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Welcome Back Mr. Francona
- Updated: May 23, 2013
It’s kind of crazy to think within a decade the man who lead the Red Sox to not one but two World Series Championships after an 86 year drought would no longer be with the team. That man of course being none other than Terry Francona.
Francona spent four years as the manager of Philadelphia Phillies before making his debut with Boston in 2004. With a 285-363 record with Philly, his welcome to Boston wasn’t exactly upstanding. Then again he was coming into a Red Sox team who’d adapted a culture of losing, how much worse could it be?
He was coming in just an offseason after the devastating lose in the 2003 ALCS, where the Red Sox were right there. They went a hard fought 7 game series with the rival Bronx Bombers before the infamous Aaron Boone home run dashed all hopes. The closest they’d come to winning the pennant since 1986. Let’s not forget about how Fenway Park was so sure of their World Series trip, that they painted the infield grass with the logo before securing their position.
Enter Francona and a new year full of questions and a handful of let down fans. Nobody expected what we got. The Red Sox got off to their typical hot start going 15-6 in April, before cooling off in May –doesn’t that sound familiar– and going 16-14. Overall the Red Sox went 48-38 in the first half of the season. It wasn’t until July 24th that a new life to this team emerged when they erased a five run deficit against the Yankees. The game of course could also be as famous for the brawl that’s associated with it. The game was capped off with a Bill Mueller two-run home run off Mariano Rivera in the 9th. It was at that point where you began to realize the Red Sox were sick of taking the back seat to the Yankees.
Boston went on to go 50-26 in the second half of the season including a nice run in August where they went 21-7 to finish second in the AL East with a record of 98-64 and make the playoffs as a Wild Card.
After a sweep of the Angels it was only right that the Red Sox face off against the Yankees in the ALCS again. Although this time it looked as though it wasn’t going to be a good series.
The Red Sox might have had the season series over the Yankess with a 11-8 record, but the Yankees came out and proved just why they were the best postseason team in baseball history. Jumping out to a quick 3-0 series lead outscoring the Sox 32-16.
I don’t really think I have to go into too much detail of what happened over those next four nights in October. Fueled by a late 9th inning run and 12th inning heroics the Red Sox fought off and extended the series. They went on to win again the next night in 14 innings. Then won the next two in New York to win the series becoming the only team in baseball history to erase a 3-0 series deficit. They made quick work of the St. Louis Cardinals and swept in four games for the first World Series win since 1918.
Even right then Terry Francona the first year manager, etched himself into Red Sox history. A name no Red Sox fan will forget for a long time if ever. He wasn’t done there though. Francona went on to have an even more impressive 2007 season where the Red Sox won yet again. A sweep of the Angels, a 7 game ALCS, and sweep of the World Series. This after not making the playoffs in 2006.
All of a sudden Boston was a winning town again. By this point the Patriots were three time Superbowl winners, the Celtics would go on to win the NBA Championship in 2008, and the Bruins the Stanley Cup in 2011. The fan bases began to become accustomed to winning again and unfortunately that was the start of the pushing out of Francona.
The Red Sox were still playing fantastic ball under Francona but as time progressed the clubhouse became a scene of anarchy as players were free to do whatever they wanted. Rumors of drinking on pitchers’ days off and an overall spoiled winner mentality was growing like a silent killer disease from within the organization.
After 2007 it was a downhill ride for the Red Sox. Like a normal team in baseball, the Red Sox were not repeating or returning to the World Series, but were still making the playoffs. They were eliminated in a 7 game series against the newly dangerous Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, and in 2009 a first round sweep in the ALDS.
Francona was quickly becoming the scapegoat to all the growing problems that were arising on the team. Players not giving a damn and the results showing more and more as the years went on.
In Terry’s critically acclaimed book “Francona: The Red Sox Years” he sheds light to what could be described as “most awesome but stressful years of his life” leading up to his eventual departure from Boston.
The final straws coming after missing the playoffs in 2010 and a complete and utter collapse in September in 2011 that resulted in yet another year not headed to the playoffs. The Red Sox who were at one point crushing baseball yet again, came crashing and burning into the finale of the season. The Red Sox went just 7-20 in their final month of baseball and 35-37 in the second half. All capped off by a 4-3 loss to the Orioles on the final game of the season. All they had to do was win to head to the playoffs. The O’s put 2 runs on in the bottom of the 9th on what would be infamous closer Jonathan Papelbon’s final game as a Red Sox. Dashing any postseason hopes.
Just like that the Francona era was over. Francona was frustrated with his struggles and inability to get things done and told the organization that it was his time to go. There was definitely a growing wedge between him and the head hanchos and Francona described it as “I’m not sure how much support there was from the ownership. I don’t know I felt real comfortable….. I think it’s time for a new voice here.”
Francona finished 744-552 for a 57.4% win rate in his eight years with the Boston. Regardless of where his career takes him Terry Francona will always be a hero and beloved role in the Red Sox lore.
Francona would take the next year off and allow himself to relax and collect himself after some of the most stressful years of his life as the Red Sox skipper. He spent that year as a broadcaster for ESPN.
In that year the Red Sox would experience a new low. Under new skipper Bobby Valentine the Sox would go 69-93, their worst finish since 1965. We won’t dwell too much on that.
Terry couldn’t stay away for long and this season (2013) he returned to manage the Cleveland Indians with a recharged battery. So far he’s turned that team around in a huge way. Currently the Indians are 26-19 and lead the AL Central with a .5 game lead over the Detroit Tigers. Could he repeat his 2004 magic elsewhere?
Today Francona makes his return to Boston as a manager and first time at that since he stood in the home team dugout. The Indians are in town for a four game series against the Sox who are coming home from a road trip where they went 6-3. He’s set to face off against former pitching coach John Farrell who could almost be seen as the protege of Francona. There is no doubt that Francona gets a warm and long standing ovation at the beginning of this game, and it’ll be much deserved. Welcome back Mr. Francona.
*Stats by Baseball-Reference.com
(Photo 1 source) http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/images/stories/large/2008/10/09/francona83081208.jpg
(Photo 2 source) http://cache.boston.com/resize/bonzai-fba/Globe_Photo/2007/10/29/1193640779_7339/410w.jpg
(Photo 3 source) http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.958712!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_635/alg-terry-francona-driving-jpg.jpg
(Photo 4 source) http://i2.cdn.turner.com/si/dam/assets/130408141559-terry-francona-ap2-single-image-cut.jpg
Author: Tyler Arnold
My name is Tyler Arnold, I am the founder, co-owner, and editor-in-chief of The Runner Sports. Sports have been my life since I was young, so here I am doing the only sensible thing, making a career of it. I love it all, and will watch any and every game I possibly can. Thanks for your readership.