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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No Beer Make Red Sox Something Something

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The Red Sox have banned alcoholic beverages—including their precious beer—in the clubhouse and for the final flight on road trips for the coming season.

Read the story here—Sporting News link.

This is in response to the reports from last season of starting pitchers who weren’t working that day hanging around the clubhouse and drinking during games rather than being on the bench supporting their teammates.

There are some who say that camaraderie is enhanced by players hanging out together and having a beer, but one of the main reasons the Red Sox were said to have come apart was the disinterest on the part of those who were supposedly in the clubhouse drinking.

They’re adults, but they’re also there to work. There’s no reason for them to be drinking beer at their workplace, athletes or not.

Former manager Terry Francona was given something of a pass for the way the team collapsed. Supposedly it was a byproduct of veteran behaviors about which he could do nothing.

It’s a flimsy excuse.

Francona got the credit for the wins, he gets the blame for the losses and whether the wins stem from front office intelligence and star power and the losses from disciplinary issues and lack of fundamentals is irrelevant. He was in charge, everything stops with him.

Now Bobby Valentine is in charge and, with support and likely prodding from the front office, has banned beer.

Does it matter?

If the Red Sox are playing well and as a cohesive unit, the banning of beer will be seen as a significant flashpoint in Valentine’s taking of the reins from Francona and consciously deciding that he wasn’t going to make the same mistakes as his predecessor. If they’re not playing well, the tightness of the rules and treatment of the players like naughty children will be cited as the problem.

In reality, the Red Sox success or failure will be determined on the field. The beer drinking in the clubhouse didn’t start during their slide; they were probably doing it all along and got away with it because they were winning and that Francona was too laid back. It became an excuse and if Francona saw what was going on and failed to stop it, it’s a blot on him as well as the Red Sox players who partook in it.

The bully in the room, Josh Beckett, is the one that has to be watched. Already he’s deflecting responsibility for what happened and, as is his nature, is going to test Valentine every chance he gets to try and gain control of the relationship. How that manifests itself and how Valentine responds will be the twin indicators of the Valentine tenure. Maybe Beckett will buy in; maybe he’ll build a still in the trainer’s room like Hawkeye in M*A*S*H.

Contrary to popular belief, the beer drinking wasn’t the cause of the Red Sox stumble and its banishment won’t be the impetus of a comeback.

They have to pitch and play better. Had they done that, Valentine wouldn’t be their manager; Francona wouldn’t be in an ESPN booth; Theo Epstein wouldn’t be running the Cubs; and this whole story wouldn’t be a running joke that the Red Sox are bad boys who had their beer confiscated.

//

The Real Questions with Bobby V and Ben Cherington

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Repeatedly we’re seeing the debate as to whether new Red Sox GM Ben Cherington wanted Bobby Valentine as the Red Sox manager.

Some say yes, he’s on board and is sincere about it.

Some say yes, but are shrugging and rolling their eyes as they say it.

Some say no. Larry Lucchino and John Henry wanted someone who was the polar opposite of Terry Francona; that they wouldn’t tolerate the nonsense that played a part in the club’s collapse in September and began the ball rolling sending Francona and Theo Epstein out of town and opened the door to the shocking hire of Valentine.

The truth is probably closer to the middle.

Did Cherington want Valentine?

No.

But Lucchino wasted no time after the departure of Epstein to step right back into the breach amidst the chaos and fill the vacuum. When the Red Sox won their 2004 championship, Lucchino’s position had been usurped and his influence marginalized by his former protege and eventual nemesis as Epstein won the subsequent power struggle.

With the collapse, the dismissal of Francona and the Epstein departure, the opening was there for Lucchino and he took it.

Is Cherington comfortable with Valentine?

I’m sure he’s rationalized it.

Valentine has a 2-year contract with 2 option years; he’s a qualified and experienced manager who is well-versed in statistics and truly knows the game from both a numerical and scouting point-of-view; he’ll nip any behavioral issues in the bud; if things go wrong, Cherington won’t get the blame as the puppetmaster in the Moneyball tradition of telling the “middle-manager” what to do.

Whereas Epstein would’ve been allowed to hire the man he wanted to hire to replace Francona, Lucchino and ownership stuck to the Red Sox recent historical script of doing the Yankees thing and importing a recognizable name.

It’s been this way for years.

When Epstein was hired and the Red Sox set about altering the culture and strategy, it wasn’t to sign the big name free agents or championship-winning managers for show in a keeping up with the Steinbrenners competition—that’s what got them and other teams in trouble in the first place—but it was done to import players and staff who fit into what they wanted to build logically and intelligently.

Now that they have immobile contracts; a greedy fan base; and an apathetic, comfortable and encroaching core of veterans who took advantage of Francona’s hands-off style. Valentine was the one name who’d drop a bomb in the clubhouse and put a stop to the off-field negativity that harmed their playoff run.

Valentine’s not going to storm in and get in the faces of Josh Beckett and Kevin Youkilis. He’ll try a conciliatory “let’s work together” approach, talk to them like men and then handle it if they step out of line.

You can make the argument for a younger, less stringent manager with a personality that wasn’t going to ruffle the delicacy of the clubhouse hierarchy, but the front office is paying the players to be in shape and behave appropriately as a matter of course; they hired Valentine to implement that desire.

If they hired someone inexperienced who fit into the middle-managing profile and it didn’t work, the Red Sox were staring in the face of a full-blown housecleaning which would’ve relegated them to possibly 3-5 years of missed playoffs and repercussions in revenue, fan response and media vitriol.

It’s easier and cheaper to bring in Valentine and see if he can tweak what’s there than it is to make wholesale roster changes and take someone else’s headaches in exchange for their own. Catering to the whims of the players would’ve made the 2011 problems worse.

Hiring Valentine is not so different from the Moneyball style of field managers except that this middle-manager isn’t going to be intimidated nor is he going to get fired if the players complain about him.

Here’s the big question: Had Epstein stayed, would Bobby Valentine be the Red Sox manager right now?

Universally, the answer will be the same no matter whom you ask.

That answer is no.

And despite assertions that all are in agreement, smiles and glad-handing, that pretty much tells you where Cherington truly stands on the situation as well.

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Cubs Or Cards For Francona?

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The Cubs currently have a manager so it’s unfair for people to speculate on whether or not Terry Francona is going to take over while Mike Quade is still employed—the job’s not open, so until it is he’s not a candidate.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not going to be a candidate once Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are settled in and come to a decision on Quade.

Common sense dictates that if they’re making a change, they’ve informed Francona that he should wait before taking another job.

And presumably that was before Tony LaRussa retired and a potentially more inviting job came open—a job where Francona could walk in and win immediately with the Cardinals.

The teams are bitter, historic rivals and that’s only be exacerbated if their manager of choice has to pick one over the other.

Which job is better?

Which is preferable?

Let’s take a look.

Expectations.

The Cubs demands are going to be muted as Epstein sifts through the current mess, tries to clear the contracts of Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano, repairs the farm system and alters the culture. Francona could run the club on the field while they retool and no one’s going to be comparing him to his predecessor—if they remember his predecessor at all.

The Cardinals are the world champions are are accustomed to contending almost every single year. With or without Albert Pujols (who’s going to have a say in whom the new Cards manager is), they’re good enough to make the playoffs in 2012. It’s not easy being the replacement for a legend and even though Francona has some hardware in his own right with two championships, there’s forever going to be the onus of the appellation of “middle-manager”; that other managers could’ve won with the Red Sox collection of talent; and the way his tenure in Boston ended was a humiliating disaster.

Being the boss and familiarity.

The Cardinals are ready-made to win, but with LaRussa’s departure, I’d be concerned that they’re going to return to their earlier attempt to go the Moneyball route with the Jeff Luhnow-types in the front office and ignore what the manager thinks. LaRussa was able to use his resume as a hammer to fend off those adjustments and eventually won the power struggle; GM John Mozeliak was the man in the middle, appeasing his bosses and the manager. If Francona comes along, he’s not going to have the sharp elbows that LaRussa did. Francona’s much more affable than LaRussa, but that might not necessarily be a good thing.

Francona can work with Dave Duncan and doesn’t have the ego to retreat from delegating responsibilities to his coaches and players.

With the Cubs, he’d have at least some say with the construction of the roster because of his prior relationship with Epstein and Hoyer.

Talent.

Short of a miracle the Cubs aren’t going to be winning anytime soon and Epstein ain’t Moses.

The Cubs have a semblance of a good nucleus with Geovany Soto and Starlin Castro forming the basis for a solid up-the-middle club; Blake DeWitt deserves a chance to play and under Epstein his on-base skills and good defense will be better appreciated.

But it’s going to take a couple of years for the Cubs to be ready to win.

When Epstein took over the Red Sox, much of the ALCS club from 2003 and championship club from 2004 were already in place due to the prior work done by Dan Duquette. The Cubs have some talent, but are far from contending status. Would Francona be willing to walk in and have his record sullied by a 75-87 season in 2012? His job wouldn’t be on the line, but it’s a weak follow-up to the Red Sox collapse.

A starting rotation with Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook; a bullpen with a 100-mph fastball of Jason Motte; a lineup with Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, David Freese and presumably Pujols automatically has the Cardinals in contention.

The aggravation factor.

Francona’s hands-off approach eventually exploded in his face with the Red Sox, but the Cardinals have leaders who don’t tolerate any nonsense.

The Cubs have Zambrano and Soriano. It’s in their DNA to torment the manager.

There’s not a black cloud hanging over the Cardinals as there is with the Cubs. The negativity isn’t, nor will it ever be, present in St. Louis as it is on the North Side of Chicago.

While they’re almost waiting for something bad to happen to sabotage them—they almost revel in it as if it’s a badge of honor—the Chicago media and fans might be less willing to accept the “Flubs” if they don’t look like they’re on the right track under the new regime.

The Cardinals fans and media will support the club and their manager regardless of what happens as long as Francona doesn’t screw it up. And Francona’s not a “screw it up” guy who’ll make changes just for the sake of them.

There’s something to be said for being the manager of both the Red Sox and Cubs and ending two perceived curses—that’s part of what attracted Epstein to the Cubs in the first place; perhaps that would appeal to Francona. But for the reasons listed above, the Cardinals are a better job.

If offered both, the Cardinals job is a better situation and that’s the one I’d take if I were Terry Francona.

//

Josh Hamilton’s Divine Intervention

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Josh Hamilton once needed a drug and alcohol intervention.

That’s been changed to divine intervention.

The quotes from Hamilton were as follows:

“He said, ‘You haven’t hit one in a while and this is the time you’re going to,'”

The “He” Hamilton was referring to was God; and what He told Hamilton was that he was going to hit a home run in the top of the 10th inning of game 6 of the World Series.

Hamilton did.

Then the Rangers lost the game in 11 innings.

And Hamilton added the caveat that God didn’t specifically tell him that the Rangers were going to win the game, just that he was going to hit a homer.

Um. Okay.

I’m not going to get into a Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens-style rant against religion, but I’m curious of the reaction had Hamilton said something to the tune of “I kept this to myself, but Santa Claus told me last Christmas that I was gonna hit a homer in game 6 of the World Series in 2011, and I did.”

Would people have taken this revelation as seriously as they did his validation from the “real” Almighty?

Or would they have wondered whether he’d either fallen off the wagon or the drugs that nearly ruined his career had sabotaged his brain into a state of delusion for which he should be locked up?

Even for those who don’t take the tenets of religion—any religion—literally, does anyone really believe that God whispered to Hamilton that he was going to hit a home run? If he’s up there, wouldn’t God have things on his mind other than Hamilton and the Texas Rangers?

The entire Middle East is imploding; the United States is broke and embroiled in two ground wars; Thailand is almost underwater; and Turkey just had a massive earthquake, but it’s okay because God is going to take care of it all as soon as he finishes watching the World Series.

If it were my alternate universe and Hamilton was referring to Santa, what kind of jokes would be made at his expense?

But because it’s an uplifting story of someone who overcame demons that almost destroyed his life; one who recovered his one-in-a-million talent and has fulfilled it and more, it’s okay to utter such objective lunacy to the public and not be ridiculed. Since so many others believe (or say they believe) and it’s something he clings to to keep him sober and sane, then it’s okay to engage in this type of fantasy.

I’m not anti-religion. I’m not bothered one way or the other if someone believes; I understand the need for community, charity, connection with something bigger than the self; I’m for anything that keeps the masses under some semblance of control. If there wasn’t religion, people would find some other security blanket to cling to—or other reasons to kill each other. But when the entire roster of candidates for President of the United States from one of the two major parties are taking various biblical texts as if they’re fact and ignoring all scientific studies because of those written words, we’re entrusting the survival of the world to the hands of the mystics.

Do those uttering these ludicrous statements truly believe them? Or are they appealing to a constituency as a means to an end?

I can deal with the latter. The former? Not so much.

Sports are a microcosm of society and this style of divine intervention isn’t isolated. It was Adrian Gonzalez who, following the Red Sox collapse, said:

“I’m a firm believer that God has a plan and it wasn’t in his plan for us to move forward.”

“God didn’t have it in the cards for us.”

If I’m paying Gonzalez his lofty salary, I don’t need to hear a built-in excuse for why he and his team failed. If he really believes this, it’s something I would have a serious issue with.

Evander Holyfield and Reggie White used to claim to have been healed by God and no one really batted an eye. Holyfield was able to fight; White was able to play football, so whom did it hurt? The money rolled in for themselves and their business associates.

But how far is this going to go?

Is it faith?

Is it a coping mechanism?

Is it a way to maintain calm during times of great stress?

Or is it a form of derangement?

Did the fervent belief that Hamilton espouses give him the confidence and calm to be able to ignore the pain of his injuries and exhaustion from a long season to have the power to hit that home run off of Jason Motte?

Perhaps it’s all of the above.

But let’s keep things in their proper context and in the realm of reality here and try to keep religion off the field of play.

Let’s keep things in perspective.

God didn’t hit that homer.

Hamilton the human being did.

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Notes From The Ongoing Red Sox Cataclysm

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Jon Lester spoke out about the allegations of beer-drinking and chicken-eating during games and admitted that it happened; he also said that perhaps it was time to move on from Terry Francona because of the different personalities that have been imported into the clubhouse; and that the team needs more “high character” guys.

You can read the Boston Globe story here and come to your own conclusions, but I don’t get the impression that Lester is conventionally “sorry” for what he and the other starting pitchers were doing; he’s sorry that it’s come to this; he’s sorry that Francona is getting his good name dragged through the muck and has lost his job, but he qualifies the behavior as not a big deal.

In context of what’s probably gone on for years, it’s not a big deal, but sometimes it’s okay to say one is sorry even if it’s insincere.

I want to know why Josh Beckett has been so completely silent on this issue. He’s the ringleader; he’s the man who’s supposedly the alpha-male of the clubhouse; in fact, I think he’s a bully. So why isn’t he coming out and either defending or explaining himself?

Amid the fallout from the missed playoff spot, I don’t see regret that it happened, but regret that the team came undone, they didn’t make the playoffs; that the players are being inconvenienced by this upheaval.

It’s almost like the John Rocker mess from 1999 when he made those idiotic comments to Sports Illustrated, apologized the next spring…and then continued behaving like an idiot.

The Red Sox had better do what Lester said and get some character players into that clubhouse and a strong-handed manager who’s not going to tolerate any garbage; and it had preferably be someone who’s willing to take on Beckett—physically if need be—because this isn’t over; and unless it’s addressed, it’s going to happen again.

On another note, the Red Sox apparently asked for Matt Garza as compensation for the Cubs hiring of Theo Epstein.

If I were the Cubs, I’d have said: “If you’re gonna be ridiculous, we’ll forget the whole thing and you can take Theo back. See how that’ll play with the media if he’s stuck in Boston and is hiring your next manager with the world knowing he wants to leave.”

We’d see how quick the negotiations would get back online after that.

Matt Garza?

For a GM?

Please.

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The Brewers Poked The Wrong Bear

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Let’s clear up a few misconceptions about the Cardinals.

Much is being made of the series of trades the Cardinals made at mid-season to drastically alter the configuration of their roster that “led” them to the World Series.

In a sense, the trades in which they acquired Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel and Rafael Furcal were upgrades on and off the field; by now it’s clear that Colby Rasmus and his dad, while not being responsible for the Cardinals inconsistency, didn’t fit into the clubhouse profile and it’s better that both sides moved on.

Absent of the deranged, maniacal, head-rolling fallout in Boston, the Braves collapse was just about as bad as that of the Red Sox; without it, the Cardinals wouldn’t have made the playoffs at all.

The Braves lost 20 of their final 30 games to present the Cardinals with the opportunity to make the run back into the picture; the Cardinals also benefited from the Phillies retrospectively ill-fated decision to play all-out in the last three games of the season in Atlanta and kick the door open by sweeping of the Braves.

They couldn’t have known it at the time and the playoffs can turn on one game (as we saw), but the Phillies would’ve been better off playing any of the other teams among the Diamondbacks, Brewers and Braves had they been their opponents instead of the Cardinals.

When Nyjer Morgan (or his sociopathic alter-ego The Real T. Plush) and the Brewers goaded the fading Cardinals with taunts and other foolish temptations of fate, they behaved as a club that thought they were better than they were and had seen the last of the Cardinals.

This had little to do with the Cardinals searing, breakneck month of desperation, but it didn’t help the Brewers cause. They chose to poke the bear and the bear got up, grabbed them by their throats and ripped their heads off.

Along the way, the Cardinals were assisted by practical matters. It’s a nice, neat story to say the Cardinals were spurred on by an act of disrespect from the Brewers—and to some extent they probably were—but circumstances had to fall in a certain way for the classic denouement of a group of warriors led by their stoic hero Albert Pujols and legendary tactician Tony LaRussa putting the arrogant, loud and obnoxious group of upstarts in their collective places.

And it happened perfectly, just like in the movies.

Now we’ll hear other made-for-dramatic-effect nonsense of how this could possibly be Pujols’s final series as a member of the Cardinals; that the fate of manager LaRussa is in question with his contract on a mutual option for 2012.

Here’s are two flashes of Force Lightning to detonate such stupidity: Pujols isn’t leaving; he knows it, the Cardinals know it and baseball knows it. The Cardinals will make a reasonable offer that they can afford and still be competitive; Pujols won’t be embarrassed by receiving a contract far below those of Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder; everyone will remain together and stay as they are.

LaRussa has no desire (nor a landing spot) to go elsewhere at this point in his life and career; the 2012 Cardinals team is pretty much set with manager and star returning in spite of crafted implications of other eventualities.

These are the Cardinals.

They’re in the World Series.

They’re staying together.

As for the Brewers,  they’re going home; if they don’t realize why, they’re either remarkably stupid; inexplicably blockheaded; or oblivious to reality.

I’ll hedge and say it’s all three.

And I’ll be right.

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Francona-Red Sox Parting Is Mutual And Amicable…For Now

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The Terry Francona-Red Sox divorce didn’t take the road of the humiliating cuss-fest of Jimmy Johnson-Jerry Jones with the Dallas Cowboys in 1994; nor did it include a public spitting match as did the Jeffrey Loria-Joe Girardi parting in 2006.

For every contentious parting of the ways between manager/coach and his bosses, there are situations that end “mutually” as did Francona and the Red Sox.

It’ll be quiet for awhile.

Eventually Francona will want his side of the story out there. As he hears industry whispers from “anonymous” sources as to what really happened in the Red Sox clubhouse to expedite his departure, he’ll retort. Yes, Francona’s a classy, professional baseball man—but he’s also a competitor who won’t want his reputation sullied by circumstances that he doesn’t feel were his fault.

If it starts to float around that someone’s saying, “Terry did this; Terry didn’t do that; Terry lost the clubhouse, etc”, Francona will likely reply with, “Yeah, I wasn’t the one who brought <blank> into my clubhouse; I told them this guy was a problem; and I didn’t need to deal with <X> player.”

Watch.

It happened with Joe Torre and the Yankees and it’s going to happen with Francona and the Red Sox.

You can read the details and spin here on NESN and ESPN among other places. I have little interest in either side’s story because it’s always twisted and generally contains a grain of truth from all sides.

What I saw in Francona was a man who was tired of dealing with the crisis-a-moment atmosphere and ridiculous expectations that accompany a big money team that had become a powerhouse and star-factory; where anything short of a World Series win was seen as failure.

The Red Sox have become the Yankees.

They don’t want to admit it perhaps because they can’t face that reality, but it’s the truth.

In defense of Theo Epstein, Larry Lucchino, Tom Werner and John Henry, if they’re spending the ludicrous amounts of money they’ve spent on that team and the team underachieves, they have a right and duty to assess everything within the organization including their manager.

The concept of a “great” manager is contextualized.

Was Francona a “great” manager when he got the Red Sox job to replace Grady Little?

Not judging by his record of 285-363 managing the Phillies he wasn’t.

In retrospect, the hiring was inspired; but there were logical reasons behind it that I elucidated recently when saying blaming Francona for the club’s collapse was idiotic.

He got the job because he was willing to do as he was told by the front office and follow stat based strategies; he’d take short money for the opportunity; he was agreeable to Curt Schilling, whom the Red Sox were trying to convince to accept a trade from the Diamondbacks; and Francona wasn’t Little.

He won two World Series championships and became a popular figure within baseball because he’s a good guy. Players wanted to play for him.

But that doesn’t equate into being a strategic genius or indicate the ability to handle any and all issues that pop up in running a team in the Boston market with the around-the-world pressures and demands on and off the field.

This 2011 Red Sox clubhouse was said to be poisoned and divided. It’s absolutely stunning how the “gritty, gutty” Red Sox from 2004, 2007 and even 2009 degenerated back into the classic “25 players in 25 cabs” from the losing Red Sox teams of yesteryear.

This didn’t happen overnight and if they’re going to complain about the clubhouse chemistry, then they needed to take care of it during the season whether they were in first place or not; and after the manner in which this team fell apart, Francona clearly wanted some major changes made to the club or faced the prospect of being someone other than Terry Francona. It’s hollow if Francona walks into the clubhouse after being Mr. Affable for eight years and starts flipping food tables and screaming like a pre-image-rehabilitated Terry Collins.

It wouldn’t work.

Francona couldn’t be someone he’s not and clearly some of the problems—if he was going to come back and fix them—stemmed from players with immovable contracts; players who aren’t going anywhere.

So he chose to leave.

Did he see the writing on the wall that he was going to be fired and wanted to avert that from happening by being the “breaker-upper”? It’s possible.

Or maybe he just wanted out.

He seemed exhausted while talking about the meetings and relieved when it was over.

It was time for a break.

Once this sinks in, then the sniping will start. We’re going to get nuggets from those “close to” Francona, Epstein and ownership. They’ll go to their friendly reporters and leak things. Class and professionalism have nothing to do with it; they’re human beings and this is what human beings do—especially baseball human beings.

As for Francona’s replacement, the Red Sox have to bring in a manager from the outside.

The following is definitive and you can take it to the vault: Joe Torre is not going to manage the Red Sox. At 71-years-old, he doesn’t need the aggravation of managing again period and he’s not going to detonate the last sliver of a bridge remaining with the Yankees. He’d demolish his legacy completely and even if he wanted to do it, his wife wouldn’t let him. Forget it.

Considering the people already with the Red Sox, if there was a problem with the clubhouse chemistry, then what sense would it make to hire DeMarlo Hale, who was on the coaching staff while the chemistry problems were going on? You get rid of the manager who couldn’t reach segments of the room and replace him with the guy who was sitting next to him and has been with the club as long as Francona and clearly couldn’t get through to them either?

And at this point, I doubt Francona’s enthusiastic endorsement will go very far with the front office. Forget Hale.

It has to be an outsider; someone who’s going to crack some heads and won’t care about what’s been done in the past. Pete Mackanin‘s name has been mentioned and he deserves a shot after acquitting himself well in two interim jobs with the Reds and Pirates and a long minor league managing and big league coaching career. Ken Macha doesn’t take any garbage and is a former Red Sox minor league manager; Don Wakamatsu is essentially in the same position Francona was when Francona got the job.

If they’d like to trash the place, then Bobby Valentine would have the star power, managerial skills and fearlessness to do it. I doubt Epstein will want to deal with Valentine, so if that happens, it’ll come from ownership.

Some are putting out the suggesting that Jason Varitek take over as manager.

In the same vein as the hiring of Hale, what the Red Sox are supposed to do is take a team that underachieved—by their estimation in part because of disconnect in the clubhouse and that players were out of shape—and hire to manage it the leader of that clubhouse and a player who was out of shape?

Is that right?

I don’t think so.

The “captain” not only shouldn’t be the next manager, he shouldn’t be on the coaching staff; and forget about continuing his career as a player. They have to get Varitek out of the clubhouse.

Jonathan Papelbon is gone; Tim Wakefield has to go; David Ortiz is talking a lot about how he wants to come back and will miss Francona, but that says to me that Ortiz is concerned about his own job prospects. He’s limited in his options because he can’t play the field and not many teams are going to bring him in as a DH with the rampant concerns that much of his success is a product of being a Red Sox and hitting at Fenway. If the Red Sox tell him to beat it, he’s going to have trouble finding a lucrative spot elsewhere.

I’d let Ortiz leave as well.

If the clubhouse is poisonous, bringing in a new manager and maintaining the same personalities is only going to create a timebomb that’s going to explode fast.

Maybe that’s something the front office will want to use as an example that the new manager is in charge. If they retain a Varitek or Wakefield with the intention of releasing them early next year to sacrifice them, it’s a tactic right out of Machiavelli and Sun Tzu. It’s risky, but it could work. I’d consider it.

This story isn’t over.

It’s a honeymoon of sorts following the deep breath of the divorce. No one’s at fault…yet. But it’s not over. When huge egos and the blame game is involved, it’s rarely a nice neat process of mutually agreeing to split.

We’ll see that in the coming weeks.

And it’ll get ugly.

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The Aftermath Of Chaos—The Red Sox/Braves Collapses

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Let’s sift through the carnage.

Job security.

It’s fair to examine the whys concerning two teams that seemingly had playoff spots locked up and both fell apart. It’s reasonable to assess everyone’s job performance and come to an unemotional conclusion as to whether minor or major changes should be made.

With the Red Sox, I would expect something blockbuster in player personnel to be done. I’m talking about a massive trade of a name player or players.

With the Braves, don’t be surprised to see them go for an offensive force like Jose Reyes.

As for the managers, the idea that Terry Francona and Fredi Gonzalez should automatically be fired is idiotic; but so is the ironclad assertion that both should return without question.

It has to be analyzed.

Having watched Gonzalez with the Marlins and Braves, I was wrong about him in thinking he’d be fine as Braves manager. He makes too many strategic mistakes that a team fighting for a playoff spot can’t afford to have happen and I’d fire him.

I doubt the Braves will do that. If anything, they’ll make changes on the coaching staff, namely hitting coach Larry Parrish.

With the Red Sox, there’s a possibility that they will fire Francona.

I wouldn’t do that, but it’s their right if they feel it’s necessary to get a new voice in the clubhouse.

The Red Sox have to ask themselves whether they think another manager would’ve done a better job with the starting pitching in disarray; with unlocking Carl Crawford‘s talent; with patching together an injury-riddled bullpen along with handling the stifling, worldwide media attention the Red Sox attract and cultivate.

I don’t see who could’ve or would’ve done any better than Francona, but it’s their call.

If they do decide to make a change, one thing they absolutely cannot do is say something to the tune of, “we decided not to exercise Terry’s contract options; it’s not a firing; it’s moving in a new direction”.

That’s what they did to Grady Little and were hammered for it after the fact.

Fire him if you’re going to fire him. Be done with it and move on.

Michael Kay’s creepy world of “analysis” in the form of sycophancy and self-involved attacks.

In the midst of his rant about the Mets and Reyes’s individual decision to pull himself out of what was possibly his last game as a Met and try (successfully) to win the batting title, Michael Kay also defended the Yankees for their decision to play their regulars sparingly and use 4th tier pitchers in the series against the Rays.

The Yankees owed nothing to the Red Sox nor to the Rays. They didn’t “dump” the games like some latter day group of 1919 Black Sox, but they didn’t go all-out to win.

There’s a difference.

Saying the Yankees were trying as hard as they could needs to be placed in its proper context. By the metric of playing their starters and using their top players as the Phillies did against the Braves, the Yankees didn’t do that. Saying the players they used—Scott Proctor, Ramiro Pena, Greg Golson—tried as hard as they could is akin to saying that the Washington Generals try as hard as they can against the Harlem Globetrotters. Trying is great; winning is unlikely.

In a similar sense, the idea that the Red Sox spiral started with a series loss to the Yankees is a nice, neat, “we started this” story to get in on the action. The problem is there’s no factual evidence to support it. The Red Sox came undone because they were giving up 6+ runs every night after that Yankees series; not because of anything the Yankees mythic “aura” created.

Credit to the pursuers.

Much like the Phillies in 2007 against the Mets, the Rays played the Red Sox and beat the Red Sox. By doing that, they made their lives much easier in the chase.

The Braves haven’t hit well all year. Fingers will be pointed at Gonzalez and Parrish for that, but they were playing most of the season without a legitimate center fielder who could hit; with Jason Heyward needing to have the lowest grade dropped after his putrid (and injury-racked) sophomore season; Chipper Jones is more of a “threat emeritus” than someone for a team other than the Mets to be terrified of; and they had black holes in the lineup all year long.

Once they lost Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, the offense couldn’t pick up the slack and the bullpen was tired from Gonzalez’s overuse.

The Cardinals and Rays played well over the final month to stage their comebacks, but neither had a ridiculous 2007 Rockies-style run of never losing a game.

What will happen.

I believe there is a very good chance that Francona will not be back as Red Sox manager.

Jonathan Papelbon will be allowed to leave. J.D. Drew, Marco Scutaro, Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek will be gone. They will listen to some drastic suggestions like trading Kevin Youkilis. And they’ll desperately look for a taker on John Lackey.

Fredi Gonzalez will not be fired; Larry Parrish will be. The Braves will make a move for a bat—they certainly have the organizational depth to trade for someone big like Andre Ethier, Carlos Quentin or see if the Marlins will move Hanley Ramirez (doubtful). Or they could go after Reyes. A trade is far more probable.

I won’t speculate on what either will say to explain themselves and mute the pain and embarrassment.

That, like suggesting the 2011 Red Sox will compete with the 1927 Yankees, is something that will only be judged in hindsight.

Both have long, long, loooooong off-seasons ahead of them and they’re undoubtedly looking for reasonable, believable answers at this very moment.

I wouldn’t expect much in terms of reason and believability. But I’m a cynic. And thankfully don’t live in the fantasy world of Michael Kay.

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The Red Sox Beat Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, 7-4

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I wish I could take credit for the title, but it’s an adaptation of something I saw on Twitter.

Were the Yankees subtly saying to the Red Sox, “here, take the game” by not playing Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter when the situations called for them?

Are they letting the Red Sox have a slight advantage going into the final three games?

Maybe.

It’s subtle, but it’s possible.

With the Yankees playing 3 games against the Rays in Tampa and the Red Sox playing 3 against the Orioles in Baltimore; as the Red Sox are holding a 1 game lead in the Wild Card, common sense says that the Yankees would prefer to have the Red Sox—in their current hapless configuration—in the playoffs ahead of the younger, stronger, fresher, faster and pitching-rich Rays.

So did they shun using Jeter and A-Rod to that end? Did they put Scott Proctor into the game to pitch knowing what was likely to happen?

Any everyday player will tell you that it’s far more emotionally exhausting to sit on the bench for a game—especially a 14-inning game—rather than play in it; Jeter and A-Rod didn’t exactly get to “rest” even though they didn’t play.

The Red Sox are a horrible team right now; it took them 14 innings to beat what was essentially a Triple A lineup.

But now they’re heading to Baltimore with that 1 game lead; the Yankees are going to play the Rays who they beat in 3 of 4 games last week.

If the Yankees go all out tonight to beat the Rays, hoping that the Red Sox take care of business against the Orioles, it will be clear what was happening last night. They’ll deny it, but obviously they would prefer the wounded Red Sox in the playoffs to the Rays.

In retrospect, it could be a mistake if the Red Sox get themselves together in time for the playoffs, but you can’t deny the appearance of competitive impropriety.

The Yankees don’t owe the Rays or Red Sox anything, but don’t tell that to the Rays who were watching and presumably screaming at the TV while it was occurring.

Tonight will give a clearer indication of whether that was a “full rest” night for the Yankees star players or if they were manipulating the situation to their perceived advantage.

The answer’s clear from my end.

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