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For Red Sox Fans Only!
on February 26, 2013
So I recently read FRANCONA The Red Sox Years by Terry "Tito" Francona and Dan Shaughnessy. First, let me say that I don't read many books so take this with a grain of salt: It wasn't what I expected and I was mildly disappointed. I'm blaming Shaughnessy.
Now, I love Terry Francona and I don't mean any disrespect. He's an outstanding MLB manager who brought 2 World Series championships to us Red Sox fans in his first 4 years with the team--he was with the club for 8. He's engaging, funny, and has a great story to tell. I just think this could have been much, much more than it is.
Despite the subtitle, the first six chapter of the book have basically nothing to do with the Red Sox. That's okay--they deal with Terry's childhood during his father's MLB career, Terry's own journey through high school, college, the minors, MLB, and into his coaching and managerial experience leading right up to, of course, how he was hired on as the Red Sox skipper. Mostly fairly interesting but then just call the book FRANCONA without the subtitle because from that point on there essentially was just one chapter per year for each year of his 8-year term at the helm and then a couple chapters post-Boston.
Perhaps I'm splitting hairs but as I said initially, it was not what I expected. Much of the book has nothing to do with the Red Sox--it is Terry's life story. I was expecting extensive and previously unheard behind the scenes anecdotes regarding key players throughout the years. There is a bit of that but mostly we're getting Terry's take on incidents we already heard about. In the lengthy back story there's more about Michael Jordan's foray into minor league baseball (Terry managed him) than there was about key Red Sox players, some of whom get barely a mention with just a sentence or two. Even Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick gets more ink than most of the players. Calvin Hill, the father of NBA star Grant Hill gets a big write up just for being in the front office of the Orioles at one point--something about hiring Theo down in Baltimore.
There are a few tidbits we have forgotten, or perhaps never knew such as Terry's last major league at bat was in Fenway Park and he flew out to Ellis Burks who he later managed in 2004. Terry was a coach with the 2003 A's and after Game 4 in Boston Jack McCormick used his contacts with the Boston PD to delay the A's at the airport so the Sox could get back to Oakland before them for Game 5--the Johnny Damon concussion game. Within weeks Terry was interviewing for the Red Sox skippership. I always thought a guy went in for an interview or two or three and then got the job or not. They had Terry basically hanging out at Fenway for most of the winter playing simulated baseball games with guys from Baseball Ops while he was still employed by the A's. For his entire term with the Sox the team had this computer (program) which they created and named Carmine which they used to help manage the team.
There were a couple of poignant moments with Terry sharing how he broke down in tears--not because of game play but following high-stress situations which had weighed heavily on him for some time and had finally come to a positive resolution.
Here's an excerpt (sorry--not related to him crying) regarding Pedroia when he won the 2008 MVP Award: "It was unbelievable...Tim Lincecum was the Cy Young winner and he had the whole Giants front office there from San Francisco...I was there with just Pam Ganley...Brian Cashman--the GM of the Yankees!--had to give me my MVP Award!...Our owners gave David a car or truck for doing I'm not sure what, and I've got nobody there when I get the MVP. All I got was a handshake."
Francona decided the best response was a gag gift for his second baseman...Pedroia found an electrically charged blue mini-scooter in front of his locker...a pink "AL MVP" helmet hung from the handlebar with a phony note from Lucchino..."Sorry we couldn't make it to the MVP presentation...Congratulations, Dustin."
See, the book should have been full of anecdotes like that but sadly it wasn't.
Sure, there were many interesting tidbits like dissecting the ill-fated trip to Japan in 2008, what went on in various meetings and on team flights and how toxic the clubhouse was at times. Also interesting is how intertwined the histories of so many players and coaches are, "I knew Nomar already from when I coached him in the Arizona Fall League," etc.
And I never knew his health was this bad: "The most recent knee replacement followed the 2006 knee replacement, knee scopes, knee reconstructions, cervical disk surgery, and numerous wrist, elbow, and shoulder surgeries. He'd cheated death during the Christmas season of 2002, surviving a pulmonary embolism on each side of his lungs, as well as subsequent blood clots, staph infections, massive internal bleeding, and the near-amputation of his right leg. He had a small metal device implanted into his vena cava vein to prevent clotting. He was unable to jog and would be on blood-thinning medication for the rest of his life. He wore sleeves on both his legs, and still got cold easily. Anytime he sat too long his legs swelled and needed to be elevated....Blood-level maintenance and pain management would be part of his life for as long as he lived."
Anyway, here's a few of my takeaways: The ownership group of Henry, Werner, and Lucchino is a despicable and dysfunctional bunch of weasels. Theo Epstein is a supremely talented and likable GM. Manny is a lowlife dirt bag.
Overall, a worthy read for a Red Sox fan but nothing more. If not a Red Sox fan, you probably won't care a lick.
"When people ask me if I left the Red Sox on my own or if I was fired, I don't even know how to answer that. I really don't." --Terry "Tito" Francona