On Friday afternoon, September 30th, less than an hour after Terry Francona – the only man to manage the Boston Red Sox to a World’s Championship in the last 93 years – announced more in sorrow than in anger that he would not be returning to the job next season, a trusted baseball friend told me “now a lot of crap about Tito is going to come out.”
This morning – just as the architect of the Red Sox dynasty of the last decade, General Manager Theo Epstein, was finalizing his own departure to take over the Chicago Cubs – my baseball friend’s prediction came true. The Boston Globe has printed a remarkable hatchet job on Francona, and to a lesser degree Epstein, cobbled together from a series of anonymous sources that appear to mainline directly back to Red Sox ownership.
Francona and Epstein were not merely scapegoated in the story. The newspaper essentially printed an ownership implication that Francona had a prescription drug problem, that he was distracted by worry over the safety of his son and son-in-law, serving overseas, and that he lost focus because of marital problems. With the caveat that I consider both Francona and Epstein friends – and my assurance that neither has been a source for what I write here – the story is one of the more remarkable smear campaigns in baseball (or business) history. And it merits explanation and exposure.
There is blame for everybody in that article except the stadium P-A announcer, two or three hot dog vendors – and the Red Sox owners, John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and Tom Werner. Incredibly, the Globe writes, as if this is the way brands with hundreds of millions of dollars operate:
“The owners also indicated in postseason remarks they were generally unaware of how deeply damaged the Sox had become until after the season. They denied being distracted by their expanding sports conglomerate…”
In a 2500-word article implying incompetence by the General Manager, inattention – possibly caused by inappropriate drug use – by the Manager, that’s all the criticism owners Henry, Lucchino, and Werner, get; even when they admit, in the article that “they were generally unaware of how deeply damaged the Sox had become until after the season” — even when other baseball people were talking about that damage in early September. If you ever need to de-construct a newspaper story based on anonymous sources – especially one printed in one of the so-called “more respectable” papers – all you need to know is who the writer savages and who he lets get away with it. Follow the blame. Whoever doesn’t get it, is probably the source.
“In the ugly aftermath the Sox owners privately vowed to correct any lingering problems.”
The Sox owners are the sources. And if their childishly simple promise is to be fulfilled, the first thing Henry, Lucchino, and Werner need to do is find out which of them, or which of their minions, was so ethically bankrupt as to trash the men who made the team’s success possible, as they went out the door. They need to know which of them decided to scapegoat a universally-respected baseball man like Francona by dragging in his marriage, his health, and the fact that he himself volunteered to double-check his own use of pain medication with the team doctor to make sure it wasn’t excessive.
Incidentally, if a ballplayer was in such pain from 30-year old knee problems that he had to have blood drained from one of them hours before a game, on the road, by the visiting team’s doctor, **in** the stadium, and he still played that night with only mild medication, the owners wouldn’t imply he was abusing painkillers – they’d deify him. They did so when a pitcher named Curt Schilling pitched a World Series game in 2004 even though blood was supposedly leaking from surgery on a tendon sheath in his right ankle. He’s a legend. But Francona’s option wasn’t picked up and he was portrayed as having a problem.
Yet there was one more detail about Francona, revealed to the newspaper, that elevates this particular hatchet job to the level of making one hope it is another 93 years before Boston wins, that they go from the overwrought “Curse Of The Bambino” to “The Curse Of The Lucchino.”
“While Francona coped with his marital and health issues, he also worried privately about the safety of his son, Nick, and son-in-law, Michael Rice, both of whom are Marine officers serving in Afghanistan.”
To drag into this, the service to this country of Francona’s son, and son-in-law, is not only beyond any pale. It isn’t even new. They didn’t just get there this year. But publicizing where they are is something Francona has asked even his friends not to do. It actually might materially affect their safety.
But a large corporation, needing to scapegoat the departing geniuses whom they will replace with malleable mediocrities, doesn’t give a damn about anybody but the three clowns at the top, who have mistaken the success and effort of others, for something they somehow created. Not even the one thing those owners did bring to the equation – cash for a large payroll – earns them any credit. The principal owners of the Red Sox only became such, via a sweetheart deal engineered by the Commissioner of Baseball a decade ago. They have been playing with house money ever since.
And they have now shown themselves to be truly good at only one thing: blaming others.
In short, the wrong executives are leaving Boston.
UPDATE: I left out another relevant morsel in this unpleasantness. The Boston Globe is still owned by The New York Times. And The New York Times still owns 16.6 percent of New England Sports Ventures. And New England Sports Ventures still owns the Red Sox, Fenway Park, and much of NESN, among other stuff.
(Don’t normally do this, but I’ll have more on this extraordinary slime job on tonight’s TV show)