Francona: The Red Sox Years

Francona Book

I can’t think of a better time of year than the spring to settle in and read a good baseball book. Here in New England, the spring snow storms last a few hours and then the quick glimpses of spring dart in and out of reality. I know that once we get to St. Paddy’s Day and March Madness, that the boys in Red, White and Blue will be making their appearance at Fenway in no time at all.

I have been a Red Sox fan my entire life. I grew up learning about the curse of the Bambino. I played fantasy baseball when you had to mail in your lineup changes! I loved watching Mel Allen shout out his famous “how about that!” on This Week in Baseball. However, as a kid growing up 50 miles west of Boston, I didn’t make too many games. Then I grew up!

Not long after getting a job in Boston, I teamed up with a buddy to acquire season tickets to the Boston Red Sox. This was such a big purchase, but my buddy Brian was a much of a fan as I and we were going to be the good luck charm to end the 80+ year World Series drought in Boston. Going to the games every couple of days made me an even bigger fan! Not to mention, major changes were happening with Red Sox ownership at this time. There was no waiting list for tickets, just buy a package and go. We were buying into the team at the ground level!

The next 8 or so years are almost a blur with tons of playoff appearances, winning teams, losing teams, the 2004 and 2007 World Series Championships were just an overall part of the fantastic run with the most beloved team in New England! Over the last week, these feelings were re-energized through reading the biopic by Terry Francona and Dan Shaugnessy called Francona: The Red Sox Years.

This may be a good time to drop a few fair disclosures. I didn’t buy the book nor did I read it. I epitomized my incredible laziness by getting a free subscription to Audible.com after listening to an advertisement on my favorite morning podcast Wall Street Journal This Morning.

Secondly, I need to admit that I cannot stand Dan Shaugnessey as a Boston sportswriter. In fact, had I not been given an opportunity to get this book for free, I probably wouldn’t have bought it for fear that the scribe’s already inflated ego would get that much bigger from book sales. Dan Shaugnessy represents the worst in sports writing with so many others in Boston. Instead of focusing on the game, opponents and strategy, the crayon holders from the Globe and the Herald instead try to stir up crap in the locker rooms to make the reality TV watchers out there become more interested in the sport. I think it is dumb, but I know the likes of Red Sox ownership absolutely love it! It sells more seats when they can leak nonsense stories about fights in the dugout and pill popping by the manager!

Now back to the book. Clearly most of the content from this story were provided by Francona. He takes the reader through an incredible journey of his life as the son of a professional baseball player with rich stories of meeting baseball greats and how they may intertwine with his future positions. The irony of playing for Dick Williams, while years later sitting in his very seat on Yawkey Way. I was enamored by story after story of his playing days and coaching days with so many incredible people, but also the way in which the book makes you more interested in the rest of the story. One can smell the popcorn, Fenway Franks, and stale beer while metaphorically sitting on the Pesky couch in the skipper’s office.

I was utterly surprised by the complete honesty of Francona’s retelling of his interactions with the ownership group of the Red Sox. It is clear that John Henry is an absentee, but mostly aloof owner, while Tom Werner is constantly looking for a splash on the cover of TMZ. However, it is clear that a great weight of the team over the Francona years fell on Team President Larry Lucchino and General Manager Theo Epstein.

When this book was released back in January, all of the Boston media was hell bent on talking about the hatchet job that Francona did on Lucchino and the absolute love fest he had for Epstein. I think the latter is definitely correct, yet I think the notion that “Tito” blasted Lucchino is another dramatization by Shaugnessy’s media frat brothers to conjure up a story and put money in the writer’s pocket. (I’m sure he needs it more than “Tito”)

I think the story shows a very dedicated President of the Red Sox who was forced to carry out the duties for several very different sets of characters from very different walks of life, indicating the balance the Lucchino, Epstein and Francona demonstrated in alleviating any renegade players or owners. The three clearly kept their reservation intact. Lucchino answered to the owners, and the other two ultimately gained star-power. At the end of the day, loyalties remained where they should.

This book is a great way to kick off the new baseball season. I only wish I could continue to have the insider clubhouse knowledge that Francona provides in a historic fashion. Readers will come away from this story feeling good about being a baseball fan, and with a real education on the business of running a ball club every day.