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Why these Red Sox are perfect role players to Terry Francona

02.23.11 at 3:43 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — You’d be hard pressed to find a Red Sox fan past infancy who doesn’t remember how the Manny Ramirez era ended in Boston in 2008.

There was the perception that he cared more about his own career than winning a third World Series title with the Red Sox. It was ultimately that perception that clouded the clubhouse and made life so difficult for manager Terry Francona that the Red Sox dealt him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-way trade that brought Jason Bay to Boston minutes before the July 31 trade deadline.

Francona didn’t mention Ramirez by name on Wednesday but when he was asked indirectly about one of his least favorite subjects – how a particular player might fit into the batting order – he talked not about the lineup but team chemistry and unity.

“You can have some guys that maybe don’t always have the team’s goals the same but they better really be good. And we’ve had that sometimes in the past,” Francona said. “It’s not a perfect world but it certainly makes for a much better atmosphere when you have guys that care about winning.

“It sets the tone for young guys better buy in. It’s a heckuva a lot easier for me to make examples of people when you have veterans running around working harder than anybody in camp.”

Ramirez hit .312 and belted 274 homers in a Red Sox uniform, winning the 2004 World Series MVP. Clearly, he put up some of the biggest numbers in club history and was arguably the greatest right-handed hitter to ever play for the team. But eventually, he became a distraction that no one could manage, not even Francona.

Last Friday, when GM Theo Epstein addressed reporters at the Red Sox player devolopment complex, he recalled not Manny being Manny but a far more subtle and far less recounted example of team chemistry gone bad. And in this case, Epstein DID mention the name.

Jay Payton played just 55 games with the 2005 Red Sox – primarily as a fourth outfielder behind Ramirez of all people. After a confrontation with Francona in late June about the way he was being used, he was designated for assignment and eventually dealt to Oakland on July 13 for reliever Chad Bradford.

Where will he hit Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez? Can he really get around have two lefty batters back-to-back? Is Jacoby Ellsbury better at the top or bottom? What about J.D. Drew?

And on Wednesday, it was “What about David Ortiz?” How easy will it be for him to hit wherever Francona decides to bat him in the order?

“Again with David, I don’t think you’ll see a role change,” Francona said. “The batting order will take care of itself. Anytime you have good players that want to place the team’s goals first, that makes for a real good atmosphere, that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Read More: Boston Red Sox, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, jason bay
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