I suppose it stands to reason that there would be casualties in the wake of the Red Sox’ stunning loss to Baltimore on Wednesday night.
But the thought of Terry Francona being one of them makes me sick.
In the region’s obsession to unfairly point every loss to one singular entity — Mike Torrez, Bill Buckner, Grady Little — fans, writers and talk show hosts have thrown out every name on the roster, hoping one of them sticks.
The manager of an underperforming bunch, it’s no surprise that there are those calling for Francona’s head. But does the fact that pitchers stopped pitching and hitters stop hitting fall on him?
Has the job burned him? It’s possible. He’s had to endure quite a bit in his eight seasons leading the team — 2004 playoff drama, Manny Ramirez, a cascade of injuries in 2006 and 2010, a number of overpaid, underperforming pitchers, all without mention of what it’s like to have to answer to a group as entitled and arrogant as the Red Sox press corps and fan base.
But through it all, he never seems to flinch. He calmly paces the dugout, chewing on a wad of gum, never flying off the handle as Daniel Bard blows an eighth-inning lead or Jacoby Ellsbury powers the team to another win. The greatest hallmark of a baseball manager, Francona was level and even, responding to each challenge as needed.
What’s more, players seem to respect him. In the baseball world, that’s nine tenths of the challenge. Past and present players — Curt Schilling, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Millar, among many others — have lauded the man’s ability to handle a lineup, a pitching staff and a clubhouse.
“I guarantee you he did as much as a manager can do there,” Schilling said in an interview. “You’re going to have the same team next year. I promise you, for whatever it’s worth, there’s not a guy in that clubhouse that doesn’t swear by this guy, doesn’t want to do everything he can do to win for this guy. You’re not going to get them to play harder, more passionate, more fiercely for anybody other than the guy that’s managing right now.”
Then September came. Can one bad month cause a man with such a pedigree his job? Possibly, considering what a horror show this September has been in Boston.
Francona sounded exhausted at his press conference yesterday.
“There isn’t a whole lot here that isn’t trying, even in the best of (times) because everything is so important to people here, and that’s good,” Francona said. “Because it’s fresh and raw it seems that way, but there have been a lot of trying moments here, we just fought through them a little bit better.”
Francona meets with Boston management today. His fate could be decided this afternoon, or this weekend.
The Red Sox’ September slide didn’t just end the season prematurely. It may have also cost them the best manager the team has ever seen.