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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But they didn’t have to spread these stories.

Could Francona sue the Red Sox?

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

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Cardinals Hiring Of Matheny And The Plans Of Francona

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Mike Matheny, with no managerial experience but widely respected as a cerebral, defensively-oriented catcher on the field and a leader off the field, was hired to replace Tony LaRussa as the new manager of the world champion Cardinals.

It’s a gutsy hire, but he’s known in the clubhouse, will handle the media and, as a former catcher, will know what to do with the pitchers; the only question I’d have concerns with are his offensive strategies. Will he be a proponent of inside baseball and prefer the bunt and stolen base? Or will he rely on the power bats Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman and (presumably) Albert Pujols?

There will be instances of Matheny pulling a Joe Girardi and “managing” to make it look like he’s doing something when he should just let the players play.

Letting the players play is managing too. There’s no need to do “stuff” for the sake of it.

An overlooked positive with the Matheny hiring is his and pitching coach Dave Duncan‘s familiarity with one another from having worked together for so many years and each knowing how the other thinks—with Matheny, there’s a great chance Duncan stays on; given Duncan’s miracle-worker status, that’s far more important than the man who’s managing the team.

Terry Francona was passed over in favor of Matheny; it sounds unlikely that he’s going to join Theo Epstein with the Cubs.

So what should he do with no jobs left available?

He should wait.

Francona acquitted himself well as a broadcaster filling in for Tim McCarver in the ALCS and broadcasting would provide a way to stay around the game while allowing him to recharge his batteries; it would spare him of the substantial mental and physical exertion from the rigors of managing and will only do him good for his next opportunity.

Jobs could open during 2012—good jobs.

The Braves collapse was obscured by the one that cost Francona his job with the Red Sox. If they get off to a poor start, would they lose patience with Fredi Gonzalez in an “it wasn’t working” kind of way?

Francona would be great for Atlanta.

Reds manager Dusty Baker‘s contract is up after 2012; he and GM Walt Jocketty don’t see eye-to-eye.

Ned Yost grates on his players with his temper and he’s not a strategic wizard. Francona and the innocently climbing Royals—packed with young players and supposedly ready to spend to improve quickly—are a match.

The easiest thing to do when having done something for so long is to continue doing it, but that’s not always the best course of action. Burnout could extend to the interview process and if Francona’s continually going in for jobs that appear his to lose and he doesn’t get them, it adds more fuel to the fire that he was a product of the Red Sox substantial talent more than a two-time World Series winning manager on his own merits.

It could be a blessing in disguise and put Francona is a much better circumstance if he sits back and waits for another shot.

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