- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- Terry Francona said it's going to hurt to leave his job as manager of the Red Sox, but it was the right time to walk away.
So after eight years and two World Series titles, Francona's tenure is officially over.
"I think it's time for a new voice here," Francona said. "I was frustrated with some of my inabilities to get some things done here and after talking to ownership and Theo -- at length, multiple times -- I think it's the right thing to do for the organization and myself."
Francona met with owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, team president Larry Lucchino, general manager Theo Epstein and assistant GM Ben Cherington on Friday morning at Fenway Park. He left, then returned later in the afternoon.
Epstein initially put out a statement saying all sides wanted to think about the first meeting and no announcement was forthcoming, but then a statement came out late Friday afternoon in which Francona indicated it was his decision to move on.
In a news conference Friday evening, Francona reiterated that it was his decision to leave, but added that ownership never told him they wanted him back. Instead they asked him for his thoughts, and his thought was to leave. He said he wants to stay in the game in some capacity but hasn't decided what he would like to do next.
He did say he felt like the organization wasn't fully on board with what was happening this season.
"To be honest with you, I didn't know, or I'm not sure, how much support there was from ownership," he said. "I don't know if I felt real comfortable. You have to be all-in with this job and I voiced that today. There were some things that maybe -- going through things here and to make it work -- it has to be everybody together and I was questioning some of that a little bit."
In a news conference following Francona's, Lucchino begged to differ with his former manager's characterization.
"I was actually puzzled by that comment," Lucchino said. "We have done nothing differently this year as we have done in previous years. I think it's a question that you probably have to ask him. I thought he did an exceptional job conveying the strength of his feelings and his frustration and his fatigue with the situation here in Boston. But I must confess to be a little puzzled what was different this year from previous years."
Nonetheless, Lucchino lauded Francona for his hard work and contributions to the Red Sox's accomplishments.
"We owe him a debt of gratitude and the work he has done with this franchise," Lucchino said. "He was a central component in the historic success this franchise achieved over the last eight years. He leaves here with our respect and deep appreciation for his accomplishments."
Henry was not present at management's news conference due to a minor injury he suffered on his yacht earlier the day.
Werner said that the Red Sox brass had hoped Francona would take more time to think things over before deciding to step down.
"We came to this meeting today really wanting to hear Terry's point of view about what went right this year and what went wrong this year," Werner said. "He expressed the feeling when we asked him and he felt that we did need a new voice. After that we tried to slow the train down a bit and asked Terry to think about it over the weekend, but as he said in his press conference, he had made up his mind so that's how this was resolved."
Epstein echoed that sentiment, saying he had asked Francona to spend some time evaluating an ultimately disappointing season.
"I asked Tito separately whether he could be that guy, whether he could take a few weeks off, go think about what didn't go right this year and what we weren't able to get out of this team and to look himself in the mirror," Epstein said. "It wasn't his best year, it wasn't my best year and as an organization it wasn't our best year. (I asked him) if he could come back next spring with a new voice and provide some of the leadership that's needed to improve the culture in our clubhouse and to meet those high standards that we have.
"He thought about it and thought it was time to move on. He thought it was best for a new voice. He said, 'After you've done it for eight years sometimes the players just need to hear a new voice.' I think it takes a lot of maturity and perspective to come to that conclusion.
"I was disappointed and he was disappointed, but the reality is somebody else might do a better job of reaching the players and improving that clubhouse culture."
Francona had told staff members on Thursday that he would not be returning as manager, a club source told ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes on Friday.
The Red Sox, who under Francona won World Series titles in 2004 -- their first since 1918 -- and 2007, and were a favorite to win another one this season, suffered a historic collapse in the final month of the season as the Tampa Bay Rays made up a nine-game deficit and seized the wild card on Wednesday, but there were issues Francona had been dealing with all season.
"When things go bad your true colors show and I was bothered by what was showing," he said. "It's my responsibility to fix it."
Francona said he doesn't have many regrets and is proud of the job he was able to do in this market, in this region, for these fans.
"What we accomplished was incredible and some of the tougher moments are really tough," he said. "I wouldn't change it and I feel like I'm a better person because I was here. I met some unbelievable friends and I have a lot of respect for that. But it is a tough place to be a manager."
Francona time and again over the last few days has talked about his inability to reach the players when the season was slipping away from the team. He took responsibility for that, but the blame isn't solely on him.
The chemistry in the clubhouse was not the same this season, especially in the last month, as it had been in previous seasons.
"Don't forget, a month ago this team was on pace to win 100 games," Francona said. "When things started to go, I wanted desperately for our guys to care about each other on the field. I wasn't seeing that as much as I wanted to. I tried to help make that better, the coaches also, it just wasn't ever comfortable. You've heard me talk all the time about going in one direction and getting through challenges and meeting them together, but I just didn't think we were doing that. That's my responsibility to get them to do that and it wasn't happening to my satisfaction."
Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who has had a close, father-son type of relationship with Francona during their years together in Boston, defended his former manager.
"It's hard, man, with the way we played this year, but by no means is it Tito's fault," Pedroia said. "We get paid a lot of money and the biggest thing that I am upset with, and I think a lot of guys are upset with, is the accountability of each other. It's not the manager's fault. We need to hold ourselves more accountable as a team, as players. There are a lot of things that went on that was disrespectful and we played like it. That's basically it, but Tito's had every single guy's back in that clubhouse from day one."
Pedroia said he'll always be grateful to Francona.
"I love him," Pedroia said. "He's given me every opportunity in the world and given me the respect to play the game with a freedom, and that's what he allows us players to do. ... My heart's broken for him and I wish he was back and I wish I could have played my whole career for him. It's going to be hard. I'm sure he'll come back a better manager and a better person for it. Us, as an organization, we're going to move forward together."
Red Sox slugger David Ortiz said earlier Friday he was "fine with Tito" but he did hint that the clubhouse had issues.
"I worry about playing baseball more than anything else," Ortiz said. "I know we have some players that (the organization thought were) worried about some other s--- and sometimes there were certain things that no one in the clubhouse can control. I was trying and I have no issues. My only problem was when I started being benched (in 2010) and that was my only issue with Tito. Other than that we're cool."
Ortiz wasn't expecting Francona to leave.
"I am surprised," he said. "I'm surprised because I'm hearing things right now (in the news) that I didn't know were going on."
On Thursday, Francona said that this Red Sox team had issues that he thought affected its play. He spoke Thursday about a team meeting he called in Toronto in the aftermath of a 14-0 win on Sept. 6.
"I'm not sure if anybody knew, because there were some things I was worried about," he said. "I think we were spending too much energy on things that weren't putting our best foot forward toward winning. We spent a few minutes in the clubhouse that day, talking about that. There were some things that did concern me."
A lack of clubhouse leadership was almost certainly one concern.
"They don't need a leader," one prominent Red Sox player said Friday on the condition of anonymity. "They need a babysitter."
The Boston Herald reported another divisive issue, citing sources as saying that pitchers were allowed to drink beer in the clubhouse on their off days. A Red Sox source not only confirmed to ESPNBoston.com that was the case, but also said that it "has been going on for two years."
Francona didn't want to go there Friday afternoon, reasoning that if as manager, he'd never singled out players before for petty crimes and misdemeanors, including the poster boy for such behavior, Manny Ramirez, he wasn't about to start now.
Lucchino said after Friday's news conference he had a "low" level of awareness "until very recently" that this had been going on. His reaction when he did find out?
"Surprise," he said, before adding, "Yeah, there were some other emotions, but I'd rather just leave it at that."
A third issue of concern that has circulated widely was a perceived indifference to conditioning by some players -- "gluttony," one Red Sox executive called it.
Ortiz is a free agent and was asked if the manager leaving would affect him re-signing with Boston.
"Not at all," he said. "That's one thing I can't really control, who the manager's going to be. That's not on me."
Meanwhile, Epstein expressed gratitude for Francona's service and friendship through the years. Saying he had a "personal friendship" with Francona and praising him for being "an unflappable leader," Epstein granted that the Red Sox might need a new voice. But he said that Francona's "next team will benefit more than it knows from hearing Tito's voice. I will miss seeing Tito every day in the manager's office, and I wish him and his family nothing but the best in their next chapter."
Pedroia said that he wants to see Francona succeed with another team, but acknowledged that he doesn't want to face him as a competitor.
"I wish him the best and I hope he gets a job in the National League for a team that we don't get a chance to play because it would be like playing against one of my family members," Pedroia said.
It didn't take long for Francona to suggest who should replace him. He would love to see bench coach DeMarlo Hale get an opportunity.
"Yes," Francona said. "I hope he gets serious consideration, if not here then somewhere else. I think he is a tremendous manager-in-waiting. He's a tremendous friend. He'll manage somewhere and he'll be very good."
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Information from ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes and The Associated Press was used in this report.