Thursday, April 19, 2012

Is Rehiring Francona a Crazy Idea?

With the Sox in the middle of a 4-8 start Red Sox Nation is left wondering what has gone wrong.  A level headed Sox fan might look at the tough schedule to start the season and just chalk it up as a bad stretch.  Others might say that if this stretch happened in the middle of the year no one would notice.  Both of those would be valid points.  Once this team faces some weaker competition they may very well get hot and start to turn things around.  But that will just be masking the fact that something just isn't right about this team and what they need right now is a level headed manager who will remain calm and not rock the boat.  Bobby Valentine is not that man.  Just when the team started to play well and had won 3 games in a row he accidentally stirred up a controversy and the team hasn't won since. The man that they need in the dugout and manager's office is...Terry Francona.  

I know the idea seems silly and will be dismissed immediately by most, but for just a moment allow yourself to consider the notion.  Yesterday came the announcement that Tito had changed his mind and decided to attend Friday's 100th anniversary celebration at Fenway.  With the off day today it is only natural to let your mind wander to the idea of firing the current manager.  Certainly it will be discussed a time or too on WEEI and the Sports Hub today. Then the question becomes, if you fire Valentine who are you going to hire to take his place? There is no one on the major league staff or in the minor league sytstem that I believe could handle the job.  So if you look outside of the organization there are not a lot of people available in season.  Gene LaMont for example, probably would not bail on the Tigers in the middle of the year, especially to a team that turned him down four months ago.  If Ben Cherington is thinking this way, and you can assume that it has at least entered his mind even though he wouldn't admit it publicly.  Once he looked outside of the organization the only person that could slide into the job smoothly would be Tito Francona.  You can't tell me that Ben Cherington hasn't entertained the thought and with Tito potentially being in town as early as today it would be easy for Cherington to approach him and ask him if he has any interest in coming back to manage the Sox.  Now I wouldn't blame Tito if he said no way!  However, if anyone would be selfless enough to put things aside and return to his rightful job it's Francona.  The idea wouldn't seem quite so crazy if Theo Epstein hadn't gone through a similar return a few years ago.  So it's not unprecedented.  
Theo left because of a strained relationship with Larry Lucchino, but when enough time passed he realized that coming back was the right thing to do for him and the team.  Tito is now in this same position.  He left because of a historic September collapse and a perceived lack of support from ownership.  Looking back on those few days right after the season ended it is clear that key decisions were made during an emotional time.  Something that organizations and people in leadership positions should try to avoid, but the Sox and Francona weren't able to do that.  In hindsight getting rid of him, whether he resigned or got fired, was not the right move.  He is the best man for this job and he should still be managing the Red Sox.  When Theo was rehired it appeared that everyone took some time to reflect and came away knowing that he was the right man for the job and they were all willing to admit mistakes, make sacrifices and do what it took to bring him back even though it made them look bad in the short term.  If everyone in the Sox management team is honest with themselves they should realize the same thing they did with Theo and bring back Tito.  

It is clearer now than ever before that the manager of the Red Sox needs to have a personality more like Tito's than Bobby V's.  Hashing things out in the media is not going to help this team win.  Last night Tony Massarotti tweeted that he had a sneaking suspicion that Joe Kerrigan and Bobby Valentine were going to have similar managerial experiences in Boston.  I agree with him.  This moment in Sox history feels a lot like those times when Kerrigan was the manager.  The Red Sox should admit they've made a mistake and do the right thing now and fix it.  At this point I should admit that I was in favor of hiring Bobby Valentine this offseason, even before it seemed clear that he was going to be the choice.  I still believe that he was a better choice than Dale Sveum, but knowing what we know now perhaps Gene LaMont would have been the best out of the group they interviewed.  But, the whole point is that none of the people they interviewed are better managers than the one they had for the last 8 years.  

Typically in life and sports you can't go back.  Once a decision is made you have to move on and go forward with what you've got.  If a sports team did what I am suggesting, bringing back a manager who was let go during the offseason 12 games into the next season, most people would think that the leaders of that organization have lost their minds.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that that wouldn't be the case here.  The players would more than likely play twice as hard for Francona now that they realize how good they had it before Bobby V showed up.  Hiring Francona again wouldn't change the fact that this team has had key injuries and a tough schedule to start the season, and it wouldn't all of a sudden make them a perfect team.  I for one would feel a lot more confident about the teams chances this season if they made this move.  

I don't know if Francona would even consider coming back to this team after being smeared in the media by someone in the organization, but that shouldn't stop Cherington and/or Lucchino from at least feeling him out.  Obviously they were able to persuade him to come back for Friday's celebration so why stop there? While he's here (he'll probably be here all weekend since he's scheduled to broadcast Sunday nights game for ESPN) the Sox should put on a full court press behind the scenes to bring Tito Francona back.  



  1. I agree with many of your points. A big part of me wishes Francona was still our skipper. I bemoaned the firing at the time as reactionary and scapegoating. But we might as well hope that the Easter Bunny or maybe Deacon Art becomes the next manager of the Red Sox, because it's not going to be Tito. If LL even approaches Tito during the 100 year anniversary, what is he going to say? Something like this...

    "Hey Tito, listen, I know we slipped a few pieces to our cronies over at the Boston papers..hehe, you know a little bit about your pill-popping habit and maybe a little about sleeping around too...but, hey! Let's let bygones be bygones. What do you say you step back into the firestorm of Boston? We can have a healthy working relationship again, and I promise never to smear you again! Pinky-swear!" - Larry Luccino

    "Go to hell" - Tito

  2. And that's not even mentioning the biggest problem with your piece (which was well-written and thought out by the way): You talk like it is a 100% certainty that the Bobby V era has failed. 4-8 is not a failure. There are 150 games to play. What if a week from now Bobby V rips a player in the media, and then that player goes on a tear to spite him? We would then be talking about how masterful he is with the media, and how a manager like him who can hold these guys accountable rather than just play cribbage with them is exactly what we needed.

    By the way, do you remember what you were saying all winter about how Tito could no longer tell any of the players what to do, and was too busy being friends with them to tell them to stop eating chicken and start doing their running and conditioning? How is this going to be any different if they wave a magic wand and re-hire him?

    1. You came back immediately with the two biggest points against my argument...well done. You must have learned from some of the best Sox fans around.

      I agree we all got wrapped up in the media campaign to convince us that it was time to get rid of Francona. We focused on a few of the negatives that had popped up, like being to buddy buddy and playing cribbage with players, but we ignored the fact that Francona was the best manager in the history of the Red Sox and also the best man for the job in 2011 and 12. Why couldn't we have kept him and fired his bench coach and brought in a disciplinarian in that role, like Brad Mills had done previously.

      Bobby Valentine's team in 2012 may be successful, but I am now convinced that it won't be because of him in it would be in despite of him. So why not admit your mistake now and correct it. We often praise the Patriots for cutting a draft pick of free agent signing when it doesn't work out right away. We praise them for not hanging on to their mistakes for too long and getting rid of them when we realize it isn't going to work out. I am suggesting the Red Sox do the same. I admit that it's not going to magically make the Red Sox a better team. It will be the same team, but I believe that same team would have a better chance of winning this year with Tito managing. It wouldn't be magical it would just be a smart and bold move.

    2. Now with that being said...Brandon you are probably 100% correct about what Tito's response would be: "go to hell".
      But we all know that Tito is a push over!!

  3. When the Red Sox got Gonzalez and Crawford, this is what I wrote:

    "Adding Crawford and Gonzalez mainly upgrades the offense, but that's not what the Sox needed. What they needed, and still may need, is a major upgrade in the bullpen."

    Well, guess what? Their bullpen still stinks. It wasn't very good last year, and they lost their closer, moved their setup man to the rotation, and lost the guy (Bailey) they got to replace their closer.

    So what they have now is one good reliever (Aceves) who is in a completely new role and has a 9.00 ERA. Atchison is pitching well, but he's 36 and his career ERA is 3.99. Matt Freaking Albers (as Brandon calls him) is also pitching well, but his career ERA is 5.03.

    I don't think the Sox need Tito. What they need is a couple guys like Mike Adams and Jesse Crain, so everybody knows their roles and they can get some of this bullpen dead weight off the roster.

    (Ok, I also wrote shortly after last season started that Jacoby Ellsbury was possibly the most overrated player in Red Sox history. Let's forget that, ok? :)

  4. The idea is neither silly , nor should it be dismissed. For example, national sportswriters in the aftermath of Bobby V's Youk comments came out with the following, Valentine may not make it through the year ( Rob Neyer) and like the old Bronx Zoo Yankees maybe they should fire the manager and re-hire the old (Ken Rosenthal).

    But this Bobby V-Youk-Pedroia flap CANNOT be a surprise to this front office. Or maybe I should say to Larry Lucchino, since it is widely believed by the Boston media and the fandom, he alone orchestrated this hire. The biggest item on Valentine's resume, lit in neon, was his propensity to open his mouth or to call out his players in public (depending on how you want to spin those two). Not being surprised by it means they were ready to live with it OR wanted it. They will not pull the plug this early, surely not on the celebratory day of the Fenway 100th anniversary.

    As far as comparing the Theo exit/rapid return to Francona's situation, there is one apparent, major difference. Theo seemed to have left entirely over a power struggle with Lucchino. John Henry immediately seemed as if someone had kidnapped his first born. Henry then pull the levers to get Theo back and put LL down a peg or two. This time there seems to have been unanimity in the front office to replace Terry. No contract extension before or during 2011, and after the deed according to Tito, he could not even get Henry to call him back. The only front office support Tito seemed to have was Theo, who soon followed him out the door.

    On the subject of the front office "persuading" Francona to come for Friday's gala, I very strongly suspect the front office had not a damn thing to do with his change of heart. Terry's family, friends, new ESPN colleagues, maybe players like Pedroia talked to him. Maybe he changed his mind all on his own after reflection. But I would bet a healthy sum that Henry, Lucchino, Werner, etc. had nothing to do with it. Therefore there also will be no attempt at persuading Tito to return now.

    i would also agree that the start at this point is not a failure. 4-8 against most last year's AL playoff teams is not a failure, disappointing but not a failure. Hell, they are 2 games ahead of last year's pace ( Barry, I know you are not basing your " something about this team is not right" on numbers, but). This front office, in this market, will never fire a new manager so soon into a new year, nor should they. ( and by the way my comment before they hired Valentine was the only living baseball person I would rather have less as Sox manager is Don Zimmer, ok and maybe Joe Kerrigan). But he is here and making a change now even for Francona is inviting trouble.

    If we want to wave a magic wand, it should be to get Jacoby, Crawford, and Andrew Bailey back as soon as possible, not to bring Tito back.

    The idea of getting Terry Francona back is not wrong, but the timing is. At age 53 ( this Sunday) he will be manage the Sox again someday, but probably years down the road.

  5. I've always been a Tito fan, and hate the fact that all of baseball's response to bad play is to automatically fire the manager. That's not real life, if I did a sucky job, I would be fired, not my boss! (on second thought, maybe MLB does have the right idea!!) But, seriously, even though I would love to have Tito back, I'm sure that even if management were willing to admit that they might have been wrong, which would be extremely unusual, I agree with Brandon...Tito would say," Go to Hell!"

  6. Does Fenway collapse on itself tomorrow when Tito is introduced and the crowd roars? And what will be the reaction by Bobby when this happens or will he continue to be befuddled?

    1. He'll probably wait until it's ten minutes too late to do anything. By then the event will be all but over.

  7. We've got one more chance to make this happen. Tito Francona will be in the booth on Sunday Night (rain pending) at Fenway. Can Someone please make him switch places with Bobby V.

  8. This idea is getting less crazy every day. Valentine is looking more and more like a guy who just might resign. Maybe the Sox can give him his two years worth of salary to push him towards the exit.

    1. According to the twitter box on our main page John Henry and Ben Cherington were in the manager's office after the game today. It's certainly possible that they were there for support and encouragement, but it's also possible that they were discussing the future of the manager.