09/29/08 4:35 PM ET
October isn't stressful for Francona
Viewed as players' manager, Tito is hardly a softie in clubhouse
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
BOSTON -- Just by getting through the regular season, Red Sox manager Terry Francona accomplished a feat that hadn't been done by any of his predecessors in 61 years.
The man known throughout baseball -- and New England -- as Tito has now managed the Boston Red Sox for five successive seasons. The last person who pulled that off? Believe it or not, you must go all the way back to Joe Cronin, who occupied the home dugout at Fenway Park from 1935-47, serving as a player/manager through most of that time.
Told of his "milestone," Francona first laughed, and then spoke.
"It's a volatile place," Francona said. "I think we all know that. I think [general manager] Theo [Epstein] and those guys understand that, too."
Yet Francona has managed to keep the peace amid the inherent zaniness that comes with his job. And not only has he handled it well, but he's won big. And those two things -- the ability to stay calm amid the storm and the winning -- explain why he is the first long-term manager the Red Sox have had in more than a half century.
"I don't think about it," Francona said. "I just don't have time or the energy. What I really care about is right now. I think if you don't, you're cheating some people. There will be a time some time [to reflect], and that's great. But I get so afraid of not enjoying the moment. Sometimes the moment is not that much fun but I love doing what we're doing. I really do. I get so caught up in these games that I don't want to not get caught up in them. Concerning myself with what happened two weeks ago or next year or how people view me ... I just want us to win."
Managing just fine
|Besides delivering two World Series championships to the franchise, Terry Francona is the first Red Sox skipper to last at least five seasons in his position since Joe Cronin held the job from 1935-47 as a player/manager.|
For the fourth time in his five seasons as the manager of the Red Sox, Francona will begin his October in the dugout instead of the golf course. Once again, the Red Sox are postseason-bound, and this time they go after their third World Series championship in Francona's five years.
If you think October is a stressful time of year for Francona -- as it must be for a lot of managers -- you don't know the man.
"I love it," Francona said. "You work so hard to get in this position. These games are so much fun. There's anxiety, there's nervousness, there's some tension. But I love it. And I'm sure some of it is, I like who I'm doing it with. I'm real close to the coaches. And I enjoy our players. I enjoy their efforts. Trying to win with this group is fun for me. I do, I enjoy it."
There has been a lot to enjoy during Francona's time in Boston. Except for that final six weeks in the playoff-deprived season of 2006, the Red Sox have been an elite team the entire time he's been here.
Though it's easy to overlook Francona because of his team's perpetual high payroll and the amount of talent he's had at his disposal, the perennial All-Stars who bring home those paychecks and produce those wins say that would be a huge mistake.
"For myself, I can tell you, Tito gives me tons of confidence," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. "There's not one day I don't feel like playing for Tito. I can be dying, and when I come [talk] to Tito, all I think about is, 'I've got to play for this guy, no matter what.' He fills you with that."
All of Francona's seasons in Boston have presented unique challenges. This July was one of the most difficult periods during his time with the Red Sox.
Manny Ramirez, the enigmatic slugger, started to sour on the franchise over his perceived dissatisfaction with his contract situation. Several players took exception, especially when Ramirez began speaking of sudden nagging injuries that the training staff hadn't been made aware of until the last minute.
The play of the Red Sox suffered, as they lost five out of six to the Yankees and Angels and looked bad in doing so.
"It was hard, and I think it showed on the field," said Francona. "We weren't playing real crisp baseball. We were letting things affect us that I thought in the past and we were good at not [being affected by]. Regardless of what's going on, it's our job to win, and we weren't doing that very well."
Though he's not big on meetings, Francona sat in his office on July 31 -- an off-day for the Red Sox -- and planned one for the next day. That same day, Epstein pulled the trigger on the blockbuster that sent Ramirez to the Dodgers in a three-team swap that brought Jason Bay to the Red Sox.
With the season at a crossroads, Epstein and Francona both played their part to bring stability back to the team.
"We don't have a lot of meetings, and I knew that we needed to meet," Francona said. "We had a day off, and we weren't playing well. So I came to the ballpark and put my thoughts in order. And then the trade was made, so I've actually had to change some of my things because there was a trade. I just wanted us to pay attention to detail. Sometimes a reminder is not bad. I think sometimes they need reminders not only to pay attention to detail, but maybe that we believe in them also, even when things aren't going well. That's basically all it is."
Then Bay came, and hit right from the start. A couple of weeks later, Epstein reeled in Paul Byrd to fill a void in the rotation, and later on, gritty right fielder Mark Kotsay. Those three players, with their professional attitudes, gave the Red Sox some extra life down the stretch.
"He made some tremendous moves and he clutched up, and I'm sure it wasn't easy," Francona said of Epstein. "To be the one that has to pull the trigger is never easy. And he made us better."
But it was Francona's job to help the new players adapt seamlessly to their new surroundings. By all accounts, he's done just that.
"Somebody put it in good terms to me," said Bay. "He does a very, very good job of keeping everybody on the same page. He's got a great mix of superstars, of blue collar guys, of grinders, of all these different guys and he really seems to mesh everybody well. He keeps everybody loose and on the same page. It takes all types of personalities to play this game and to get everybody on that same page. From where I've been around, he does one of the better jobs I've ever seen at that."
Ortiz makes it a point not to take his manager for granted.
"Not every manager can be like that," said Ortiz. "When you bump into a manager like that, for some kind of reason you're blessed. Because I'm telling you, I've dealt with other kinds of managers before, and I can tell you straight up they're [not like that]. Tito is the best, man. I heard the same thing about Joe Torre. He gives you confidence."
Though Francona is largely viewed as a players' manager, those within the clubhouse will tell you that he's hardly a softy. Francona just doesn't feel the need to let the media knows when you comes down on a player.
"Tito pulls me to the side," said Ortiz. "Whenever I [mess] up, he lets me know, which I love, you know? It's not like he just cheap shots me behind my back and goes to somebody else. He comes to me straight up and says, 'David, yeah, I don't think you should do that.' I'm like, OK.' I love it."
So as the second season gets ready to kick off, Francona, a recent October fixture, is again grateful and excited that his team is one of the final eight.
"The thing that excites me the most is that I think we're going in one direction, -- one consistent direction," said Francona. "I think if you're good enough and you're going in one direction, you give yourselves a fighting chance. There's some good teams out there. I think we're one of them."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.