Friday, September 30, 2011

Terry Francona Takes the Blame In the End of His Regime


He was an hour earlier than expected for his meeting with the Red Sox, which was absolutely acceptable by the franchise.

When Terry Francona drove his 2005 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class SL65 AMG to Fenway Park for a lengthy meeting with general manager Theo Epstein and team executives, he probably felt the tension, given the September orgy of 20 losses as the Red Sox floundered with a nine-game hold on a playoff spot.

The reality is that Boston blew its chance and became the first ever team in baseball history to enter September with a nine-game lead for the AL wild card and miss the postseason. The truth of the matter is Boston's season was squandered, with complacency, arrogance and the lack of chemistry.

The recent allegations surfaced through the night, revealing that the Red Sox players were, with the disrespect shown toward Francona, drinking alcohol in the clubhouse during games they weren't on the mound as a starter. There is much suspicion in Beantown, as clubhouse chemistry and the shortage of discipline evoked the greatest collapse in baseball history, that an unbridled relationship is broken between Francona and the Red Sox.

Shortly before Friday afternoon, he left the meeting and his job status remained still in limbo, even when he reportedly told the Boston staff members Thursday that he'll not return. There's a sense he was burned out with his role and had become detached, not committed or driven to be the voice in the Red Sox clubhouse, a few days removed from a historic collapse.

It's not hard to assume that Francona was frustrated with the chemistry issues and the poor leadership, worn down by a divided clubhouse and ballclub in tremendous turmoil since the abysmal meltdown at the worst possible time. The pitching staff may seem relatively blameworthy -- for a starting rotation that finished 28th in the majors in consistent starts, but something else was wrong with this team and unfortunately it is the end of the Francona regime.

In the end, he is the fallen and most scrutinized guy in the Red Sox drastic collapse. He was the man blamed intensely on Yawkey Way, and he decided what was best for him by stepping down as manager. The well-accomplished manager in modern Red Sox history will be relieved of after eight seasons of success with eight wins, five playoff berths and two World Series titles.

These days, as we all know, Tito is blameworthy for the heartbreaker at the end of the season, missing the postseason after a horrifying collapse scripted a horror movie in Beantown. Bearing a dire transition, one that seems surreal in a town that admired Tito, he was an ideal suitor for the Red Sox managerial role with his capabilities to protect his players from criticism.

Before his team was blew the wild-card chase was eliminated from contention, Francona supposedly had a bond with his players. The culpability has not disappeared, and much talk has been fixated on the latest debacle that sort of tarnished the Red Sox, a club taunted for its epic failure. This was the team that needed a change in its fragile culture when it spent an estimate $200 million last offseason to revamp the lineup and contend with the Yankees for the AL East.

But it wasn't enough. It was embarrassing and painful to watch the Red Sox in September. Sadly and clearly, the Red Sox couldn't even manage an 8.5-game lead in less than a month and finished a staggering 7-20. And remember, this came after Boston was considered to be the greatest baseball club for the ages. But what did the Red Sox do with the chance to win the pennant? Blew it. They simply blew it and were badly ridiculed.

He might not deserve it, but 90 percent of the time the manager is hit with the blame -- and Francona happened to be the manager of an unbalanced and perplexed franchise. It was built with talent and arguably had the deepest depth in the majors, until the last game of the season when Jonathan Papelbon delivered the ill-advised pitch to Robert Andino.

It's easy to blame the closer for blowing a one-lead save with one strike left, but many are to blame for Boston's failures. There are, though, many who could take a burden of the blame or slightly some of the responsibility for the saddest ending during one of the captivating nights in baseball, all while the Red Sox mastered history in a negative fashion, no doubt. This time, a lot of people will blame Epstein for the horrible brand of baseball played in the last month.

By now, he feels plenty of the blame for signing incompetent free agents to his $161 million roster and destroying chemistry as the players never blended in together as an effective ballclub. The strategy of the blame game was in full force when designated hitter David Ortiz acted like he was the team's pitching coach and suggested that Alfredo Aceves should have been in the rotation, frustrated with the struggles of rookie starter Kyle Weiland and even Francona.

Since he likes to play the blame game, then why don't we compete with Ortiz, who hasn't played like Big Papi, but Big Slumpi? He tried to race into second base and knew damn well he couldn't run fast enough to beat it, and as a result, he was thrown out. There is definitely something terribly wrong with this team, and Epstein should be held accountable to some degree as well, not only Francona, who ended the franchise's 86-year drought in 2004.

Though he is to blame for stabilizing a clubhouse of a disoriented culture with the lack of consistency and decorum, Epstein -- in his ninth season as Boston GM -- has foolishly invested in futile players and failed to masterfully develop a sturdy pitching rotation. In all, he overspent for John Lackey, who is worth shopping around but no team is interested in accepting his $45.75 million he is owed over the next three seasons.

There are two problems here. The first, which the unworthy outfielder Carl Crawford is set to earn $19.5 million next season, is wastefully spending too much on unproven names. The second is letting the pitchers drink beer at the workplace during games they didn't pitch, one way players can lose respect for their manager and feel they could get away with almost anything. So in every sense, Francona had to leave.

It calls for a change of scenery in Boston and there comes a point typically when a franchise makes changes, which would serve for a brighter purpose in the future. It's simply understood that Francona never earned the fair share of credit he truly deserved. But under his tenure, the organization lived through adversity and stumbled by the instability of his players and ineffectiveness.

It was simply the smartest thing he could have done -- and he stepped down to his own ability reluctant in bearing the circumstances of the scrutiny and unnecessary stress. The bad relationship between Francona and Epstein had been in shambles for a long time, a disconnect nobody ever imagined.

It's too bad he hired Francona, but the only way to restore pride was to part ways with his manager. It's a business, after all.