as a show of “doing something.”

Was he innocent? It’s part of the manager’s job to be hypocritical, but if he was going to get the credit for being laid back when the team was winning and it was okay that the starting pitchers who weren’t working that day were off doing whatever, then he also gets the blame when clubhouse leaks and team fractures result in a disappointing fall. The idea that Francona wasn’t to be held accountable in any way for the Red Sox slide in 2011 (and in 2012 for that matter) is ludicrous. If his calm leadership was credited for them winning in 2004 and 2007, then his porous discipline is part of why they came undone.

Will there be expectations in Cleveland? Based on Francona’s reputation, there will be factions thinking the “proven manager” theory will work. But in the end, it’s about the players. Francona could have sat in the ESPN booth and waited for other jobs with more attractive on-field personnel—the Angels and Tigers specifically—to open. He wants to win, but with the Indians, he won’t get the blame if they don’t.

The Indians presented a plan to spend a bit more freely

As mentioned earlier, the Indians will be free of Hafner’s, Sizemore’s, and Derek Lowe’s paychecks and they may look to trade Choo. That should give them increased flexibility. If I’m Manny Acta, I would be offended if the Indians spend this winter, signing and trading for players who were off-limits due to finances simply because they hired Francona. Acta has been unlucky in his managerial stops. With the Nationals, he oversaw the breaking of the ground in their rebuild and was fired. He got the Indians job and did as much as he could with limited talent and again was fired. It’s a similar situation that we’ve seen with Art Howe and Torre. Howe left the Athletics for the Mets for many reasons. The Mets were going to pay him more than the A’s would have; Mets’ GM Steve Phillips wanted someone he could control better than the fired Bobby Valentine and another candidate Lou Piniella; and he also wanted to prove that his success wasn’t the fluke it was presented as in Moneyball.

Torre was fired by the Cardinals in 1995 and this was well before he became “The Godfather” of baseball and St. Joe—both images promulgated by Torre himself. He was considered a retread who knew how to handle the clubhouse, but wouldn’t do much to help the team one way or the other. If you examine the 1995 Cardinals team that Torre was fired from 47 games into the season, they weren’t very good and didn’t spend any money (20th in payroll that season). They’d allowed Gregg Jefferies, one player who had blossomed under Torre’s gentle hand where he’d failed everywhere else, to depart to the Phillies without replacing him. Back then, Tony LaRussa was viewed as the Mr. Fix-It who could win anywhere by sheer force of will and strategic brilliance. LaRussa was hired as Cardinals’ manager that winter after he left the Athletics as a managerial free agent and, lo and behold, they imported players LaRussa wanted because he had a power that Torre didn’t have and for him to take the job, that guarantee had to be made. A bad team was transformed into a club that lost in game 7 of the NLCS.

Torre, to put it mildly, landed on his feet with the Yankees.

Howe, on the other hand, took over a Mets team in disarray with a power struggle at the top and awkwardly moving on from the late 1990s-2000 years of contention. The 2003-2004 Mets under Howe had a misleadingly high payroll because of prior financial commitments they’d made to declining players. When Omar Minaya took over as GM late in the 2004 season, it was announced that Howe would finish the season and not be retained. The Mets hired an inexperienced Willie Randolph and opened the checkbook in the winter of 2004-2005 spending big money on Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. They finished at 83-79 in 2005 and would’ve finished with pretty much that same record under Howe. An in-demand manager can say what he wants and have it done. A retread can’t. Torre was a retread; Howe was a bystander; with the Phillies, Francona was a shrug. LaRussa was LaRussa and got what he wanted.

Will it work?

In the end, it’s the players. If Francona’s going to succeed in Cleveland, it won’t be through some “magic” that doesn’t exist. His reputation might be conducive to players wanting to go to Cleveland; his laid-back demeanor will be easier for young players to develop without someone screaming or glaring at them; but it won’t be due to the simplistic, “He won with the Red Sox so he’ll win here.” He didn’t win in Philadelphia because the team was bad. Does that factor in? If not, it should.

If the Indians toss the same roster in 2013 as they did in 2012, they’re not going to be all that much better under Francona than they were under Acta and Sandy Alomar Jr.

If that’s the case, then Francona wouldn’t have taken the job. The “name” manager gets his way, justified or not. If it fails or succeeds, we’ll know why.

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Blame for Bobby Valentine’s Red Sox Failure Extends Worldwide

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Bobby Valentine was fired as manager by the Boston Red Sox yesterday with approximately $2.5 million remaining on his 2-year contract. He’s taking the fall for what wasn’t simply an organizational set of problems, but for issues that extended far beyond Boston and were negatively influenced by people, perceptions, and circumstances. Valentine certainly bears a portion of the responsibility for what went wrong in his dream job that rapidly—immediately–degenerated into a nightmare, but there’s plenty to go around.

Let’s look at the map with percentages as to who’s at fault.

Boston, MA

The Red Sox were in total disarray after their collapse in September of 2011. Manager Terry Francona’s contract options were not exercised (technically he wasn’t fired, but he was fired); GM Theo Epstein left for the Cubs shortly thereafter; and the roster was essentially stagnant with owner John Henry slamming shut the vault that had bought and paid for Carl Crawford, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

They had a choice: either hire one of the names that GM Ben Cherington preferred like Gene Lamont or Dale Sveum, or do as team CEO Larry Lucchino wanted and hire the polar opposite of Francona and a big name, Valentine. Lucchino was reestablishing his power with the departure of Epstein and, as expected, got his way. This implication that had the Red Sox hired one of Cherington’s choices as manager, everything would’ve been okay, is ridiculous. The team needed structural changes on the field—changes they didn’t make. Such maneuvers would’ve been nearly impossible to construct with other clubs and sell to their fanbase and media, but they could’ve done something to break from the past by dispatching a veteran or three.

I understand why they did what they did with Valentine, but do they? Are they willing to admit it and look into the mirror? Does the Red Sox front office know what they did wrong and why it didn’t work? That it was a huge gaffe to drop Valentine into that toxic stew without altering the ingredients by getting rid of Josh Beckett over the winter? That saddling Valentine with coaches that were a sure bet to undermine him would serve nothing apart from giving the players a sympathetic ear to complain to and the media an “unnamed source” through whom the players could anonymously air their gripes? That these coaches would play clubhouse politics to expand their own influence and possibly become the manager of the team themselves?

The transformation from intelligent and comprehensive decision-making that was implemented under Epstein was gone in favor of spending on free agents and making headline-worthy trades for big names to keep up with the Yankees.

After the 2011 debacle, rather than formulating a cogent plan that may or may not have included Valentine, everyone was looking out for himself. Lucchino with his freedom from Epstein to do what he preferred and have the world know he was in charge again; Cherington going along to get along and letting Lucchino have his way; Valentine for not making sure he wasn’t surrounded by a pack of Judases; and the players for behaving as spoiled, entitled brats.

35% at fault

Arizona

I’m sure Francona, observing the Red Sox train wreck from the ESPN booth and his Arizona home, was amused and satisfied at the 69-93 record and last place in the American League East that the Red Sox “achieved”. Not to imply that Francona wanted the Red Sox to disintegrate as they did, but the implosion somehow validates that the 2011 collapse was not the fault of the former manager when, in part, it was. Francona’s lackadaisical discipline and inability to stop the breakdown of intensity; stem the rise in overwhelming arrogance; and harpoon the sense that because the Red Sox had become such a machine over the years that they were automatically anointed a spot in the post-season, made 2011 inevitable. Francona had been there too long; the team had become complacent under his leadership; and his refusal to appear at the Red Sox 100th anniversary celebration and then decision to show up in a passive-aggressive display of selfishness against Lucchino while he knew the difficulty Valentine was having only exacerbated the situation.

His looming presence as a popular and well-liked person who happened to be in the ESPN broadcasting booth shadowed Valentine and the Red Sox. The idiotic entreaties from the likes of Ken Rosenthal and now others that the Red Sox bring him back are similar to a divorced couple that splits and only remembers the good times and not the reasons they broke up in the first place.

Francona is a good, but not great manager who will do well if he has the players to win. Put him in a rebuilding project such as the Indians and he’ll revert to the, “nice guy, okay enough manager…I guess” individual he was with the Phillies when all he did was lose. He got the Red Sox job because he was willing to take short money for the opportunity, he was agreeable to Curt Schilling whom the Red Sox were trying to acquire, and he would adhere to stat-based principles and do what the front office told him. In short, he was the opposite of Grady Little. The concept that he’s more than that because he was the manager of a loaded Red Sox team is a concocted story that will be proven to be false if he does indeed go to the Indians. (I don’t think he will. He’ll wait out the Tigers/Angels/Dodgers/Diamondbacks jobs.)

12% at fault

Toronto, Canada

The Red Sox are enamored of John Farrell. They wanted him a year ago and didn’t want to surrender what the Blue Jays supposedly asked for (Clay Buchholz) in compensation for their manager. Farrell desperately wants to go back to Boston and he is the next manager of the Red Sox, for better or worse.

That the Blue Jays are willing to let him go to a division rival should be a warning sign to the Red Sox that they may not be getting the problem-solver they’re looking for. Farrell is popular with the players, beloved by the Boston media, and a conduit to the memory of when the Red Sox were a championship team. But, as the Blue Jays and their fans will attest, his in-game managerial skills are lacking and the Blue Jays were an undisciplined and haphazardly run bunch that was expected to be much better than they were in 2012. His longing gaze back at Boston and that Boston was gazing back didn’t help Valentine either.

1% at fault

Chicago, IL

From poor drafts in 2008 and onward, to overpaying for free agents nationally and internationally, the 2012 Red Sox were largely put together by the current president of the Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein. Those are the same Cubs that lost 101 games under Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer, and the manager that Cherington preferred, Sveum. The Cubs were in need of a total overhaul and that’s what Epstein and his crew are doing, so he can’t be blamed for the monstrosity they were this season, but the 2012 Red Sox are absolutely Epstein’s responsibility. He decided to git while the gittin’ was good, but that doesn’t absolve him of the carnage that his acquisitions, signings, and failure to address lingering issues created.

Also in Chicago was Kevin Youkilis of the White Sox.

One of the seminal moments of Valentine’s downfall in Boston was his innocuous criticism of Youkilis early in the season in which he said he felt that Youkilis’s commitment was lacking. It was amazing how a presence like Youkilis, who had begun to be seen as a problematic clubhouse lawyer and divisive busybody in September of 2011, evolved into a rallying point for the Red Sox veterans to say, “See?!? Valentine’s a jerk!!”

Whatever the catalyst was of Valentine’s criticism and Youkilis’s eventual trade to the White Sox, was Valentine wrong?

The injury-prone Youkilis wasn’t hitting for the Red Sox, they had a replacement at the ready in the younger and cheaper Will Middlebrooks, and after Youkilis joined the White Sox, he was the same inconsistent, limited player he’d become for the Red Sox.

Youkilis was an outlet for strife within the Red Sox roster, but he was one of convenience.

30% at fault

Los Angeles, CA

Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Crawford were traded to the Dodgers in a salary dump that the Red Sox were beyond lucky that they were able to complete. Gonzalez was a bad fit for Boston due to his laid back West Coast personality and desire to be left alone to do his job. As the veteran leaders like David Ortiz got injured and Gonzalez was called to the forefront on and off the field, he was swallowed up, unable to come up with any legitimate, intelligent response as to why the club faltered in 2011 and was coming unglued in 2012 aside from referencing God.

Crawford tried hard, but was hurt. His deployment was a point of contention between Valentine and the front office with the random decision that he would play X number of games and get Y number of games off to account for an elbow that required Tommy John surgery.

Beckett is the epitome of the problem child bully who needed a smack, but no one in Boston willing to give him that smack. The one person that Valentine needed to come to an understanding with was Beckett. Or the Red Sox had to trade Beckett. Neither happened in time to save 2012, and when they finally traded Beckett in August, it was too late to do any good.

Is it fair to blame Beckett for not behaving as a professional and an adult when he’s never done it before in his entire career and it was up to the front office to accept that and get rid of him? Is it fair to blame Gonzalez for not being any more of a leader than he was with the twice-collapsed Padres clubs for whom he was also the centerpiece? Is it fair to blame Crawford because he was hurt?

Not really.

4% at fault

Stamford, CT

After waiting so long to get back into Major League Baseball as a manager, there has to be a sense of embarrassment for Valentine that he got the chance of a lifetime with a team that spends a lot of money and was rife with stars and that he “blew” it.

But did he blow it?

Valentine, being Valentine walked into the job with the knives already out to get him. The perception of him being a loud, arrogant, condescending, abrasive, micromanaging nuisance notwithstanding, it was up to him to get the players to take him at face value based on their dealings with him rather than dredging up old criticisms from those with an axe to grind such as John Franco, his deposed closer with the Mets.

Valentine saw how Francona became lauded and celebrated after breaking the “curse”; that it could have been him who was managing the Red Sox back in 2003 had he been willing to compromise on his principles and tell Lucchino during an informal chat that he disagreed with Little’s decision to leave Pedro Martinez in to pitch in that fateful game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. But he refused to criticize Little, wound up in Japan for several years, missed out on the Marlins and Orioles jobs and was left with one final opportunity.

Early in the season, had Valentine been the strategic wizard he was portrayed to be, then it might’ve been okay. But he was rusty having not managed in the big leagues for 10 years and in the American League for 20. In an apropos analogy considering Valentine’s bicycle spill in Central Park during the last series against the Yankees, managing is not like getting on a bicycle. Valentine tried and fell.

Valentine won’t regret taking the job, but he will regret not making a greater effort to get the veterans on his side; on not allowing coaches that he didn’t want and were likely to be undermining influences to be on his staff; and for not making a greater effort to dispel the aura than he carried around with him. Making the effort could have helped. Telling Beckett and others, “Listen, I’m sure you’ve heard all the stories about me. Some are true, some aren’t. But I was in my 40s then. I’m 62 now. This is my last chance. I know it, you know it. I wanna win. You guys wanna forget about what happened last year. Let’s work together to make it happen.”

Beckett would probably have still acted the way he did (and does), but Valentine could say he tried.

This was Valentine’s last shot. There are two strategies to take when facing a last shot: 1) go for the deep strike and say, “If I’m going down, I’m going down my way,” and make sure you’re comfortable with everything for better or worse; or 2) be conciliatory and agreeable, hoping it works out based on talent level and available money.

Valentine chose the latter with the results we see. He bears a significant portion of the responsibility and was jettisoned, but this was a combined effort from all over the map and top to bottom. No one should be spared from their part in the horror film that is the 2012 Boston Red Sox.

18% at fault

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Farrell Would Fix Some, But Not All Of The Red Sox Problems

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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.

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The Red Sox Had A Right To Their Celebration Without Rehashed Drama

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Since the Red Sox have invited every former player, coach and manager to attend the 100th anniversary celebration of Fenway Park, will Eric Gagne be there? Grady Little? Joe Kerrigan?

The problem with inviting everyone to a celebration like this is that there are bound to be people who you don’t want to show up but only invited because you were inviting everyone and it would cause more of a distraction if you picked and chose who could and couldn’t come.

What makes it worse than the person showing up is when they make a great show of pronouncing that they’re not showing up and go into graphic detail as to why.

It’s like a wedding. “Well, if we invite X, then we have to invite Y! We have to!”

The Red Sox have done a Mets-like job of botching things since the final month of the 2011 season when they acted as if a playoff spot was an entitlement rather than something they earned; as if spending money on stars and formulating mathematical calculations based on runs scored and runs allowed that they’d make the playoffs on an annual basis and waltz into another “ultimate matchup” between themselves, the Yankees and the Phillies.

None of those teams made it past the first round of the playoffs.

There’s no right or wrong answer in designing this type of party, but like the aforementioned analogy of a wedding, for the organizers, it’s a case of not having it degenerate into a YouTube disaster.

The Red Sox made the mistake of adding fuel to the fire from the fallout of 2011 with the public dustups with Theo Epstein’s and Terry Francona’s “are they coming or are they not?” twin gaffes.

Francona was invited and initially declined because of the circumstances in which he was dismissed, then reversed course. He did it publicly and it was intentional.

Apparently, Epstein hadn’t been invited at all—a horrific mistake in propriety.

The way to handle situations like this is to rise above the fray. What the Red Sox should’ve done was asked Francona and Epstein to come and left it there.

If Francona said no, they needn’t have called him or gotten into a war of words in the media (dutifully blown up to increase the scrutiny on the reeling organization and shift the onus away from the “beloved” former manager) to rehash the back-and-forth that went on all winter as to whom said what and who’s been allocated the majority of blame for the collapse.

The right answer was the simplest. “We invited Tito and Theo. Of course we want them here for the celebration. It’s not about 2011. It’s about 1912 to 2012 and they contributed greatly to this organization. If they don’t come because of any lingering animosity, we regret that and they’re going to miss a beautiful ceremony.”

Bang.

Who looks worse if Epstein and Francona decline?

Francona’s not Mr. Innocent here.

Don’t think he was hit by a bolt from the blue of magnanimity and changed his mind after dredging up accusations of what led to the ugly split between him and the club. If you believe that, I have a ballpark on 4 Yawkey Way in Boston to sell you.

It’s 100 years old, but was recently refurbished and is a beloved landmark.

Make an offer.

Ask yourself this: if the Red Sox were 10-2 instead of 4-8 and reeling on and off the field under new manager Bobby Valentine, would Francona have so willingly decided to attend?

To an absurd degree, Francona’s been shielded from his part in this club’s decline. In truth, he’s lucky he’s out of there because as long as they keep playing like this and resorting to organizational cannibalism and self-preservation (“Hey, don’t blame me!!!”), he looks better and better when he probably shouldn’t.

Francona is getting his revenge on and off the field and when he steps out and hears the cheers and chanting (“Come back Ti-to!!!”). It’s a kick in the groin for Larry Lucchino, John Henry and Valentine.

Players on the roster will seek Francona out, hug him, shake their heads and complain about the new regime; they’ll express their regret for Francona being dismissed while shirking the reality that their behaviors caused the dismissal. That’s what players do.

The Red Sox are coming apart. Valentine is under fire from the players and media as the lightning rod when much of what’s gone wrong falls at the desks of both Epstein and Francona.

With Epstein, it’s ridiculous that he wasn’t invited. Both he and Dan Duquette played major roles in the rejuvenation of the franchise and deserve acknowledgement for that. They’re not among the generic “non-uniformed personnel” who were, as a rule, not asked to come.

All of the responsibility for what’s currently going wrong for the Red Sox is falling on the remaining actors in the ongoing tragi-comedy. Lucchino, Henry, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis were there for the explosion and are dealing with the fallout. Valentine was parachuted in like a banished general who hadn’t been in combat for a decade and is seeing first hand the factional disagreement, media vultures and fan anger. It’s becoming clear that even the polarizing Valentine had no idea what he was getting into. He thought he was managing a baseball team, not overseeing a zoo.

The entire off-field drama is a distraction from what this celebration is meant to be about: the ballpark and the history of the franchise.

Like it or not, that history going to be intensified by this downfall. It was inevitable as soon as they abandoned the initial blueprint they’d designed and altered the template to be the Yankees and purchased gaudy trophies in lieu of maintaining financial sanity and getting needs over wants.

They’ve succeeded in becoming the Yankees.

But it wasn’t the 1965 Yankees they had in mind.

Let them enjoy their day.

It’s going to get worse from here.

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Who Cares What the Red Sox Players Think?

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Terry Francona was the proper choice at the time in 2004 because he’d work cheap; he wasn’t Grady Little; he’d do what he was told by the front office; and he was agreeable to Curt Schilling, whom they were trying to convince to accept a trade from the Diamondbacks to the Red Sox.

The “middle-manager” worked.

If you examine some of the big name, splashy hirings of established managers, their appropriateness is based on circumstances.

Lou Piniella was a failure for the Devil Rays because they didn’t have any players. The last thing a rebuilding team needs is a cranky old man who wants to win immediately.

Buck Showalter is adept at building and teaching, making him a good fit for the Orioles.

The Marlins are intent on contending and drawing interest with big personalities—hence, Ozzie Guillen.

The Red Sox current roster dynamic is static so the only thing they could do was to bring in the opposite to Francona and keep the same group together. That means Valentine.

“Sources” saying that Red Sox players are sending each other text messages with complaints about Bobby Valentine sounds like something from a teenage girl’s Facebook page complete with the frowny face. :( sad

It’s a non-story for webhits and attention.

If it’s true, who cares what Josh Beckett and the rest of them think?

They had a manager who was hands off and left them alone and they somehow found a way to blow a playoff spot and get the manager fired.

Now they have to deal with Valentine.

What are they going to do? Not play?

They made this mess and now they have to deal with the fallout.

And that fallout is Valentine.

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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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