In his eight seasons as manager of the Red Sox, Terry Francona generally protected his players when they veered off the path. It was one of the qualities that made him the best manager in franchise history.
In his new book, Francona stays loyal to that ideal. But there are some interesting passages in “Francona: The Red Sox Years.”
The book, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, was written with Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy. It’s essentially a biography of Francona with an emphasis on his time with the Sox. Along the way you will learn how difficult it was to manage Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez. You’ll hear about the time David Wells threatened to punch the manager.
Daisuke Matsuzaka was a diva and the end of Nomar Garciaparra’s tenure in Boston was difficult. No surprises there. But even a few selfish moments from David Ortiz are detailed.
Reading the book will give you a newfound appreciation for Francona and all the personalities he had to contend with.
The book details the 2005 incident when Ramirez refused to play in Tampa Bay when the team was shorthanded. Francona made it clear he was annoyed when he spoke to the media and a controversy erupted. When John Henry told Francona he wanted him to make a public apology, Francona was prepared to quit.
“John had a blind spot for Manny,” Francona says in the book. “Manny was the perfect player because of his numbers. But I was livid that day.”
Francona and Shaughnessy started the book soon after Francona was fired by the Red Sox. So it’s not a surprise that Henry, chairman Tom Werner and team president Larry Lucchino are targets for his ire.
Henry comes across as cold and distant, refusing to acknowledge email from Francona in 2012 despite their close ties for eight years. Lucchino is cast as a bully who refuses to call Francona by his first name.
“I’ve been around a lot of baseball managers,” Lucchino told Francona, according to the book. “But you, by far, make me the most uncomfortable.”
Werner is painted as being hungry for attention to escape Henry’s shadow.
Theo Epstein had to bridge the gap between the clubhouse and the ownership group. There are many passages about how he kept the peace during tough times.
It was interesting to learn that Epstein hired two “outside consultants” to put together proposed lineups for Francona every day. Eric Van was hired after Henry noticed him on the Sons of Sam Horn message board. Voros McCracken, a pioneer in sabermetrics, was the other.
Francona never met them and he wasn’t mandated to use their lineups. But at one point Francona told Epstein he had enough of the suggestions and to keep them to himself.
Even the doctors and trainers added to the drama at Fenway Park.
“Our medical staff was all [expletive] up. There were more egos on the medical staff than there were on the team,” Francona says in the book. “Without [Dr.] Larry Ronan, it wouldn’t have worked.”
Francona also details how players like Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, and Gabe Kapler helped forge team chemistry. There are terrific anecdotes about his fondness for the clubhouse guys and team employees. Just how much Francona loves baseball and the people in the game comes through.
When Jon Lester called to say he was cancer free, Francona broke down crying. He once wrote a check out to advance scout Dave Jauss when the players failed to vote him a full playoff share in 2004.
There’s not much said about Francona’s private life — although he does admit to hoarding pain pills in 2012 because of his many physical ailments.
There’s an amusing passage about how Derek Jeter always would acknowledge Francona before his first at-bat. But when Alex Rodriguez tried it, Francona ignored him. You’ll laugh learning about the time Michelle Damon and Shonda Schilling started fighting in the family room.
Francona largely gives a pass to the “chicken and beer” crew while acknowledging how difficult the 2011 team was to manage. At one point, when Lester disappeared into the clubhouse during a game, Francona sarcastically asked him what the score of the Jets game was when he finally returned to the dugout.
This is not a book for kids. The language is coarse and the opinions unfiltered. But for Red Sox fans who want more than the team-approved version of events, it’s a fun read.
For years, you had to wonder what Francona really thought. We’ll probably never know 100 percent, but this book gets you very close.
My thought after finishing the book? Good luck to John Farrell.