A conversation with Terry Francona
May, 7, 2010
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com
Red Sox manager Terry Francona sat down with me this week for an interview, portions of which will be aired as the “Sunday conversation” on SportsCenter.
GE: So you don't go into your neighborhood Starbucks and get a referendum on how you managed the game the night before?
TF: I actually do go in there from time to time on my way to the ballpark, and I do get some opinions. Again, sometimes you laugh, but it doesn't help. This job's hard enough; when it gets clouded with so many opinions, or, like you say, talk radio or newspapers, it just doesn't help, so I try to keep my mind as clear as I can, which isn't always easy.
GE: What do you do, Terry, to get away from the game?
TF: I don't. I don't do it good enough. It's terrible. Um, that's something that I'm always aware of. Because it's healthy [to get away], I think, even in my job, [but] I do a poor job of that. I come to the ballpark, when we lose I come earlier, and it's habit and it doesn't help. But I guess I feel responsible for being here, but I don't know what that does sometimes.
GE: In a recent series against Baltimore, I know you came to the ballpark after a night game, after a long night game, you were at the ballpark at 7:30 in the morning. Have there been nights that you've actually spent the night in your office, in the ballpark?
TF: Yeah, I have done that. Not too often. Late night games when we have an early day game and I have a commitment here, something like that, but I try not to do that. But there's been times over the last six, seven years where you just, it's the Yankees series or something like that, you go till 1:30 in the morning and you know what, if I can just lay on the couch and pull on a blanket, I'll get a couple hours more sleep.
GE: Terry, how would you describe the nature of your relationship with Theo [Epstein] in terms of the day-to-day operation of the ball club, and how has that changed in the years that you've been here?
TF: Well, I think, I don't think you can go seven years together anywhere, especially here, without having an enormous amount of trust. I think that has really grown. We have the ability probably more now, because we know each other, to disagree, which is good. I don't think they want a manager who doesn't have a strong opinion... There's a balance, though. You try not to be stubborn or bull-headed, but we all walk that line sometimes. I'm guilty of that sometimes but I think we've done a good job. This is a tough place to be, a lot of emotions go into it and it's not once a week, it's every day, and I think we've done a good job.
GE: You're in an environment, again, this is something I don't have to tell you, where there are nightly polls on your television broadcast of your games about whether David [Ortiz] should play or not play. You had a situation this week where he had a game he struck out twice, hit into two double plays, one bases loaded no outs, and you said after that game 'we’re not going to run away from David.' The next day you had him in the lineup, he hits a home run and single. What factors go into making that decision of whether he plays or not?
TF: Well, again, it kind of comes back to, it wouldn't do me any good to look at a fans poll. You know, I mean, I'll end up being a fan. I don't want to do that. Again, me and the coaches, we spend a lot of time here and we try to make good decisions, but we try not to make reactionary decisions. If I were to manage like that, this place would be a mess. It's hard enough as it is, but you can't react to everything. Sometimes the best thing you can do is take a deep breath, sit back and let guys play and show some support. Sometimes it's not easy, I'm human, I get impatient, but that's where you make mistakes.
GE: You have a roster in which four veterans -- David, Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield -- made enormous contributions to this club in the past and are now in different roles for you. How difficult is it to manage that transition and do you give them extra consideration because of who they are?
TF: I hope, I hope we give everybody extra consideration, That's the way we try to do it. I know who they are, what they've done, what they will do. I think it can be difficult if we allow it to be. I think any time there's change, especially with veterans, guys that have done something in a place, they're not in a new club, they're with a club they've had some success [with]. I'm talking about a World Series MVP, one of the best DH's of all time, our captain, so some names, guys gonna break almost every pitching record in the organization, so sometimes with change it can get a little bit, a little bit different for a while, but that's our responsibility to handle that. If that gets in the way of us winning, that's not helping anybody. So again, sometimes for a while it can seem a little muddled, and we have to answer questions and we have to get used to things, but that's my responsibility to make it work.
GE: Terry, in the course of your career, what's the toughest conversation you've ever had with a player about either being traded, released or benched, and did your own experience as a player help you deal with those situations?
TF: I hope, I hope so, I think so. I had a lot of them. I think in the minor leagues when you have to release somebody, that's probably the hardest. There are a lot of conversations that aren't fun, and again, our conversations, regardless of how we feel about people, we tell them how we feel. It doesn't change the message. Sometimes it's hard, that's human nature. But in the minor leagues when you have to release somebody, there's a pretty good chance they're going home and they haven't had a chance to make money and they're not living out their dream, so those are some really -- and they're younger -- those are tough conversations.
GE: I recall that when Joe Torre was still here managing the Yankees you and he had an opportunity to compare notes at times and both pretty much concur that sometimes a Yankees-Red Sox game felt like 162 games. I mean, it does grind you down a little bit, does it not?
TF: [interrupts question] I mean, yeah, I mean, when we leave, I've had other managers tell me 'I don't know how you guys do it.' You know, they'll come out of a three-game series in New York and they'll feel like they've just been, just obliterated. They're tired, they're, the hangover effect. We do it a lot, it’s the way it is, so, again, the baseball's so good, that's enough for me. I get tired of some of the extracurricular stuff and everybody wants to be part of it and you answer questions that sometimes aren't there, if things are there you have to answer them 20 times, that's a part of it. For me the games are really special because there's so many good players on both sides.
GE: The Yankees are here this weekend. How does this Yankee team compare, in your view, to other teams that you've managed against?
TF: Well, we don't know yet. I mean, we've played them once. This game is so crazy. Last year, the first part of the year, we did a pretty good job against them, but we couldn't beat them the second part of the year. Things change during the year. We really try hard to live out what we say. By that I say when we play New York that's the most important series. Tonight we need to beat Anaheim and then Toronto's coming in. That's kind of how we feel. You do it differently you get yourself in trouble.
GE: You had an umpire who worked the last Yankees-Red Sox series, Joe West, who described the teams as quote 'pathetic' and quote 'embarrassing' for the pace of those games. How do you respond to that as manager?
TF: I'm not sure it's my place to respond. Now, at the same time I don't know that I thought it was his place to ignite that, or to comment on that. That's probably how I feel. I've never been, nobody's ever said anything to me about it since, but I haven't seen Joe either, so, again, when you're talking about people that run the game, as a manager, you need to probably temper your comments a little bit. I think that's probably the best way to go, but it was worrisome.
GE: As you know, Joe has not worked a Red Sox series since then. Is it going to be a little awkward when he does?
TF: Well, it's not like we go to dinner anyway. I mean, you know what I'm saying. Umpires are umpires and we do our job. Certainly you have different relationships with different umpires, as you gain trust, or young guys or guys who have been around, that's just human nature. Joe's always been Joe, he's never gonna change. Again, what happened, things have a way of working out. Again, you can't go through a whole season without having something, somebody upset some apple cart. There's just too much emotions going on.
GE: As someone who did manage in Philadelphia, I feel you are probably in a position to answer this question: How did you feel about the fan getting tased, who ran onto the field last week?
TF: I don't think the fan should have been on the field. I'm not smart enough to be able to set what's right and what's wrong regarding rules and laws, I've got my hands full putting a hit and run on, but I do know fans need to stay off the field. In this day and age, it's not as funny as it used to be, so again, that's probably how I feel about that.
GE: Terry, to this point, anyway, you've been a baseball lifer, the son of a baseball player, a player yourself, coach, manager, you name it. Are there things that you want to accomplish in life that require you to step away from baseball at some point or do you see yourself remaining in the game, or are there other factors that might impact your decision how much longer you remain in the game?
TF: I don't have any, there's nothing else that I think, I don't know what else I could do. The more I, when I play golf, the more I play the worse I get. Uh, I love baseball. I don't need to be a major league manager my whole life, that's not my ambition. I think it would probably kill me. Uh, I do want, I love staying, I love being part of the game. Some of my happiest days were as a minor league manager. Pay day wasn't very good but it was gratifying. I loved it, so maybe someday, who knows, maybe you go back to the minor leagues in a different capacity. I haven't given it a lot of thought. This job consumes almost every minute of the day, as I bet you if you talk to Jim Leyland or Tony La Russa they're going to say the same thing. It's just the way the job is.
GE: Terry, are there things you have to do to protect your family in this environment from the slings and arrows that may be directed toward you as manager? Is it difficult? I know your kids are a little bit older now, but did they have some difficult periods hearing their dad get whacked in radio, newspaper?
TF: I think everybody's probably a little different, depending on what age they are or where they were, whether it was funny or hurtful. You know, there are things that come up, I don't know how to get around that. Hopefully, the one thing we've always tried to do is separate. If we lose and I go home, they shouldn’t have to tiptoe around the house. You're right, they are a little older and it's a little bit different, but if that was the case when they were younger, I was not handling it very well. And I probably haven't handled it always very well. It's hard to go home when you've lost four in a row and feel like everything's great, but at the same time, that shouldn't be their responsibility to bear that.
GE: Your team this week reached the .500 level as John Lackey, who won that game that put you at .500, said, 'Look, that's just a starting point, we've got to go a long way beyond that.' But are you concerned at all when you see how well the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays are playing in your division?
TF: I think I said 10 to 15 times this spring how good I thought Tampa was. That wasn't just coach speak or manager talk. They're good, they're really good. I think we can be really good. We haven't been as good as we've needed to be to this point. We're fighting back. As you said, we got to .500. That's not where we need to be, but from where we came, we're playing better baseball, that's all you can do. It's like a hitter that's struggling. You can't go 3 for 1. You get yourself in trouble, so whatever you did last week let's just stay in the present. The best way to know how to do things right is stay in the present, spend your energy on what you can control and try to do it to the best of your ability.
GE: Was there anything in your experience that prepared you for having to take the kind of abuse you get on a daily basis from Dustin Pedroia?
TF: (laughs) Oh, I think I've been that way my whole career, and I laugh. I mean, what, I think I have thick skin. I've got no hair, my nose is a couple sizes too big for my face, I wasn't that good a player. I mean, growing up in a clubhouse atmosphere and not being a real good player, you learn to have thick skin.