This is a column that I never thought I was going to write. Terry Francona was supposed to be the Bobby Cox or Earl Weaver of the Red Sox. He is the best and most successful manager the Red Sox have ever had. As recently as three weeks ago it would be impossible to imagine Terry Francona not managing the Red Sox any time soon and not of his own free will. Tactically he stayed out of the way letting his sluggers mash and deftly handling his pitching staff. Tito’s lack of an ego made him the perfect buffer between his players and the demanding Boston fans and media. He dealt with a never ending string of crises and personality conflicts as the club stayed on course was was perennially in contention for playoff spots and was among. the elite in Major League Baseball.
The adage has always been that it is impossible to fire 25 players, but you can fire the manager. This has never been more true than in the case of the overpaid, underachievers who call Fenway Park home. While he was surely consulted by the front office, he was not responsible for their failures. It is also not the manager’s fault that players commit stupid errors, make stupid decisions on the basepaths, or have other lapses on the field. When these things happen repeatedly it becomes clear that the players are not mentally prepared to play and that is the manager’s primary responsibility.
The club took a lot of grief for their poor start to the season. At the time some shrugged it off as just a rough patch that happened to occur at the start of the season, while others felt the players were not adequately prepared for the start of the season. On the final NESN postgame show of the season, Jim Rice called the past spring training a “spa.” As the club fell apart in September due to injuries there were suggestions that players were not in shape. The club’s late season fade only provided further evidence that the players were in fact not ready for the start of the season. It all seemed logical, it took the loafers a few weeks to get into playing shape only to wear down as their conditioning failed them late in the season. Not coincidentally the one player who made a point to play in extra spring training games and get off to a good start was David Ortiz. All Big Papi did was have by far his best season since 2007.
The relaxed atmosphere that had held the team in good stead for too long had been taken advantage of by too many players on the current team. The 2011 Boston Red Sox embodied everything that was wrong with the Red Sox during the Yawkey Era. Overpaid “stars” past their prime, a country club atmosphere lacking in accountability, and a return to the culture of “25 players, 25 cabs.” Tito’s methods clearly are no longer working as him and Theo both freely admitted there were problems in the clubhouse this year. Ideally the divas, underachievers, and malingerers would be sent on their way but given their bloated salaries that is just not possible. While changes will undoubtedly be made the 2012 Red Sox roster will be strikingly similar to the 2011 underachievers. Clearly this is a group that needs a firmer hand.
Looking at the list of Red Sox managers the list reeks of incompetence. Saying that Francona is the best manager the Red Sox have ever had is damning him with faint praise and does not entitle him to a lifetime of job security in a job where 99% of the time men are hired to be fired. Casey Stengel was fired after having the temerity to lose the World Series in seven games. Other Hall of Fame managers Bill McKechnie, Leo Deroucher, Dick Williams, Bucky Harris, as well as Stengel managed more than one club and were fired. A more contemporary examples include Joe Torre and Tommy Lasorda who while not fired were forced out by the Yankees and Dodgers respectively. If Tito is indeed shown the door he can surely walk out the door with his head held high.
If Francona were to return next year with his two year option picked up he would already be undermined. Despite leading the club to two World Series titles, Francona would start the 2012 season on the hot seat. If the club suffered another sub-par April the knives would be out. The players who were not responding to Francona this season can not be expected to respond to a Francona who is already so severely undermined by this year’s failure. This is a group of players who have proven time and again that when given an excuse they will take it every time. If this doesn’t sound fair to Francona and that Tito doesn’t deserve to be fired (more specifically not have his option picked up) I give you this exchange from the end of the film Unforgiven:
[Lying on the floor, dying.] I don’t deserve this…to die like this. I was building a house.[Will Munny, standing over him] Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it. [Little Bill] I’ll see you in hell William Munny. [William Munny] ….Yeah… [Shoots Little Bill in the head.]