It is no secret that former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona harbors some ill will towards his old team. The soap opera-like storylines that surrounded last year’s Fenway 100th Anniversary celebration and whether or not he would attend told us everything we needed to know. That being said, while there have been a lot of mildly snippy comments exchanged and a few questionable media leaks, nobody involved has ever publicly blasted the other side the way Francona is doing in his new book.
In Francona: The Red Sox Years, the newly hired Cleveland Indians skipper delves into what went wrong between him and his old club. While he more or less accepts responsibility for the fact that the Red Sox lost 20 of their final 27 games prior to his contract not being renewed, he seems to lay the blame for that on a lack of direction from the top.
According to him, team brass was far more concerned with image and marketing than actually putting a quality product out on the field.
"They (the consultants) told us we didn't have any marketable players, that we needed some sizzle," Epstein is quoted as saying in the book (via ESPN). "We need some sexy guys. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. This is like an absurdist comedy. We'd become too big. It was the farthest thing removed from what we set out to be."
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That in turn apparently manifested itself in leadership prioritizing style over substance for their next group of signings.
"In direct response to the pressure from his bosses and the sagging ratings, Epstein went to work to build a sexier team for 2011."
At the end of the day, Francona believes that it all comes down to priorities. If you’re about being popular and obtaining shiny new toys, your end result will reflect that goal. If you want to win titles, well, you go down a different route.
"They come in with all these ideas about baseball, but I don't think they love baseball," he said. "I think they like baseball. It's revenue, and I know that's their right and their interest because they're owners ... and they're good owners. But they don't love the game. It's still more of a toy or a hobby for them. It's not their blood. They're going to come in and out of baseball. It's different for me. Baseball is my life."
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It is worth noting that a certain unnamed New York baseball team has somehow managed to walk the tightrope between being “sexy” and being successful relatively well. It isn’t always the style versus substance battle that Francona is making it out to be. You never want to prioritize the former over the latter, obviously, but they are not mutually exclusive when you are putting together a roster.
Francona was a great manager and nobody can ever take his accomplishments away from him, but in the end, he wasn’t asked to return because he lost the clubhouse. He shoulders a little more of the responsibility for the Red Sox’s woes and how things ended than he is letting on.
The book comes out next Tuesday.