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Sports Media

Terry Francona needs to be critical on TV

Terry Francona stopped by Blue Jays camp to chat with manager John Farrell in the ex-Red Sox manager’s new role as an ESPN analyst.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press/AP

Terry Francona stopped by Blue Jays camp to chat with manager John Farrell in the ex-Red Sox manager’s new role as an ESPN analyst.

Don’t turn into that guy, Terry Francona.

Don’t become ESPN’s baseball version of Jon Gruden, an analyst whose charisma only sometimes masks an annoying reluctance to offer criticism of past and perhaps future peers.

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Gruden, the former Raiders and Buccaneers coach who is now a “Monday Night Football’’ analyst and helped recruit Francona to ESPN, is an enjoyable personality with a sharp sense of humor. He is already a television star. But he could be much more if not for his habit of cheerleading pretty much every player and coach in the league.

The perception that Gruden does not want his words to come back and bite him - should he ever return to the sidelines - is a fair one.

That’s why it was disappointing when Francona, the former Red Sox manager who parlayed a well-received two-game stint as an analyst for Fox during the 2011 American League Championship Series into a prominent role on ESPN’s baseball coverage, backed down this week from comments he made about the Red Sox’ decision to ban beer in the clubhouse.

“I think it’s a PR move,’’ Francona said on ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning’’ program. “I think if a guy wants a beer, he can probably get one. You know, it’s kind of the old rule . . . if your coach in football says no hard liquor on the plane - I mean, you serve beer and wine - somebody’s going to sneak liquor on the plane.’’

The comments were relatively benign; public relations certainly were a factor in the decision after the beer-and-chicken nonsense that stands as the tired punch line of the Red Sox’ September collapse, which happened on Francona’s watch.

But after new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine offered a rebuttal/retort, Francona retreated, telling the Globe’s Nick Cafardo, “I need to be more careful when speaking about the Red Sox. I didn’t mean anything derogatory about the team or Bobby when I said that. It was just an issue that’s been played out so publicly. I thought I was consistent in what I said all day yesterday, but I need to be more careful.’’

No, he doesn’t. Francona is being paid to offer opinions, and while his departure from Boston was ugly, there is no team he knows better than the Red Sox. Part of his appeal during the Fox broadcasts were the insight and humor regarding Detroit’s Victor Martinez and Texas’s Adrian Beltre, players he once managed. It was refreshing.

Francona has not hidden his desire to manage again. But here’s hoping that during his time as analyst, however long it may be, he doesn’t rely on the see-no-blunder approach of Gruden to ensure that he doesn’t alienate a future employer.

It took just two games last fall to realize Francona is so much better than that.

An eye on Arnold

This week’s news that Dale Arnold has signed a new contract with WEEI a little more than a year after he was blind-sided by a programming shakeup that left him demoted to mostly weekend hosting and fill-in duty might have surprised some.

Maybe it shouldn’t have. While industry sources said Arnold could have taken a similar role at 98.5 The Sports Hub, there were no openings in the station’s thriving daily schedule. His options were limited.

But perhaps they won’t be in the long term. While Arnold has emphasized that NESN, for whom he serves as studio host on Bruins programming, is his primary commitment right now, it’s irresistible to speculate on whether he could end up back on WEEI’s daytime programming.

The “Mut and Merloni’’ program - which replaced the “Dale and Holley Show’’ last February - has struggled in the Arbitron ratings compared with its 98.5 The Sports Hub midday counterpart, the “Gresh and Zo’’ show.

Again, it’s speculation, but sometimes speculation prevents surprises. There was backlash to Arnold’s demotion, and should “Mut and Merloni’’ not close the gap on the Patriots-centric “Gresh and Zo’’ show during baseball season, perhaps Arnold will have a bigger, and familiar, role once again.

Santos may return

Gil Santos has told management at CBS Radio Boston that he wants to return next season as the play-by-play voice of the Patriots on 98.5 The Sports Hub, and though nothing is official, the belief is that he will be back for a 36th season. Gino Cappelletti, his longtime partner on the broadcasts, is expected to retire, with Scott Zolak, who thrived as the third voice on the broadcast this year, taking over in the conventional analyst’s role.

Tee time with Russell

Filing this one under must-see: Bill Russell will be featured on Golf Channel’s “Feherty’’ Monday at 10 p.m. Host David Feherty will play a round with the Celtics icon on his favorite Seattle-area course. Russell talks to Feherty about much more than golf, including growing up in the ’30s and ’40s, dealing with racism, and his relationship with Red Auerbach. Compelling stuff . . . Encouraging debut by Taylor Twellman as ESPN’s primary soccer analyst during the United States’s 1-0 win over Italy in a friendly Wednesday. Twellman, the former Revolution star who will serve as analyst on the network’s MLS coverage beginning this month, let the game breathe and spoke only when he had insight to contribute, impressive for a relative newcomer who tended to be too enthusiastic during past co-hosting gigs on Comcast SportsNet New England’s “Sports Tonight.’’

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.
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