Wednesday, October 02, 2013

So Terry Francona Is a Pretty Good Manager

After the 2011 collapse of the Boston Red Sox, it was time for Terry Francona and the team to part ways. Like a relationship that just wasn't going anywhere and was becoming dysfunctional. And then the Red Sox did the equivalent of going on Facebook to badmouth their ex. Francona was blamed for being unaware of the deep-seeded problems that plagued the Red Sox clubhouse. And if he was aware, he was accused of not having enough respect from the players to do anything about it. And most despicably, he was accused of having a prescription drug problem.

Then in 2012 the Red Sox discovered that the clubhouse was just as toxic without Francona. And the team realized that players like Josh Beckett were the real problem.

Were the Red Sox still smart to let Francona go? I suppose they were. It had to happen. But I do think that if he were managing the same 2013 Red Sox team that John Farrell currently manages, the results would probably be similar. But that's just a hypothetical question.

Anyway, how about those Cleveland Indians? We've heard Francona jokingly remark about his team's success, attributing it to avoiding chicken and beer. I would love to hear what John Henry and Larry Lucchino think of the Indians' success, and how their former manager is doing in Cleveland.

I confess that I don't follow the Indians that closely, and have no idea why or how they went from a 68-94 record in 2012 to a 92-70 record in 2013 (an improvement of 24 wins, very close to the 28 win improvement the Red Sox made from 2012 to 2013). Masterson and Jimenez are pitching much better in 2013, just like how Lester and Lackey are pitching much better in 2013. The Indians have allowed 1.13 runs less per game in 2013 than they did in 2012. That's huge.

How much of that is the manager's doing? Not much. Essentially nothing. The players are playing better. Francona has little to do with that.

And that's what makes Francona a good MLB manager. He doesn't try to do more than manage. He lets his players be themselves. He let Kevin Millar be a goofball. He let Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling be prima donnas. He let Manny be Manny and he let Kevin Youkilis be a prick. And the team won.

That was also Francona's ultimate undoing here in Boston. He let slackers be slackers. But out in Cleveland he has a group of no-names, a couple of has-beens, and a hodgepodge of semi-notable pitchers. Brett Myers found his way into 4 games out there. Jason Giambi, Nick Swisher, Matt Albers, former Devil Ray Scott Kazmir, Mike Aviles. It's like a roster you'd get in a 20-team fantasy baseball league and you didn't have a pick until the 5th round.

So Francona is a good manager because of what he doesn't do. He doesn't try to force people to be something they're not. He doesn't use the media to make examples out of people. He doesn't give inspirational speeches or come up with clever schemes to steal games. He manages with a relaxed confidence, and sometimes teams respond to that and play with the same kind of calm swagger.

Terry Francona isn't the reason the Indians improved by 24 wins. He, in a uniquely Francona way, allowed Masterson, Jimenez, Kazmir, and the rest of the players to become the reason.