Terry Francona

As a peck of mainstream baseball guys report that Terry Francona will probably not return as manager of the Boston Red Sox – possibly by mutual consent – I can tell you that early in the week I was told by one source that it was a foregone conclusion. There was only the one indicator, so obviously I didn’t say anything, but I will note that all of the murmurs about people not being on the same page, and the Sox thinking Francona’s light touch with his players had somehow contributed to the September collapse, did not come out of thin air. I got to visit with my friend Tito over the weekend here in New York and while it was two friends talking and should remain that way, I have to say that all the stuff you’ve heard, he’d heard.

I think the Red Sox will regret the move. I’m wildly biased here – I think Francona’s got one of the great hearts in the game and he has never been anything less than amazingly kind to me and my family (as outlined below) – but there is the small detail that he remains the only manager to guide the inevitably flawed Boston team through the inevitably land-mined world of Boston sports media to a World’s Championship in the last 93 seasons (and twice). I don’t think he put together that pitching staff, I don’t think he made the fatal decision that Carl Crawford was a Pennant Race Pressure-ready player, and I don’t think he did anything but become a victim of his own success.

I’ve quoted the line so often that I think I owe its originator at least a flower basket. My former colleague at WCVB-TV in Boston, Clark Booth, told me 25 years ago that to understand the mindset of the Red Sox fan you must be very Calvinist, very bleak, very hopeless. “If the Red Sox win today,” Clark said, “it is only because losing tomorrow will hurt more.” Thus you heard actual adults in New England say that this month’s collapse was the worst thing they’d ever felt, which I guess is testament to the ability of Francona and his teams to wipe out the inherited memories of 1986 and 1978 and 1967 and 1946 and all the rest. In some respects, Tito’s a victim of that. Before him there had been no success – now there is evidently not enough of it.

This is a good place to tell a story from the 2008 All-Star Game. Early in the season we were cracking wise on the bench at the old Yankee Stadium when Tito suddenly observed that he was going to get to manage a game there from the home dugout. In fact, he would be the first Red Sox skipper ever to do so. “Tell me you’re going to come see me manage from the Yankee dugout!” I told him I would; that, in fact, I was going to bring my sister and my nephew down from upstate to see it. “How old is he?” I said he was going to be 10, and it would be his first major league game. “Remind me! I’ll do something special for him. Throw him a ball. Somethin’.”

Comes the day of the All-Star Game and the field is more packed with media than at any event I’ve ever attended. I couldn’t have found Francona with a GPS. No chance to remind him. What’s worse, my nephew has been told (not by me) that Uncle Keith had something special planned for him. Oops. The game, of course, dragged on into the 15th inning and until nearly 2:00 AM and my nephew and I were now in the front row behind Francona’s dugout, and with the indefatigability only a 10-year old can muster, he was still asking about that ‘something special.’ Finally it all ends, Uncle Keith is about to drop off the kid’s radar, and out of the dugout Francona bounds to do an interview, escorted by a friend of mine who was working for ESPN. I gesture to my pal to tell Tito just to wave or something.

Now, in the middle of the night, Terry Francona won me for life. As he starts to run back into the dugout my friend taps him on the shoulder, points to me, and makes the waving gesture. Instead of doing that, Tito runs over to us, doesn’t even look at me, and says, “You’re Keith’s nephew? You came down from upstate just for the game? I’m Terry Francona, I’m the manager of the Red Sox. Good game, huh? I hope you don’t mind, we heard you were coming so we did something special for you and played some extra innings. You ok with that?”

He managed that way, too. If he’s going, I think they’re going to miss him more than they know. I sure as hell will.

The last of three spring training games as Tito’s poorly-dressed amateur bench coach, Fort Myers, Florida, March, 2011.


  1. Dan Cummings

    Thanks for this. Terry deserves nothing but respect, whether playing in Montreal or managing in Boston, he is ‘classy’.

    For his sake (I’m no Sox fan) I hope the rumours aren’t accurate.

  2. ChippeyK

    Tito is not the one who should be leaving! If anyone should be leaving, it should be Theo. It will be another very dark day for Boston fans if in fact Tito gets the boot; he has been nothing but a phenomenal manager; the best I have seen in my lifetime as a Bostonian, bar none. You said at the beginning of the season Boston was the team to beat, I sincerely hope you are wrong again in your prediction.

  3. Titus McGillicutty

    As usual, a great story Keith. Tito has always been great with kids and generous with his time for the Jimmy Fund which helps kids with cancer. The real story is that Terry Francona is and will always be remembered for bringing two WS Championships to long suffering New England/Boston Red Sox fans and not for managing this 2011 bunch of underachievers. Motormouth Curt (he’s never met a microphone he didn’t want to kiss) Schilling said on WEEI today that players love playing for Tito and will dive on the sword for him so maybe there were some player(s) in the clubhouse who caused problems for Tito this year (I’m guessing those Texas macho-men Lackey and/or Beckett) and he may have lost control of the team. It’s too bad if they do let him go but he’ll leave with a legacy of making Red Sox fans proud to wear the B again.

  4. Norm Feeney

    Long time admirer. Thrilled to have happened upon your blog. I don’t have enough time only day to read all that I must, but now’ it’s even worse as your words go to the TOP om my list….thank you for being a BB nerd

  5. Lanco Yokel

    Lifelong Yankee fan here. The Red Sox will never do better than Terry Francona. From a purely partisan perspective I hope they turn him loose. From a baseball fan perspective it will sadden me.

  6. Enrique Gomez

    I have always loved the enthusiasm you write about baseball with, even as my love of the sport has waned over the last decade. You write, as Annie Savoy would put it, “with joy and verve and poetry”. As a former Yankee fan, I’d say Francona definitely deserves better.

  7. Herb Klinker (@hklinker)

    I knew Terry Francona from his days as manager of the Birmingham Barons in the 90’s. A total gentleman, as gracious in winning as he was in losing. It seems a shame that three bad weeks could cause such ill-will. He deserves better, two rings trumps three bad weeks any day in my book!

  8. Stephen DeFiore

    Lifelong Sox fan and big supporter of Tito through out the years. Many, many times I have had to debate with other Sox fans they would get on him or call him Francoma. But now, even I think time may be up for him and can’t help but to blame him some.

    Nobody said that he wasn’t a nice (or even terrific) guy. The way he interacts with the media and protects his players every year shows that. But, when you have talented professionals missing cut-off men, base running errors, lack luster type of play, not hungry, who get the blame for this? Isn’t it the managers job to try and keep this from happening and keeping his players “hungry” for a win?

    I wouldn’t say that he is alone though. Although he has only been with the Sox for 1 year, pitching coach Curt Young needs to be looked at as well. For their pitching was pretty bad most of the season despite the talent they had that made up their roster.

    I do support Epstein though. Sure, he has had some bad signings, but doesn’t all GM’s? But, for most of them, he had no way of knowing. I can use Crawford as a perfect example here. there wasn’t a person in the universe that felt Crawford would bomb out the way he has (so far). He had several straight years of great baseball (showing his consistency) and no decline in any aspect of his game. No one could have predicted he would suddenly fall off a cliff in is first year with the Sox. Sox fans were cheering Theo when the signing was made, and then booing/blaming him at the end of the season. Shows the mentality of some Sox fans.

    But, Tito has to get some of the blame for the teams lack luster performance. Who knows, maybe God planned this for Tito (a very good man). His health has not been good, and managing the Sox, thid takes a toll on you. It isn’t helping his physical condition. Maybe it is just as well for Tito’s personal life and health to step down. But, with what ever aspect you want to look at it, I feel his time has come. For the good of both Sox, and himself.

  9. Tom

    The acute pain of the last few days will pass, and someday Boston will realize that he was among the best we’ve ever had. And someday, Terry Francona will assume his rightful place with Williams, Yastrzemski, Pesky, and the rest as one of the most beloved Red Sox in history, because he was at the helm of the team that broke the Curse, because he did again in 2007, and because he handled himself with dignity and class.

  10. Freddie Gasparini

    So yeah….Terry comes in 2004, post Aaron Boone, and actually wins 2 championships for that franchise. Of course those idiots in Boston will affixe blame on him!
    Best of luck Terry- wherever you go next.

  11. Johan, Sweden

    What a great post Keith.. I have to start following your blog now =)

    As a Swedish Sox fan I’ve been to Fenway 12 times since Labor Day 2010 til labor Day 2011..

    I think it’s sad that Terry leaves but if he feels done maybe it’s the best..
    And if he gets a new place to work, maybe it’ll be a boost for him too!

    I will root for the Sox forever, but Terrys new team will be my second favourite!!!

    THANK YOU TITO, I’ve only followed this team since ´08 but you’ve become a huge favourite for me.. Best wishes to you, wherever you’ll end up!!!

  12. Tavis

    As a Red Sox fan, I hope that Tito goes nowhere. It would simply be folly to suggest that he is not the best manager for the egos in the Boston media, amongst the players, and us Sox fans (we actually believe it when we are told that we are “the best fans in baseball”). That said, if Terry Francona does walk away (which is how the image conscious front office will play it), it will be perversely entertaining to see those people who called him “Francoma” (usually upper middle aged people who believe Dick Williams’ cajoling led the team to the pennant in 1967 when in fact it was Yaz’s Triple Crown, and think that the hit-and-run/Xs-and-Os stuff is still the most important things a manager does) realize that Francona is (hopefully not was) BY FAR the best manager in Red Sox history.

  13. Suburban_Carnie

    Managers are hired to be fired. But Boston will miss this one.

    Way to go, “Red Sox Nation”! This gentleman manager has steered your gloomy souls to 2 Championships and people still want him to leave?

    This makes me lean toward Yankee Stripes.

  14. MJP

    Isn’t this the way of American organizational culture? Look for a scapegoat?
    Whatever happened to loyalty? Hope the Sox enjoy their rebuilding years.

  15. Sam

    I hate the Red Sox but I’ve always admired Terry Francona– he’s their equivalent of Joe Torre. He brings class, heart, authenticity, loyalty. The Red Sox should have done what the Yankees did after 2004– don’t make a nightmare an even worse nightmare by firing a beloved manager. Though I’m not sure “Francoma” is loved by the extremely negative Boston fans. What happened to 2004 and 2007 in their memories? Idiots with a lower case “i.”

  16. Robin McBrearty

    Keith, despite your unabashed support of the pinstriped team, I’ve always enjoyed your commentary, political and sports. I think most Red Sox fans are saddened to see Tito take the hit for an organizational failure that starts with the GM’s ego trip and chessboard mentality and ends with lousy trainer/conditioning, to say nothing of a couple of colossal egos in the clubhouse. Thank you for this article. My heart is breaking for the Sox, not because of the September plummet, but because of how the owners have made Tito the scapegoat for their failures.

  17. R Loud

    Great Story! I think the wrong persons are leaving Boston if the rumors are true. Tito should not be the scapegoat. He has had to manage what was given him. Other heads should roll, including underperforming players who get paid for doing so.

  18. Ron

    Clearly he should stay, being the only manager that has won them a world series (let alone 2) in quite some time. Let’s just hope he’s not replaced with Bucky Dent!

  19. bigelow tea

    you just confirmed what i’d always hoped: that Tito was a cool, classy guy. i hope he doesn’t leave Red Sox Nation, and instead, the management (including Theo) listens to Tito and builds up a staff based on talent AND personality, not just talent. he’s the key to our future success…not Lackey, Gonzalez or Crawford.

  20. Patricia Powell Couvillion

    Wow, Keith! What a story! What a guy! I have a special place in my heart for kids, being a grandmother and teacher. That nephew of yours will never forget that kindness. And you are so gracious to share the moment with us here! I see how baseball is really as you said last night on Countdown, “the best sport”…because it is so like life itself. What happens on the field often pales when compared with what happens off the field. America’s “favorite pasttime” seems to bind us all together. I recently saw Brad Pitt’s co-star interviewed about MONEYBALL on Letterman. That actor was trying to explain how it is a baseball movie, but it is REALLY about life! I don’t know Terry Francona from the man in the moon, but I do know this…his heart is in the right place and he appears to be an expert at making dreams come true! Your nephew’s, yours, and even in loss, The Boston Red Sox. That old saying is coming out right now…it is not whether you win or lose…but how you play the game. Terry obviously is a winner! Lucky whoever…wherever he goes. Tears for this man I don’t even know. Thanks.

  21. Pingback: Tito Get’s The Boot « Coffee With Caesar
  22. LVHistoryMike

    Even Curt Gowdy, who walked on the water as far as everybody in Boston was concerned, once said you can’t win with the Boston sportswriters. He was referring to that overrated, hot-dogging, anti-team-oriented Ted Williams. Yeah, they hated him, too. Anyway, the Red Sox AND Francona may need a change. Managers can have a shelf life. I don’t know that Francona achieved the end of his in Boston, but it may be good for him to go elsewhere, although I believe he is getting the bum rap. Epstein built this clunker, but I suspect he has become too big an egomaniac and the owners are too convinced of his genius to realize it.

    Back to managers for a moment. It may be that the Red Sox need someone who holds the reins tight. Francona might be perfect for the White Sox, where his calm and easy-going nature would be a great counterpoint to Ozzie Guillen’s egocentrism and eccentricities. My favorite example of how that can work is after Walt Alston retired in 1976–and the Dodgers pressured him, I do not doubt it–the team won the next two pennants with Tommy Lasorda without making any very significant changes in the lineup. Lasorda’s approach was so different from Alston’s that it was a good chance–just as some in Brooklyn loved or hated Alston because he was so different from Charlie Dressen. Who was the manager of Brooklyn’s only World Series winner, in his second year as manager?

  23. JTSW

    I just heard the rumor is official and I feel the same way I did Wednesday night leaving Oriole Park at Camden Yards. I am just sick about this news. The Red Sox have made a hugh mistake. Tito has always been a class act and he will land on his feet but right now I just feel sick.

  24. SG

    This is a bad, bad move — Tito is the first manager in years who actually decided to LIVE in Boston, to become a member of the community. He may be relieved to leave this pressure cooker, and some other team will be damn lucky to have him.

  25. Andy

    Thank you Tito for your 8 yrs of being the best manager the red sox ever had and bringing a championship before my dad passed away I’m sure he appreciates it too. Best wishes for continued health and happieness to you and your family.

  26. Kim Hamblin

    I’ve found that even if people hate Boston, hate the Red Sox, they have at least respect, if not admiration, for Francona. I will admit, I can’t think of what Boston baseball will be like without him. Tito is and will continue to be a man of grace under pressure, a classy guy who never blames anyone else and this Arizona kid will miss his presence in the dugout.

    Tito is a teacher and I think the measure of a teacher is what their students go on to do. I think his legacy will stick around longer than ownership allowed the man to do.

  27. Michael

    Great blog and lots of intelligent comments …… but I have 1 big question. In the most important game of the season, how does Francona bat a September call-up (Lavarnway) behind your top RBI man and MVP candidate. Based on one good game (the night before), Francona in effect took the bat out of Gonzalez’s hands. 3 BB’s for Gonzalez (at least 2 intentional) and Lavarnway strands 9 runners. If I were a Red Sox fan I would find that intolerable. Even as a Yankee fan it upsets me. Finally, as a baseball fan, it points to a desperation that indicates that something was very very wrong in the management of that game.

  28. Patric Hildreth

    Thanks for sharing the story Keith. The only consolation in this whole episode is that Terry may have wanted to go at this point. He leaves a huge void as a manager, a figure in Red Sox history and most importantly as a person. I’ll miss him in our dugout. I wish him all the luck in the world wherever he lands.

    (I always thought the ‘idiots’ were supposed to be the 2004 club. Jokes on us I guess as the 2011 guys take the title and the darker meaning of it.)

    Smooth sailing Terry. keep your powder dry!

  29. Wanda Fischer

    Thanks for your reminiscences, Keith. As a Red Sox fan since 1956, I believe I have seen it all. And I am a long-time fan of yours (Curt Gowdy’s and Clark Booth’s, too–Curt Gowdy taught me how to keep score at a baseball game at Fenway Park in the early 1960s).

    I knew something was up over the past two weeks, however, when Tito kept changing the line-ups (as Kim pointed out, above). The only consistency was Ellsbury hitting lead-off. One night, Crawford’s batting second, Papi’s batting fifth, Lowrie’s batting eighth. The next night, Crawford’s batting either, Papi’s batting back-to-back with Gonzalez and rookie catcher Lavarnway (who admittedly had hit two home runs the night before) hits next. Papi gets on base twice, the O’s intentionally walk Gonzo, twice, and Lavarnway makes the final outs.

    If he had been a teenager making moves like that, we would have been saying that he was “crying out for help” or “subliminally screaming for attention.” He was not receiving support from the Red Sox front office, who are too involved with their soccer team and other ancillary interests.

    I am a baseball fan first and a Red Sox fan second. I will watch every game left until there is no more baseball left in the 2011 season. Terry Francona often stymied me while I watched him make decisions that still don’t make sense to me. But I thank him for being thoughtful, for caring about the fans, the team, and for selflessly sacrificing himself at the altar of baseball for the past eight years. He must love this game, or he wouldn’t have lasted this long. Thanks for the memories.

  30. Drew

    As a long time fan I am saddened by the news and I to will think we will be regretting it very soon. I think the blame goes all around on this one. Its time to stop the free agent shopping at go back to Pawtucket and Portland to feed the team.

  31. Amanda

    Eight years is long enough to manage anywhere I don’t care who you are. Francona is a great guy but he’d been running a country club since 2007 – he probably had every right too. If you say Francona didn’t assemble the 2011 pitching staff – then it’s fair to say he didn’t establish the staff in ’04 or ’07 either.

    Keith is giving his buddy credit for his successes but taking him off the hook for his failures – typical of a clipboard sniffer.

    Also Francona’s health stinks – he’s had about 17 knee operations and has blood as thick as pine tar.

    Dude needs a break.

    Also only people in media talk about Boston’s “land-minded” media environment.

    Sox fans just want a winner. Sorry we’re not Pittsburgh.

  32. Pingback: Reports: Terry Francona Parting Ways With Red Sox After Eight Seasons on Boston’s Bench | NESN

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