The next manager of the Boston Red Sox should communicate well with his players, command respect from them and protect them when necessary, all while handling the fan and media demands in New England with aplomb.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
The Red Sox should bring back Terry Francona.
Never happen, people familiar with the Red Sox’s thinking say. The owners are stubborn, and will never admit their mistake in parting with Francona. They also will try to lower the volume once they part with Bobby Valentine, not invite more drama.
Sorry, but the owners need to admit their mistake, not just with the hiring of Valentine, but also with their unceremonious ouster of Francona, who led the team to two World Series titles and, ahem, an 80-41 record from April 15 to Aug. 27 last season.
As for drama, the Red Sox would get it no matter whom they hired, whether it were a future Hall of Famer such as Tony La Russa or a first-timer such as Jason Varitek.
Few teams do drama like the Sox; it is part of their DNA. If the team could somehow persuade the Toronto Blue Jays to part with John Farrell, it would turn the talks into something that would reduce Mideast negotiators to tears.
Francona, though, is anti-drama. He would deflect talk about the Sox’s smear campaign against him last fall — “Whatever differences we had, I’m thrilled to be back, grateful for the second chance.” The Red Sox then could go do what they’re supposed to do, what they’ve forgotten how to do in this sorry season: win games.
What’s that, you say? Valentine is still manager? A trivial detail. For whatever reason, owner John Henry and GM Ben Cherington chose not to fire Valentine on Monday. No matter; Josh Beckett stands a better chance of being the next Secretary of State than Valentine does of managing the Red Sox in 2013.
Valentine practically has begged to be dismissed during the team’s West Coast swing, but maybe Henry figures that forcing Valentine to finish this 62-74 season is a worse punishment for him than is a dismissal. Sort of the same logic that Valentine used last week when he forced reliever Alfredo Aceves to throw 143 pitches over five days.
Oh, it’s not all Valentine’s fault, and his apologists will tell you all about the chaos he inherited: the dissenters on the coaching staff; the dysfunctional, ill-fitting roster; the injuries; the turnover. Well, Valentine did too little to reduce the chaos, and mostly added to it.
Low-key managers suddenly are all the rage, from the Chicago White Sox’s Robin Ventura to the St. Louis Cardinals’ Mike Matheny, the Oakland Athletics’ Bob Melvin to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Don Mattingly.
Varitek, in theory, could be the Red Sox’s Matheny — a former catcher, not far removed from his playing days, universally respected. But you know what? Francona was unassuming before it became fashionable. Players appreciated that about him — that, and much more.
There is no question that Francona lost his grasp of the Red Sox last September; he does not dispute that contention. But people forget: Francona was a lame-duck manager then.
If the Sox had signed him to an extension and told him to clean up the clubhouse — certain players had irritated the front office with their growing sense of entitlement even before the September collapse — then Francona could have exerted greater authority.
Now some of those players are gone — notably Beckett, a card-carrying member of the beer-and-fried-chicken brigade. So is the sensitive Carl Crawford, who never got over Francona dropping him from the No. 2 to No. 7 spot after only two games last season, failing to understand that his manager only was trying to alleviate the pressure on him.
The Sox are committed to creating a new culture — one not unlike the culture of their championship teams in 2004 and ’07. Those teams had individualists such as Curt Schilling and Manny Ramirez, but they also had a grind-it-out, win-at-all-costs mentality, personified in ’04 by veterans such as Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar and in ’07 by younger players such as Dustin Pedroia and Jonathan Papelbon.
Need I remind you who the manager was?
Obviously, Francona would need to maintain greater discipline than he did last September, manage with a firmer hand. But the team’s problems obviously went beyond him, just as they obviously went beyond the previous GM, Theo Epstein.
The Red Sox overreacted to their 7-20 finish, effectively wasting a season in which they again should have been contenders. It wasn’t Epstein who hired Valentine, traded for relievers Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey and failed to address the shortcomings of the rotation. Cherington deserves a measure of blame, ownership the biggest measure of all.
And now they all must start over.
Cherington likely will play a greater role in the hiring of the next manager, and he probably would want his own man rather than Francona, the Sequel. Indeed, some would view the mere pursuit of Francona as a typical Red Sox PR grab, missing the point.
The exercise would be painful for ownership, almost an exercise in self-flagellation. And you know what the kicker might be? Francona, recharged after a year at ESPN, would be a top candidate for other jobs, and wouldn’t necessarily say yes.
The Cleveland Indians might fire Manny Acta; Francona was a special assistant with the Indians in 2001, and remains close with team president Mark Shapiro and GM Chris Antonetti. Better positions could open, too — Atlanta? Detroit? The Los Angeles Angels? — depending upon which teams’ seasons end in disappointment.
Francona rejecting the Red Sox — that would be an embarrassment that ownership could not bear, reason No. 643 why the team might not even consider such a reunion.
I get it — there’s baggage. But know this: When the Red Sox go looking for their next manager, they’re going to look for a guy who is an awful lot like Terry Francona.
Better they should go get the real thing, and get over last September once and for all.