Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA
As a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, who endured years of misery watching the team lose big games on the national stage in the most excruciating of fashions (“Bucky bleepin Dent,” Aaron “who?” Boone) I was among the ecstatic members of Red Sox Nation in 2004 and 2007 when they finally did the unthinkable and discovered the Holy Grail of Baseball, winning the World Series, not once, but twice.
Heck, not only did the Sox win two World Series, they didn’t even lose a game! They swept both Series! They went 8-0!
It’s never been lost on me that the guy who guided both these teams, manager Terry Francona, was a pretty special manager. In his years guiding the Red Sox, he became my favorite manager, not because he regularly displayed a Bill Belichick-like genius, but because he always got the most out of his players, constantly put them in the position to win, and in two trips to the World Series, never lost a game. His Championship record is 8-0! Not even Mr. Belichick can claim that record!
And yet, after the 2011 season, Francona was fired.
How do you fire a manager who owns an 8-0 record in the World Series, the very same Series that the Sox hadn’t won since 1918? It made no sense to me. Sure, the team had just endured a historic collapse in September 2011 and missed the playoffs, losing to the Baltimore Orioles on the last day of the season. And sure the Sox under Francona hadn’t won a playoff game since 2008. Still, if you’re the owner of this team, it seems to me you want the guy with the perfect World Series record leading your team.
Anyway, I was excited to read Francona’s memoir of his Red Sox years from 2004-2011, Francona: The Red Sox Years ,written by Terry Francona himself and BOSTON GLOBE columnist Dan Shaughnessy. For a Red Sox fan, it’s a fascinating read.
I wish video footage existed of some of the more lively situations depicted in the book, as Francona’s use of “colorful” language provides readers with an earful and had me laughing out loud frequently. Such gems as the Red Sox trip to Japan, Francona’s growing frustrations over having to deal with Manny Ramirez, and the manager’s frequent run-ins with Red Sox ownership, especially Larry Lucchino. I was struck by how rude Lucchino treated Francona during his tenure as Red Sox manager.
By far this was my favorite part of the book, getting a behind the scenes look at what went on during those years, years in which I watched most of the Red Sox games recounted here. Things would happen with the team during the course of the season, and Francona would say something positive in his press conference, and I’d be at home wondering, “what’s really going on?” Well, this book makes it clear what was really going on.
In doing so, it provides a lot of insight as to what it takes to be a big league manager these days. You have to have thick skin, and you have to get the best out of players who really possess more power with ownership than you do. Francona is a master at this, as he makes his players feel good about themselves, and they go out and play hard for him.
It was painful to read about the 2011 collapse, and it’s interesting to note that at the same time the team was falling apart, Francona was dealing with painful personal issues, a divorce and his own physical pain from his knee surgeries from his years as a player. It makes you wonder if he would have been able to handle things better if he hadn’t been dogged by personal demons.
I also enjoyed the description of Francona’s meeting with ownership after the historic collapse, a meeting in which it was clear to Francona that the owners didn’t want him back, yet no one in the room wanted to be the one responsible for firing the two-time World Series winning (and still very popular) manager. And so he wasn’t officially fired.
Ownership said they didn’t want to fire Francona at that point, that they wanted him to take some time and think about his future with the team. This certainly makes sense, since after any traumatic event, it usually is a good idea to take some time away to think and reflect on things before making a decision. But Francona counters by saying no one in that room voiced any enthusiasm or support for him, and it was clear by what they said and their body language, that they no longer supported their manager.
Francona: The Red Sox Years is an easy read, well suited for a summer day at the beach. Dan Shaughnessy’s style is as accessible as it is comprehensive, and the writing is topnotch. Francona remains as likeable behind the scenes as he was in front, before cameras and in the dugout, perhaps even more so, as here in the book he’s unfiltered, and his use of raw language— there are F-bombs flying everywhere— is both hilarious and refreshing.
It’s more than just the story of one of the Red Sox’ most successful managers ever. It’s the story of what goes on behind closed doors when you’re manager of a major league ball club, how a manager is treated by his players and by ownership, and how it can be a very thankless job.
I’ve always liked Terry Francona, and after reading this book, I like and respect what he did with the Boston Red Sox even more.
Just be prepared for an earful. Who knew baseball without a filter could be so much fun?