If a manager or coach can win a championship during his tenure with a team, he is almost always considered a success. If he wins two titles—the first breaking an 86-year championship drought and the second coming just three years later—then he surely must be considered a messiah.
Such is the story of Terry Francona, former Red Sox manager and franchise legend. Winner of two World Series, in 2004 and 2007, Francona guided the Sox to eight straight winning seasons and five playoff appearances.
But with success comes greater expectations, and few fan bases take expectations as high as Red Sox Nation. Despite his two titles, Francona failed to meet expectations this year and is no longer managing the team.
Heading into September, the Red Sox led the Wild Card race by nine games with just 27 left to play. Over the next month, the Red Sox slowly crumbled before capitulating on the final pitch of their season, with a blown save loss to the Orioles enabling the Tampa Bay Rays to sneak into the postseason by the thinnest of margins.
The Red Sox started their offseason a month sooner than they had expected to on Opening Day, when sportswriters around the country seemed to almost unanimously pick them to be American League and even World Series champions. Instead of wearing a new ring, Francona will spend his winter job-hunting after mutually agreeing with the Red Sox front office that his time was up—just seven years after having lifted the Curse of the Bambino.
The historic proportions of the Red Sox collapse have sent the organization spiraling into chaos. Despite finishing third in the MLB’s toughest division and displaying one of the finest offenses of recent memory, “the choke” has franchise officials forcing drastic change.
While they insist they don’t blame Francona, clearly something went on between him and the team’s management that led him to walk away on his own accord. It also appears to be only a matter of time before general manager Theo Epstein is “allowed to leave” as well. But the Red Sox front office restates that it is not blaming any individuals, especially Epstein and Francona, for the team’s cataclysmic demise.
I’m not buying that for a second. Prior to this season there were hardly any jobs in sports safer than Francona’s and Epstein’s. The fact that both may be gone just a week after the Red Sox were eliminated from postseason contention clearly shows the Sox are pointing fingers. After all, why make these drastic changes if they still thought they had a winning formula?
Saying you don’t blame Francona doesn’t make it true. Besides, Francona isn’t gone because of the fallout of the last few days. He said he (regrettably) wanted to leave because this whole season had been particularly deflating. After a winter that saw his squad catapult to the third-highest payroll in baseball, the incessant pressure to provide the owners with a return for their investment understandably wore him down.
The Boston fans and media have to accept considerable blame for this unfortunate turn of events as well. Francona isn’t their first victim. After all, these are the same people that turned Bill Buckner, an honest big leaguer with more career hits than Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle, into a cursed man.
While Sox fans went into hiding, avoiding their Yankee-sympathizing friends at all costs, the Boston media was rapidly calling for the organization to do something, sensationalizing the whole incident as if it was something other than a storm of injuries and slumping bats that caused the Red Sox to go 7-20 in September. Under no circumstances could this collapse go unpunished, they claimed, regardless of the baseball rationale behind it.
No one really believes Francona didn’t have another good season left in him or that the he’d lost respect in the clubhouse—nothing could be farther from the truth. Nevertheless, Francona had to go after the season to soothe the wounds of a city that thought another title was already in the bag. Expectations toppled yet another hero.
So congratulations, Red Sox Nation. You have just successfully run the best manager in franchise history out of Beantown.