By David Bray
Former Boston Red Sox manager Terry “Tito” Francona has decided to attend today’s Fenway Park 100th anniversary celebration after all. With all the chaos surrounding the local nine this season, Red Sox Nation will finally have something to cheer for when Tito makes his return to Fenway.
Last week, Francona said that he did not plan on attending the celebration after all they put him through. But on April 18, he announced that he would be attending after all. With the way the Red Sox have been playing, fans do not have a whole lot to cheer about, but Francona’s return will certainly be a welcome one. For all he did for the club, he deserves the biggest ovation of any guest they have in the ceremony.
It all started with the collapse last September. The Red Sox fell so far and so fast that it made fans start to look fondly at the end of the 1978 season. The Sox won only seven games in the entire month, and after they were eliminated on the last day of the season, reports came out about a divided clubhouse where pitchers and position players would not speak to one another. The starting rotation, in addition to underachieving down the stretch, had subscribed to the Wade Boggs diet – lots and lots of fried chicken and beer – while hanging out in the clubhouse playing video games rather than support their team on their days off.
When the season ended, the Red Sox fans were angry, and rightfully so. People wanted players like Josh Beckett and John Lackey traded away. Instead the only people to go were general manager Theo Epstein, who accepted the position of team president with the Chicago Cubs, and field manager Francona, who did not get his option picked up after eight seasons with the club.
Francona made it seem like it was a mutual decision not to return. He made it clear that he had too much respect for the Red Sox organization to keep doing the job if he was not ready to do the best job he could. It could have been a clean break with Francona ready to go into the broadcast booth for Fox or ESPN and remain on good terms with the Red Sox, but the front office had other plans.
The Red Sox front office made Francona the lone scapegoat in the September collapse. The Boston Globe, whose parent company, The New York Times Co., also owns a minority stake in the Red Sox, ran an article about how Francona’s marital troubles and his dependence on painkillers impeded his ability to manage the team. The article may have cost Francona a chance to manage the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, which he interviewed for.
This is not to say that Francona did not deserve to lose his job. His team lost composure and discipline at the end of the season, and he was not as effective as he once was. However, he did not deserve the treatment he got from the Red Sox after his body of work with the organization. The Red Sox ownership has a habit of dragging fan favorites through the mud on their way out the door, with Tito being claimed as the latest victim. They did it to slugger Manny Ramirez after trading him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008; they did it to General Manager Theo Epstein when he first walked away in 2005; they did it to Pedro Martinez, arguably the best pitcher ever to wear a Red Sox uniform, when he signed with the New York Mets after winning the World Series in 2004; and they did it to star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra when he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 2004.
It seems that the Red Sox front office was quick to forget that Francona was the best manager they have ever had. He dealt with some of the biggest egos in all of sports and got them to battle through the adversity that is inevitable on the road to a championship. Having to deal with entitled baseball players for eight years as well as managing in a city like Boston, where fans and media members take baseball as seriously as they do, is enough to burn anyone out. Francona won two World Series titles, in 2004 and 2007, and never lost a World Series game. Keep in mind that before Tito, the last Red Sox skipper to win a World Series in Boston was born in 1868. Before Francona arrived, it looked like the Red Sox were doomed never to win a World Series, and Grady Little’s managerial debacle of keeping Pedro Martinez in the game an inning too long was just one setback in a long line of Red Sox heartbreaks.
This year, the Sox’ bullpen is a disaster. Fried-chicken-and-beer ring leader Josh Beckett has been unapologetic for the way the season ended, and new manager Bobby Valentine is already wearing out his welcome with players and fans alike. Even Dustin Pedroia, the consummate professional gamer of a second baseman, has publicly criticized Valentine for his handling of the team. Valentine got booed in his first game at Fenway, but that may have been because fans were upset about the state of the team. The owners were not announced, and therefore could not be jeered appropriately.
The Red Sox’ present and future look bleak, but a celebration of the Red Sox glory days will still be something special now that the team’s best skipper ever will be there to celebrate with the Fenway faithful.