Francona got help from a friend during Ortiz struggles

December, 2, 2010
12/02/10
1:23
PM ET
Fascinating anecdote from Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski about the friendship between Scott Pioli, the former Patriots VP and general manager of football’s Kansas City Chiefs, and Red Sox manager Terry Francona. The men first met through their mutual Cleveland connections, Pioli having worked with Bill Belichick when he coached the Browns and Francona having served in the Indians’ front office as a special assistant in 2001.

They really hit it off, Francona told Posnanski, when both were inducted into the Italian-American Hall of Fame in 2008 and spent most of the evening engrossed in conversation. Pioli has been a visitor on a number of occasions since, both at Fenway Park and during spring training in Fort Myers.

Here’s an excerpt from the SI piece, which is in the “Sportsman of the Year” issue and can be read in its entirety here.

And so they have leaned on each other about what kind of players you need to make a team, what kind of leaders you need, how you handle the roughest situations. Just this year, when the Red Sox struggled in April and early May, Francona would often talk to Pioli about David Ortiz. Ortiz, of course, is a Boston icon, one of the best and most popular players in recent Red Sox history, a leader on the 2004 and '07 World Series winners. And Ortiz was utterly helpless at the plate. He was hitting .143 with one home run on May 1. He looked sapped and old at 34, and Francona felt utterly conflicted.

"What do you do when an icon is not playing well?" Pioli asks. "Terry and I talked about that a lot. That's one of the toughest questions we face. On the one hand the team always matters more than the individual. But on the other hand there are questions about loyalty. I mean, Big Papi, there you have a great player who has done so much for the team both on the field and off. And everyone is watching—the fans, the other players, the media. Everyone is watching."

Francona admits he wasn't sure if Ortiz would come out of it. "I think you just try to be aware," Francona says. "That's one of the things Scott and I talk about. You just try to be aware of everything, let it all in, and you don't make decisions with your emotions. I know David felt we weren't staying with him. And I know a lot of other people thought we were staying with him too much. It's all how you look at it."

In the end Francona mostly stayed with Ortiz—who went on to hit .286 with 31 homers and a .558 slugging percentage from May 1 through the rest of the season.

"It was difficult," Francona says. "I know Scott feels this way. You have to look at the big picture. Then you have to look at the small picture. Then you have to look how the small picture affects the big pictures. Let's face it. There are a lot of pictures."

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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