Author Interviews
5:38 am
Sat January 19, 2013

Former Sox Manager Reflects On Turbulent Tenure

Originally published on Sat January 19, 2013 7:13 am

Terry Francona probably never has to buy his own drink in Boston. He's the manager who helped steer the Red Sox to the World Series in 2004 and then again in 2007, turning the franchise from a kind of national sob story into a sleek, rich and successful sports enterprise.

But the Red Sox went into a tailspin at the end of the 2011 season. There were reports in Boston's press about boorish conduct in the clubhouse, matched by clownish play on the field. In the end, Francona was let go by Boston; he's now about to begin his first year as manager of the Cleveland Indians. He joins NPR's Scott Simon to talk about the book he co-wrote with Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, Francona: The Red Sox Years.


Interview Highlights

On Boston's spirit during the 2004 World Series

"When we landed [in Boston] after being in St. Louis, I think it was starting to dawn on me just how important it was to people. The airport scene, the drive back to Fenway on the bus — I mean, it was hard not to be emotional. And then when we started the parade, to see ... between 3 and 4 million people ... elderly people, young people. And then people would send pictures where they put something on their grandparents' gravestone. ... It was just unbelievable, the outpouring of emotion over a baseball team."

On what it takes to manage players like Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon and Josh Beckett

"We try, as a team — and I mean we try desperately — to find an identity. The [2004] team was very ... loose. But when they got on the field, they cared about each other. And when the game started, they played the game the right way. So I thought it would've been wrong to instill my will on that group.

"Now, the [2007] group ... was a lot quieter ... and to try to clone the [2004] team would've been wrong. You know, I don't care about the decibel level in the clubhouse. What I care about are guys playing the game the right way and caring about each other on the field. And both of those teams did it, they just did it in a very different way."

On clubhouse employees, aka "clubbies"

"It's hard to be a clubhouse guy without being a great guy. I mean, the nature of the job is, you know, you're picking up dirty clothes and you're doing all the tasks that the players — that nobody else wants to do. ... A lot of times when we're acquiring a player, if I know the clubhouse guy on that team, I'll call him. Because they know. They know what kind of guy the guy [player] really is."

On "open wallet hour" in the clubhouse

"It's not [just] the hour. I've never, in 31 years of professional baseball, I've never put my wallet in the safe or locked it up. It always sits on the edge of my desk. And anybody knows, if they need money, [to] go get it. Just put it back. We had a clubhouse kid named Pooky that used to go in there all the time if he needed money. And he always put it back, and I never checked.

"I think the outside world can learn a lot about how to act by watching a major league clubhouse. I don't think you want to do everything the same, but there's a lot of things I think people could learn from."

On managing, and playing pickup ball with, Michael Jordan

"We were out in the Fall League in Arizona, and [it] started out being just a little bit of shooting around. One thing led to another, and we started playing games, and [the] games got a little bit more competitive and I was getting a little tired, so I shot — made a long shot towards the end of the game. It hit the rim real hard and bounced towards the middle of the court. And Curtis Pride was a player on the other team, and went down and [scored] and the game was over. I was kind of glad because I was tired.

"And as I was walking off the court, I heard the ball rattling off the window, and Michael had kicked it — and he was mad. And he walked up behind me and goes, 'Hey, man, I always shoot last.' And I didn't really quite grasp what he said, and he said it again. And I was like, 'Well, you know, this isn't on TV,' and he goes, 'I don't care. I always shoot last.' And I said, 'Well, now you know how I feel when I watch you try to hit a curveball.'

"And he took about two steps and he just hit the floor. I mean, he liked — he genuinely liked being treated like everybody else, and he really liked being one of the guys."

On achieving success

"For me, the fun part is the journey. ... After the World Series was over and everybody was jumping up and down, I know I'd retreat to my office, and it was like, 'OK, what's next?' ... It felt like it was in slow motion. So I got to live through it, and for me that was enough."

Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Terry Francona probably never has to buy his own drink in Boston. He's the manager who helped steer the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series since the Paleolithic era. That was in 2004. He did it again in 2007, turning the franchise from some kind of national sob story into a sleek, rich, successful sports enterprise. Terry Francona was ultimately let go by Boston. He's now written a memoir of his years there with Dan Shaughnessy, the eminent Boston Globe columnist. Their new book, "Francona: The Red Sox Years." And Terry Francona, who's about to begin his first year as manager of the Cleveland Indians, joins us from the studios of WCPN in Cleveland. Thanks very much for being with us.

TERRY FRANCONA: Well, Scott, thanks for having me.

SIMON: What's it like to finally bring Boston to a World Series, as you did in 2004, after all those years?

FRANCONA: When we landed after being in St. Louis, I think it was starting to dawn on me just how important it was to people - elderly people, young people. And then, you know, people would send pictures where they put something on their grandparent's gravestone. You know, I mean, it was just unbelievable, the outpouring of emotion over a baseball team.

SIMON: You talk pretty candidly in this book you've written with Dan Shaughnessy about what it's like to manage a collection of I'll just call them spirited and singular athletes - Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, when he had hair like Fabio, Josh Beckett and others. You have some philosophy about how you do that?

FRANCONA: Well, I think the main thing is, it starts on the first day of spring training, is we try as a team - and when I mean we try desperately to find an identity. You know, the '04 team was very loose and, like the names you just said, free-spirited - Johnny Damon and guys like that, Kevin Millar. But when they got on the field, they cared about each other. And when the game started, they played the game the right way. So, I thought it would have been wrong to instill my will on that group. Now, the '07 group that won was a lot quieter group. It was Mike Lowell. That group of guys was a different group. And to try to clone the '04 team would have been wrong. I don't care about the decibel level in the clubhouse. What I care about are guys playing the game the right way and caring about each other on the field. And both of those teams did it. They just did it in a very different way.

SIMON: You grew up in baseball. Your father played for half a dozen Major League clubs, including the one you now manage there in Cleveland. And I'm very touched in the book the way you talk about the folks who work in the clubhouse; in many ways, people with whom you grew up, the clubbies, as you call them. What do you learn from them?

FRANCONA: It's hard to be a clubhouse guy without being a great guy. I mean, the nature of the job is, you know, you're picking up dirty clothes and you're doing all the tasks that the players - that nobody else wants to do. A lot of times, when we're acquiring a player, if I know the clubhouse guy on that team, I'll call him. Because they know what kind of guy the guy really is. Everywhere I've been, I've always gotten real close to them and I don't think that'll change here in Cleveland. It's just the nature of the job. You know, you spend your whole life at the ballpark. You get really close to those guys.

SIMON: Do you mind telling us about, I think you call it, the open wallet hour?

FRANCONA: Not the hour. That's just the way it's been. You know, I've never in 31 years of professional baseball, I've never put my wallet in a safe or locked it up. It always sits on the edge of my desk. And anybody knows if they need money, go get it. Just put it back. We had a clubhouse kid named Pookie that used to go in there all the time if he needed money and he always put it back. And I never checked. I think the outside world can learn a lot about how to act by watching a Major League clubhouse. I don't think you want to do everything the same, but there's a lot of things I think people can learn from.

SIMON: Let's talk about something I'd like to learn from. I made a list, found myself making a list, reading the book of all the things you were contending with in 2011, in addition to baseball, and all of them arguably, in some cases, even more important. You had this persistent painful knee problem from your playing days where you required surgery and painkillers. You were going through a divorce, which is a shattering event for any family, and you had a son and son-in-law who were, I guess, both in the Marines and serving in Afghanistan.

FRANCONA: It was a difficult time in my personal life. I think I took offense to the fact that that affected the outcome of our team in 2011. My argument would have been on August 31st, we had the best record in baseball, and you didn't hear a peep from anybody. And then a mere two weeks later, you know, we're struggling from our baseball lives and all this comes out when the season's over. You know, none of this ever came out during the year, and I thought it was a little bit below the belt.

SIMON: How much did you learn about handling the press or the public from being Michael Jordan's manager when he was in the minor leagues in Birmingham?

FRANCONA: A ton.

SIMON: Can you tell me the story about - 'cause you would play pickup basketball games with Michael Jordan and others on the team - about the time you took the last shot?

FRANCONA: Yeah. We were out in the fall league in Arizona and started out being just a little bit of shooting around. One thing led to another and we started playing games and games got a little bit more competitive. And I was getting a little tired. So, I shot, made this long shot towards the end of the game and hit the rim real hard and bounced towards the middle of the court. And Curtis Pride was a player on the other team, went down and slammed it. The game was over. I was kind of glad 'cause I was tired. And as I was walking off the court, I heard the ball rattling off the window. And Michael had kicked it, and he was mad. And he walked up behind me, and he goes, hey, man. He goes, I always shoot last. And I didn't really quite grasp what he said. And he said it again. And I was like, well, you know, this isn't on TV. He goes I don't care. I always shoot last. And as he walked away, I said, well, now you know how I feel when I watch you try to hit a curveball. And he took about two steps and just hit the floor. He genuinely liked being treated like everybody else and he really liked being one of the guys.

SIMON: Is success all it's cracked up to be?

FRANCONA: For me, the fun part is the journey. After the World Series is over and everybody's jumping up and down, I know I'd retreat to my office. And it was like, OK, what's next? You know, like watching Dave Roberts steal second base in '04. I mean, it just felt like it was in slow-motion. So, I got to live through it, and for me that was enough.

SIMON: Terry Francona. His new book, written by Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe, is "Francona: The Red Sox Years." Speaking with us from Cleveland. Terry Francona, thanks so much.

FRANCONA: I enjoyed it. Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.