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Ex-Red Sox manager Terry Francona on The Big Show: ‘Maybe it was just time’

10.05.11 at 5:27 pm ET
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Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, in his first interview since the day of his departure from the Sox organization after eight years, talked on The Big Show about his final season with the Sox, his suggestion that he had felt some decrease in ownership support, the controversy surrounding starters drinking in the clubhouse on their off-days and more.

It was a broad-ranging conversation at a time when Francona has had plenty to process. He described the days since Friday’s announcement that he wouldn’t be back as Sox manager as a “whirlwind, I guess. Probably a lot of swirling emotions. You can imagine. A lot’€™s happened in eight years. A lot’€™s happened in a week. I tried to sit back a little bit, look at everything, gain some perspective — that’s not the easiest thing to do, but I always try to look at myself, think, ‘€˜All right, what could I have done better?’€™ It’s probably not the easiest time to do that, but I’m trying to do the best I can.”

To listen to the interview, click here.

Among the topics:

— Francona tried to clarify his comments about the Red Sox owners, insisting that he appreciated a commitment to the team that he described as “second to none” in the majors, and said that his comment about being “all-in” was in reference to himself rather than that owners who did not make a public commitment to him.

— He suggested that he wasn’t sure if he would have wanted to come back if the owners had given a clearer indication of their desire for his return. However, he also suggested that he “[had] to own” his responsibility for the fact that his tenure had reached a point where a meeting to discuss whether it was in all parties’ best interest for him to return or leave was necessary.

That said, he also acknowedged that had the Red Sox picked up the two-year, $8.75 million option on his contract, he would not have fought the organization about the idea of continuing in Boston through 2013.

“No. No. No,” Francona said when asked if he would have refused had the Sox picked up the two-year option. “[But] some of these were personal conversations and I hope you respect that, because there are guys, eight years together is a lot, and I have a lot of respect for [the Red Sox owners] and what they do. There were some things that were voiced in meetings that I viewed as maybe not being supported. Maybe they didn’€™t [view them that way]. Everybody has their own opinion. I don’€™t want to just throw these guys under the bus, because that’€™s not how I feel.”

— Francona said that he “wasn’t aware” of the issue of starting pitchers drinking during games on their off-days, only repeating prior suggestions that “there were things happening around the club that I was uncomfortable with.”

“I think we have some outstanding leaders. I think it’€™s more that, as a season progresses, teams take on a personality and an identity. We didn’€™t seem to be doing that,” said Francona. I thought we had opportunities to do it. Sometimes, when you get beat up, teams come together and form a bond. I didn’€™t see that happening as much as I wanted to. …

“I don’€™t think it’€™s quite as bad as people are portraying. My point was, to be a World Series team, we need to get some things done,” he added. “There’€™s clubhouses I know that have a lot of issues going on that the Red Sox don’€™t. We have some spectacular people down there. I also know what we’€™ve gone through in the last eight years, and I knew we weren’€™t on the same path. Going through challenges is part of baseball. How you meet those challenges is part of what drove me. I wasn’€™t always comfortable with what we were doing, probably for a lot of reasons.”

That said, Francona also described “Beer-gate” as a somewhat exaggerated concern.

“I don’€™t think it’€™s the end of the world. I don’€™t think it’€™s like it’€™s being portrayed,” said Francona. “[But] the guys who weren’€™t down on the bench, I wanted them to be on the bench. I wanted them to be supporting their teammates.”

— On the subject of beer, Francona offered an explanation as to why the Sox — in contrast to some other clubs — allow it in the clubhouse at all.

“We actually allowed beer in the clubhouse, because I thought they were men and they deserved to be treated like it, and they always handled it,” Francona said. “A lot of clubhouses now don’€™t have beer. I thought our guys didn’€™t deserve to be treated like high school players. We tried to give them a lot of leeway to be grown-up men, and we told them that if they took advantage of it, then we’€™d handle it. In a lot of instances, not just alcohol but playing the game, being on time, showing up where you’€™re supposed to, paying attention to detail, just basically being a good teammate.”

— The former Sox manager still couldn’t explain what occurred in 2011 that prevented him from connecting to the clubhouse as he had in the past.

“I didn’€™t have the answers, or we probably wouldn’€™t be having this conversation,” said Francona.

— Francona said that he and general manager Theo Epstein “butted heads sometimes,” but he suggested that was the natural byproduct of a mutually respectful job dynamic in which both parties were comfortable expressing their opinions. He declined to speculate on whether he would work for Epstein again (potentially in another organization).

“He’€™s got his things to take care of this week I know,” Francona said, referring to the Cubs’ expressed desire to speak to Epstein. “That’€™s his business. He knows the respect I have for him.”

— Asked whether he thought the absence of pitching coach John Farrell, who left the Sox to be replaced by Curt Young, was an issue in the unregulated behavior of the pitching staff, Francona said, “I think anybody would miss John Farrell. He was outstanding. Saying that, Curt Young was a blessing. I know people may not want to hear that, but this guy was about as steady as you can find. For me, I’m telling you, I’€™ve never seen a guy so upbeat. If you can’€™t listen to him, you’€™ve got a problem. When he talks, he’s got a lot of good things to say. I don’t think that was an issue.”

— Francona described Dustin Pedroia as “the most special kid I’ve ever seen in my life” and “one of the best leaders I’ve been around.”

— He remained unsure of whether he wanted to manage again in the 2012 season.

“I don’€™t know, guys. I really don’€™t know,” he said. “I certainly would love to stay in the game. I have no ambition to ever leave the game. … I don’€™t want to try to manage in the wrong situation. That wouldn’€™t be good for me. To manage again, you have to have someone think you’re worthy to manage. That may not happen. It may happen down the road. Who knows? What I need to do is try to take a deep breath, try to have some perspective right now. That’s not the easiest thing to do. …

“I love this game so much. It doesn’t take a lot to get energized. But I don’t want to go just look for a job. I want it to be a job I can grab. You’ve got to be all-in, whether it’s a young team that you think you can help get better or a team that has a chance to win, there’s a lot of ways to get rejuvenated. I’ve got to sit back and see how I feel.”

— On his forthcoming, two-game role as an analyst for Fox Sports in its broadcast of the ALCS, Francona set the bar low.

“I’€™ve only broadcast one other game in my life,” he said. “That was in the Arizona Fall League, about 13 years ago, and that was on the radio, to about 12 people and I sucked.”

— Francona revealed that he received a phone call from Manny Ramirez after the decision was made on Friday that he would not be returning to the Boston dugout following the disappointing end to the 2011 season.

“Actually, Manny called me. How ’bout that?” Francona said. “I was very surprised. It was actually a very nice message and I appreciated it a lot.”

The context of that revelation was a question about how Francona, after having managed a player like Ramirez who generated constant headaches from 2004 through the middle of the 2008 season (when he was traded), could have found it so difficult to manage the Red Sox clubhouse this year.

“What we did with Manny was, and I didn’€™t want to speak out of school, but I would always call the veterans in, eight or nine of them because we had a very veteran team,” recalled Francona. “I would say, guys, look, here’€™s what I can do. I see what’€™s going on here. I explained it to David [Ortiz], to [Jason Varitek], to Mikey Lowell, that whatever you want me to do, I’€™ll do, but just know that if I do this, we’€™re going to lose this guy.

“To a man, they’€™d always say, ‘€˜We can handle this. We’€™ve got your back. We’€™ll take care of this. We’€™ll take his production, and we’€™ll do it as a team.’€™ They did a great job of it. Then when it got to the point where it was becoming too much, [Epstein] traded him, because I think it was getting to the point where the problems were outweighing the production and that doesn’€™t help anyone.”

Francona suggested that such internal clubhouse management, in which players handle their own affairs, is a sign of a strong team. Implicitly, there was the sense that the 2011 Sox were not such a team.

“I’€™m not trying to shirk responsibility. I do think the great teams, the players police themselves,” Francona said. “When things get a little bit messy, someone steps in and says, ‘€˜Clean it up.’€™ Over the years, we’€™ve had extraordinary people doing that.”

— Francona said that he is still struggling to process the notion that he is the former manager of the Red Sox.

“I’€™ve probably not done a very good job of decompressing yet. I know I need to. My thoughts are swirling for sure,” Francona said. “Because it ended up the way it did, doesn’t change a lot of [what happened]. They gave me an opportunity and I ended up being here for eight years. For that, I’€™ll always be grateful. Again, maybe it was time to move on.”

— As for what he will take from his Red Sox experience, Francona suggested that he could look back on his tenure with satisfaction about how he approached it.

“Right now, it’€™s probably a little difficult to get it straight. So many good things happened,” he said. “I hope that the one thing I take away, I gave everything I had. I really did. Whether it was right, wrong or in between, I always tried to do the best I could for the team, and I always tried to put the team and the organization ahead of my personal stuff. I hope that was apparent.”

Read More: curt young, Dustin Pedroia, John Farrell, Manny Ramirez
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