- Gordon Edes, Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- In the wake of the clubhouse breakdown that led to Terry Francona and the Red Sox parting ways last week, perhaps it's worth recalling what general manager Theo Epstein said his lingering concern was prior to hiring Francona to succeed Grady Little back in 2003: "Is he too nice? Does he treat people too well?"
At the news conference introducing Francona as the new Sox manager on Dec. 4, 2003, Epstein said he was persuaded that Francona passed the test.
"In doing my follow-up research, I was very satisfied that he has a tough side to him and can show the authority that is sometimes necessary as a major league manager," Epstein said then. "I found lots of instances where he had shown a lot of discipline in sending players home and making sure the line is not crossed."
Francona leaves a legacy in Boston that includes two World Series titles, the first coming in his first season as Sox manager, and wins in all eight World Series games he managed. Since his departure, he has been lauded by his own players, including David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez, and by worthy adversaries such as Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon (also a former player of Francona's).
But in his last act as Sox manager, Francona presided over the worst collapse in team history -- 1978 looks heroic by comparison, as that team won its last eight games to force a playoff -- and among the worst in the annals of the game. In addition to the obvious reasons for the sorry 7-20 finish in September -- the dreadful starting pitching, injuries to Clay Buchholz and Kevin Youkilis, a bullpen that imploded -- another picture emerged, and it wasn't pretty.
Francona essentially admitted he lost his ability to alter the culture of a clubhouse that somewhere along the way lost the focus that had allowed the team to play the best baseball in the majors for four months. There has been talk of selfishness, indifference to conditioning, a vacuum of leadership, a lack of urgency, all crystallizing in what has become the enduring symbol of the collapse: the team's starting pitchers drinking in the clubhouse during games in which they were not pitching.
Too nice? As Francona said in his parting news conference, he had always placed explicit trust in his players. He couldn't bring himself to say some of them had betrayed that trust, but the implication was clear. And his players, like Pedroia, did it for him.
"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," Pedroia told ESPNBoston's Joe McDonald. "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 were 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."
So, what will the Red Sox be seeking in their next manager? Will they pursue a market correction and hire a tough guy? Will they hire a big name with a glittering résumé who commands instant respect?
Epstein's track record -- and Larry Lucchino's before him -- suggests that barring an abrupt change of philosophy, the high-profile names of Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Valentine are not the course the Sox will follow.
More in line with Epstein's most recent managerial search are people like Pete Mackanin, Dave Martinez, Sandy Alomar Jr., Ron Wotus, Joey Cora, Joe McEwing and Ryne Sandberg, candidates who are hardly household names but have cut their teeth as major league coaches, minor league managers or both.
(Of course, how long Epstein will be part of the search remains to be seen.)
In 2003, the Sox passed on an established name like Jim Fregosi and narrowed their search to the following finalists:
•Joe Maddon, who managed in the minors and was Mike Scioscia's bench coach in Anaheim;
•Glenn Hoffman, the Los Angeles Dodgers' third-base coach who had played for the Red Sox, managed in the minors and spent a half season as interim manager for the Dodgers;
•DeMarlo Hale, the Texas Rangers' first-base coach who had managed in the minors, including in the Red Sox system;
•Francona, who was Ken Macha's bench coach in Oakland and had previously managed in the minors and four seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Also high on the Sox's list were Bud Black, who was the Los Angeles Angels' pitching coach and declined an invitation, and Bob Melvin, who was managing Seattle at the time and was denied permission by the Mariners.
Francona was the only one of the four with previous big league managing experience. And remember, the man he replaced, Grady Little, had been a longtime minor league manager serving as Charlie Manuel's bench coach, a role he had previously held in Boston with Jimy Williams, when the newly minted ownership group headed by John W. Henry introduced him as manager to a raucous standing ovation in Fort Myers, Fla.
Lucchino, during runs as CEO with the San Diego Padres and Baltimore Orioles before that, oversaw the hirings of Bruce Bochy, a minor league manager and big league coach, with the Padres, and Johnny Oates, another minor league manager and coach, with the Orioles. Both were hired for their first big league managing positions.
So, as the Sox embark on their search for a new man, the past would seem to offer a reasonable blueprint on how they intend to proceed. Francona on his way out the door made a strong pitch for Hale, now the Red Sox's bench coach, though in this instance Hale's connection to the tainted environment of this past season may be held against him.
Maddon is signed through the 2012 season and another extension would appear to be a foregone conclusion after the Rays unexpectedly made it to the playoffs this season. Hoffman did not interview well in '03 and is now the Padres' third-base coach; it would be a surprise if the Sox revisited him as a candidate.
Black is signed with the Padres through the 2013 season, with options for 2014 and '15, while Melvin just signed an extension as manager with Oakland through the 2014 season.
Martinez, 47, would seem to have the ideal profile for the Red Sox. He has served since 2007 as bench coach for Maddon, who is held in great regard by the Sox, and before that managed six seasons in the minors, three years as a roving instructor and three years as Scioscia's bullpen coach.
Mackanin, 60, is a longtime minor league manager who has gone to the World Series as Manuel's bench coach with the Phillies. He told ESPN.com's Jayson Stark he would have definite interest.
Alomar, bench coach for the Indians, has been mentioned as Ozzie Guillen's replacement with the White Sox, for whom he played. Joey Cora, brother of former Red Sox infielder Alex Cora, had been Guillen's bench coach and has joined Guillen with the Miami Marlins. Wotus is Bochy's bench coach with the Giants. Sandberg, the former Cubs star, managed in their system until bolting when Mike Quade was hired to manage the big league club. Sandberg went to the Phillies, where he managed Lehigh Valley to the International League title.
McEwing, who played one season for Pawtucket after spending most of his career in the big leagues with the Mets, has managed in the White Sox system for the last three seasons and this fall will be managing Mesa in the Arizona Fall League. One National League executive raved about his potential, ranking him with Sandberg as the new names most qualified for the job.
The Sox almost certainly will want to wrap up their search before the winter meetings Dec. 5 in Dallas. They hired Francona just a couple of days before the 2003 winter meetings. Sox vice president Ben Cherington is expected to play a key role in the managerial search, which will be delayed in some instances by the playoffs. The Rays were eliminated Tuesday, so expect the Sox to contact Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman shortly for permission to speak with Martinez.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.