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Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Frank talk with Terry Francona

By Joe McDonald
ESPNBoston.com

Terry Francona
New Indians manager Terry Francona held court Wednesday at the winter meetings.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- After the Boston Red Sox's historic collapse in September 2011, manager Terry Francona was not retained, a casualty amid the club's demise.

Some negative stories surfaced in the aftermath portraying Francona in a bad light, which he did not appreciate, especially given everything he had accomplished in Boston. After all, he helped the Red Sox erase 86 years of misery by winning the World Series in 2004, and then followed up with another championship in 2007.

Since those days with the Red Sox, he spent a year as an analyst for ESPN. This winter he was hired to manage the Cleveland Indians, a team he once played and later worked for.

While sitting in a conference room at the Opryland Hotel during baseball's annual winter meetings, Francona reflected on his exit from Boston.

"I never had a problem," Francona said. "I think it's a little bit of a misrepresentation. If you really think about it, like all of September it wasn't like me and [the media] was feuding. We had an awful September and it was a real tough uphill battle for us. We were like leaking oil every day, but our biggest concern was trying to get to the playoffs.

"We didn't deal with any of those issues until after the season, so it was kind of weird because I didn't have a chance to sit back and think about not having that job. Two days later I was defending myself, so it was hurtful and where it went from there was disappointing. But time does have a way of, you know, again, I don't want to go through life, I don't know if 'vindictive' is the right word, but that's not healthy. I had too many people there that are too special. I was disappointed with the way it ended and I'll probably always feel that way but that doesn't mean it wasn't a great seven years and five months."

The 2012 season was supposed to be a special one in Boston because the Red Sox were celebrating the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park. On April 20, the actual day of the 100th anniversary of the first pro game played at Fenway, the Red Sox held a massive pregame celebration to honor the team's history.

Since Francona was one of the most successful managers in club history, he was invited back to participate in the celebration. When he was introduced, he received the loudest ovation of all the attendees.

Despite his warm welcome by the fans, Francona actually thought about not attending the event because of what had happened six months earlier.

"I was conflicted," he said. "I thought I was pretty honest about it. I wasn't planning on doing it. I talked to some people that talked me into [the idea that] maybe I was being a little self-centered and I wasn't too thrilled about that. I was glad to be there and I was glad to leave. Besides the guy in the third row who used to scream at me, I thought Boston was a wonderful place. If you care about baseball, it's a wonderful place. Sometimes things happen in that city; you can't have all that good without having some of the bad and I got caught up in it."

Terry Francona
At last year's winter meetings in Dallas, Terry Francona was settling into his role as an ESPN analyst.

Francona also described his last few years as "uneven" and a "little bit of a roller coaster."

"You go back to September of '11 and that was tough, man," he explained. "I don't care what city you're in, when you go 7-20, if you're the manager you're wide open to criticism. That's just the way it is.

"Then the way things ended was difficult. I thought stepping back was probably a smart thing. It's not necessarily the easiest thing in the world to tell yourself you need to do that, but I think it was really healthy for me. I know I get back into it now feeling like I'm better prepared to do the job correctly because it's got to be almost 24 hours a day to do it right. At least I think so. I was pretty beaten up by the end of that last year."

There were plenty of positives during his tenure in Boston, too. He won two World Series titles and believed the team's best chance to win another was in 2008. But that club lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 7 of the ALCS. The Rays went on to lose to the Philadelphia Phillies in the Series.

"To be honest with you, I thought '08 was our best team. I really did," Francona said. "[Josh] Beckett had that intercostal issue and Tampa beat us. That was our best team. We just got beat by a really good team and Beckett wasn't quite able to be the Beckett from the year before."

During his time in Boston, Francona enjoyed strong resources; the Red Sox always seemed to be the team to outbid smaller-market teams for key players. He learned this week what it's like to be on the receiving end of that after the Red Sox landed outfielder Shane Victorino, whom the Indians were pressing hard to acquire.

"Bastards," Francona said with a laugh. "It's kind of hard to fault a guy like Shane Victorino for going to Boston. When guys get to be free agents, they've earned that right to go wherever they want and it's a great baseball town. I have a lot of respect for him and the way he went about his decision, so it's kind of hard to fault somebody for that."

Looking back and learning from his experiences in Boston, Francona plans to apply them to his new job in Cleveland.

"When I took the job in Boston in '04 the expectations were win or go home," Francona said. "I remember being very thankful that Dave Roberts was safe because I probably would have gone home.

"This is a little different right now. We're younger and we're not in the same position, but our expectations, at least in my opinion, are still the same. We're supposed to try to win, so we're trying to put together the best roster we can and then when it comes time to put a uniform on then that's when I get really excited. We'll try to have our guys play the game correctly."

Francona also explained that he would do some things differently in Cleveland.

"As you gain experience I think you gain confidence in dealing with people, so that helps," he said. "You learn as you go. If you don't you've certainly missed the boat. Saying that, you try to put the players in the best position to succeed and then let them go play and try to have them feeling confident about what they're doing. If we have the talent that we need we'll be OK.

"In our game the communication is so important and if you get away from that at all, again your talent level, if you don't have enough talent it's going to get exposed at some point during a long season. But as a manager if you can get your guys to play at the most of their ability more often you're doing your job right. It hits home maybe when you go through what we did at the end of '11."

Now that he's back in uniform with the Indians, he says he doesn't want to rate what his good friend and former pitching coach John Farrell is doing in Boston.

"I want to be careful rating everything that Boston does. That's not my job anymore. I'm a manager of another team and being totally honest, I think that's Boston's biggest weakness is their manager," Francona said with a smile.

During his one year as an analyst at ESPN, Francona said many times he was enjoying his new role in the game. As much as he wanted to be on the field and in a uniform, he believes it was an extremely important learning experience for him.

Terry Francona
On the April 20 celebration of Fenway Park's 100th birthday, Terry Francona received a huge ovation from the crowd, which at one point chanted, "Ti-to, Ti-to, Ti-to."

"Actually, it was a great learning year," he said. "One, you're looking at a game not emotionally because, when the season starts, I don't care what manager you talk to, you have no ability to view the game without emotion. When you lose, you're beat-up personally. You take it personally. Whether you have enough talent or not, you try to make it work.

"I also got to see what goes into putting that game on. I used to think those guys just showed up and did the game, and it was a lot of work, but I learned a lot and I was with people that were unbelievably good to me. So it was a great year. I just missed being on the field a lot and that's not a bad thing. I was kind of hoping I would. But I had a wonderful year."

When he wasn't on the "Baseball Tonight" set, Francona, along with Dan Shaughnessy, wrote a book about his eight seasons in Boston. It's scheduled to come out in January.

"I hope people want to buy it," he said with a laugh. "It's eight years of a lot of funny [stories], some emotional [stories], a couple sad things. Dan busted his rear end on this thing. First of all, the fact that me and him were together doing it was a shock to me. First time I picked him up, I told him, 'You have to black out the windows because I don't want people to see me driving you around.' I had a year I could do it because under normal circumstances you can't do it. It ended up being kind of fun.

"I think for the most part, if somebody ends up being bent out of shape, that was not ever the intent. It was just to tell the story and I hope people take it that way because I think it's a really good story."

With his brief television and writing career now behind him, Francona is back on the field. He seems at peace with where his career has taken him since his days in Boston. Now he's hoping to have success in Cleveland.

"As I found out the hard way, the team that wins the winter doesn't always win the season and sometimes it makes you an analyst," he said.