On January 16, I published a critical article that reviewed Boston.com’s excerpt of Dan Shaughnessy and Terry Francona’s book “Francona: The Red Sox Years.” In my article, I took the stance that Francona’s revelation that the Red Sox’ owners cared more about making money than baseball was not surprising, and that their prioritization, whether true or not, has no merit to whether the ownership group has been good or bad.
In fact, I was clear that I thought the ownership group has been a good one.
Even more recently, Sports Illustrated published an excerpt of the book (which is being released today) about what that publication called the “demise of the Red Sox empire.” In that piece, there was a fairly expansive revelation of the issues that led to Francona’s firing after the 2011 season.
After reading the piece, I am more convinced than ever that Francona deserved a big share of the blame for the collapse of the 2011 team that led the AL East by nine games in September.
In his own words he said, “Somebody would strike out and go look at video instead of staying on the bench. There was just a lot of frustration with a lot of things. Without the voices of the coaches and the veteran players, I was doing a lot more of that work, and the players were like, ‘F—, man, where is this coming from?’ It catches up with you.”
The “work” he was doing was trying to confront the players, or at the very least get them focused. While the quote is slightly ambiguous, I believe what caught up with him was his managerial style. If you want your players in the dugout instead of breaking down film, say so. If you want your players on the bench instead of playing video games, say so. It was his passive, non-aggressive style that ultimately caught up with him because when Gabe Kapler, Eric Hinske and John Farrell left, there was nobody else around to do the deeds he previously found too confrontational.
In the end, he couldn’t be the heavy. It wasn’t him and the players knew it.
From the excerpts, Dan Shaughnessy tries at length to depict the owners as being detrimental to the team. From Werner ruffling Francona’s feathers because the owner told him that the 2010 season was “s—-” (it was), to the Red Sox’ marketing research project showing that the fans — particularly females — want “sexy players” (they do), to making it sound like Henry giving Epstein $296 million to sign two players was a bad thing.
How many GM’s in baseball would kill for an owner to give them that kind of monetary backing? What do you think a small market GM like Billy Bean would say about the opportunity to add payroll? Having a GM get angry over getting more money is a ridiculous premise.
The truth is, with the added payroll came added expectations, and Epstein knew he was suddenly being put on the hot seat, especially after seeing Francona get fired. He couldn’t handle the heat, so he scrambled out of town.
Epstein says that in the offseason between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, the team “was the farthest thing removed from what we set out to be,” but in actuality, the Red Sox were exactly what they wanted to be. They wanted to be capable of competing with the New York Yankees.
When Epstein was throwing chairs around in his hotel room because the Yankees trumped him for Jose Contreras, it was because he wanted to compete with the Yankees. When they fired Grady Little despite him helping the team get one win away from the World Series, it was because they wanted to beat the Yankees. When they posted a ridiculous fee and signed Daisuke Matsuzaka to an absurd contract, it’s because they wanted to beat the Yankees. When the ownership group started Fenway Sports Group, they did so, in part, to compete with Yankee Global Enterprises, which was created in 1999. Everything that they’ve done, they’ve done so to compete with the biggest, most lucrative franchise in the game, the New York Yankees.
So to say that the Red Sox are something today that either Epstein never wanted or that the fans never wanted, is preposterous. We all wanted this ownership to bring the Red Sox to a position where they could compete with the Yankees, and the last time I checked they have done that and then some.
Going forward, despite whatever Shaughnessy crafts, I’ll know the truth: that this ownership’s tenure in Boston has been a success, both in terms of competitiveness and their willingness to do what the fans request.
And that Francona’s demise, as well as Epstein’s, were directly related to their performance (or lack of), and that the ownership did almost all that it could to stay out of their way and let them do their jobs, including going over seas to try and make some more money.
Feature Photo Credit: Eric Kilby