Terry Francona is my guy. Even when he is managing against the Boston Red Sox, I can never root against him.
Of the main reasons I rooted for the Indians over the Cubs in the World Series (other than avoiding the image of Aroldis Chapman celebrating the Cub title) is I wanted Terry Francona to win again, get his third World Series title and secure his spot in Cooperstown.
Personally, I think he is going in anyway. But winning the World Series in both Boston AND Cleveland would make him invincible.
Why is Francona my guy? Well, I am a Boston Red Sox fan and he managed the Red Sox to the World Series title… and then did it again.
John Farrell can match that if the Sox win it all this October. But even if he does, he won’t be Francona.
2004 was the first title. It was the one we wanted to see all of our lives. It was the one that made us cry and think of our grandmothers. And that team won in a way we almost didn’t dream of. Down 3-0 to the Yankees, losing in the 9th on the verge of being swept with Mariano Rivera on the mound.
Odds of winning the ALCS at that chance were worse than me being elected Miss Paraguay.
They won, and then in 2007 they stared down another 3-1 hole to Cleveland facing their ace. The Sox came back and won another title, showing that 2004 wasn’t a fluke.
They faced yet another 3-1 hole to Tampa Bay in 2008 and damn nearly won that one too. The 2008 post season, complete with the Jed Lowrie walk off hit in the Division Series and the wild comeback in Game 5 of the ALCS had more highlights than the 2007 World Championship.
Of course it ended badly, as everything seems to in Red Sox land, with the 2011 fiasco. 2013 wiped away any ill will there. But Francona won the Manager of the Year with Cleveland that year as he rebuilt another once proud team.
A member of a baseball family, the son of Tito Francona was a first round pick by the Expos in 1980 out of the University of Arizona. He was a top college star and expected to become a sweet swinging left handed first baseman.
In abbreviated seasons of 1982 and 1984, he hit for a high average. But he had trouble staying healthy and on the field. After 5 seasons in Montreal, he bounced between the Cubs, Reds, Indians and Brewers.
He never was a star as a player but worked his way up to be a big league manager. Francona was a minor league manager in the White Sox organization and was Michael Jordan’s skipper when he played for the Birmingham Barons.
After coaching for the Tigers, he was named Philadelphia Phillies manager in 1997. The team never was a winner under his watch and was let go after 2000. He bounced about as a coach and in the front office between the Indians, Rangers and A’s before the Red Sox came calling.
Grady Little was not brought back after the 2003 ALCS. No, it wasn’t just him leaving Pedro in too long that cost him his job. That was just the last straw. Theo Epstein knew the Red Sox had to win it all and do it really really quickly otherwise the city was going to go through a crisis.
Some believed that Francona was hired because of his good relationship with former Phillies ace Curt Schilling, whom the Red Sox were courting. Perhaps that is true. There are worse reasons to hire a manager.
The team was stacked but by mid July, just looked totally outclassed by the Yankees. Francona was looked upon by some Sox fans as a lightweight, being pushed around in a clubhouse full of stars.
Had the Red Sox lost the ALCS, Francona’s days would have been numbered. There would have been a push to bring in a Lou Piniella or someone high profile to manage instead of some washed up jock who never won in Philadelphia.
Instead they won. And suddenly Francona’s easy going style and friendliness was an advantage rather than a liability. He out managed Mike Scioscia, Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa, all managers with World Series resumes.
Suddenly he became our guy.
I couldn’t help but think of the other Red Sox managers of my lifetime and how my thoughts of them would be different had they been the ones who won.
Don Zimmer? I think of him of the guy who buried Bill Lee and panicked down the stretch in 1978. He would be lovable Zim if the Sox won.
John McNamara? Asleep in the dugout and letting the 1986 World Series slip away is his legacy. If the Red Sox got that last out, he would have been the nice Irish Catholic who was a baseball lifer and delivered the title.
Walpole Joe Morgan? Right now he is already a folk hero. If the Massachusetts native and former snow plow driver had won the World Series as a manager, he would be the most beloved native of Massachusetts since JFK.
Kevin Kennedy? Had the 1995 Red Sox won, he would be a worshipped alpha male in Boston with his Irish name, 70’s porn stache, love of old school baseball and infectious enthusiasm. Hell, he might have been the Red Sox answer to Tom Lasorda.
Jimy Williams? All of those head scratching managerial decisions would now be charming. Jimy with one M didn’t do it normally, but maybe that’s what the Red Sox needed.
What about Grady Little? Right now he is looked on as a nice enough guy who was in over his head and choked on the biggest stage of all. He seemed like he would be the ideal manager of a small market team like the Padres, or maybe manage the Pawtucket Red Sox. But a high profile big budget team? No way.
But if they won in 2003, this post would be about Grady Little. He was my guy. That easy country style was exactly what the Red Sox needed.
It didn’t happen that way for any of them. The musical chairs music stopped with Francona at the helm.
What can I say?
He’s my guy.