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Red Sox and Francona Split

I just had to push at least one more post out before the end of the month. I'll beat the deadline...barely. It wasn't a kind month for blog posts for many reasons:
  • The Mariners sucked
  • There weren't pennant races until the last week of the season (but how awesome were they once they showed up?)
  • My job ramped up again with the start of the school year, meaning lots of training at the start of the month
  • My job is also strongly tied to Tacoma Public Schools, so the teacher strike threw off my schedule pretty good for a good chunk of the month after training
  • I've been working on some bigger posts, which will come out in October
I do post things in my Google reader somewhat frequently (click on the "Reader" tab above to get to it), if you are ever looking for something to read with your downtime that is almost always related to sports.

With my apology and explanation out of the way, back to baseball. It's been a crazy week, and with the playoffs here, the craziness may not stop (though I think we've already seen the most dramatic action we'll get). Even with all the drama on the field, the most inexplicable news to me came out this morning, when Terry Francona and the Boston Red Sox split ways.

Francona spent eight years in Boston. He compiled a 1296-744 record, good for a .574 winning percentage. The Red Sox never had a losing season under him, and really never were that close. Their worst season under him came in 2006, when they went 86-76. Boston made the playoffs five times under Terry's lead, although interestingly only claimed one division title. Of course, Francona's legacy will be as the manager of the team that broke the curse of the Bambino in 2004.

There's really no getting around that Terry Francona did a good job. His teams won lots of games for an extended period of time in a market that is obsessed (for better and worse) with its team. He deserves some credit for being a part of the team that broke one of the more fabled curses in American sports, and doing so by overcoming a 3-0 deficit in the 2004 ALCS (never done before or since in baseball). I probably should bone up on my Red Sox history before saying this, but Francona has to be in the argument for best BoSox manager of all-time.

There's also no getting around that Francona only had so much to do with the winning. The gobs of cash that Boston spent on talent helped him out, as well as the front office that handled said cash and personnel decisions. How difficult is it to fill out a lineup card with Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz in the heart of the order, and guys like Curt Schilling and Jon Lester at the top of the rotation?

I'll go out on a limb and predict that the Red Sox will still win ballgames with whomever replaces Francona, but this still looks like an uncharacteristically short-sighted moved by Boston.

One of my roommates in college had an acronym he lived by, to a degree. It was "HALT" (if I remember right, which I might not). He said his mom always said to never make a decision when Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.*

*I'm pretty sure I'm remembering it right

Everyone that was a part of the 2011 Red Sox really should have HALTed. How couldn't they at least be angry and tired? A fabulous season went up in smoke. Promising dreams turned into nightmares. Their collapse will be remembered for years to come, if not generations. That might seem like it's going too far, but there isn't much that is too far when talking about a team with as rabid of a core fan base as the Red Sox.**

**And no, when I speak of their core, I'm not speaking of the bandwagon "Red Sox nation," which can stop infiltrating Safeco Field whenever they want...

Why is anyone connected to Boston making any decisions about the team just days after such a monumental collapse? That includes Terry Francona. Why did they have a meeting today at all? What was so imperative about today's meeting and decision that it HAD to happen today? Not much happens in baseball during the playoffs aside from the playoffs, by design. There is the gentleman's gag order that might as well be a written rule by Commissioner Selig. Wouldn't it have been better to use that gag order as a natural excuse to take a few deep breaths after such a dramatic collapse?

In the grand scheme of things the Red Sox budget for, a manager doesn't cost much. Even with the intense spotlight, it's a very attractive position. If Boston ends up with a bad manager, it will be due to bad judgement, not a lack of anything to find something less than a great replacement.

Terry Francona walks away with a stellar reputation. He will have his suitors, and lucrative offers to manage other teams. If he wants to take a break I'm sure ESPN, the MLB Network, or some major media outlet would love to hire him to talk about baseball in some capacity. It's not as if Francona walks away without any prospects of a good future.

Often, bad decisions are easiest to see in hindsight, once terrible consequences have come about. The Red Sox-Francona split is doubtful to look awful for either side down the road, so history isn't very likely to look back on it with harsh eyes. Still, make no mistake, it's a bad decision, or at least a decision that was made poorly.

Certainly, given that I am as outside as an outsider gets, there are significant factors driving this split that I have no idea about. However, sometimes outsiders can see some things more clearly without a bunch of details clouding the picture. Bottom line, the Red Sox have never been a more successful franchise than in the past eight seasons. Boston just lost a piece of the leadership that finally brought the franchise to the heights it probably was capable of reaching ages ago. On some level, it looks like they just let a horrendous month overpower a couple World Series titles.

Or maybe Francona let a horrendous month obscure all the success, I don't know. Maybe both sides are culpable. Whatever the truth is, the split came way too quickly, if it was necessary at all. We'll never know if Theo Epstein, John Henry, Terry Francona, or anyone else wakes up a week from now with a twinge of regret, but I'd say it's likely. How could perspective prevail when this decision was made in the shadow of such a gloomy finish?

For a franchise that has become disciplined, consistent, and the poster child for how to run a franchise these days, watching Francona leave is a very uncharacteristic move to see. Even if it doesn't turn out bad for anyone involved, it's still more inexplicable than a blown save, or a walk-off home run. Those things happen from time to time. Rash decisions like this out of a team as methodical as the Red Sox simply don't.