Terry Francona spent Wednesday afternoon on a Tucson golf course and planned to watch some of the World Series on television, but it’s a mistake to assume that he’ll be glued to his chair for these games like the citizens of Red Sox Nation.
“I’m sure I’ll keep an eye on it, but I won’t sit and watch it,’’ Francona said over the phone before the Red Sox’ 8-1 Game 1 win over the Cardinals. “I’ll know what’s going on, but I can’t say I’ll sit and watch from beginning to end.’’
Does he care who wins?
“I’m rooting for great baseball,’’ said the former Sox skipper. “But saying that, I have some emotional ties to some of the guys on the Red Sox.
“John Farrell is not just a friend in baseball, he’s a personal friend. [David] Ortiz, [Dustin] Pedroia, some guys in the front office, Ben Cherington, Brian O’Halloran, Mike Hazen, I’m close with those guys.
“There’s a lot of relationships that go back 10 years and that’s a lot of time in baseball. When they flashed Ben’s picture up in the booth during the playoffs, he was kind of stoic. I was proud for him. He’s done a great job.’’
Farrell was Francona’s pitching coach in Boston for four seasons. Tito was pretty sure the Sox had a winner when they hired Farrell to manage.
“Not only did he understand the Boston situation, he got it,’’ said Francona. “You can understand it, and still get steamrolled. I think he can handle it.
“The day he got hired, the glass instantly got half-full with a lot of the players. There was instant buy-in, and you’re seeing the byproduct of that. It always takes a lot of hard work, but the day John was named manager, I guarantee there were a lot of happy players.’’
Francona made the playoffs fives times in eight years with the Red Sox. His teams averaged 93 wins per season and he never managed a Fenway game that was not a sellout.
St. Louis is part of his baseball memory locker, too. He spent part of his childhood going to Busch Stadium to watch his dad play for the Cardinals. His own promising big league career was dramatically changed by an injury sustained on the warning track in St. Louis in 1982. Twenty-two years later, Francona’s Red Sox won the franchise’s first world championship in 86 years — in the same ballpark.
“I was hoping that we weren’t spent after the series with the Yankees,’’ Francona remembered. “To win that series against New York, we really had to have some guys do some extraordinary things, guys like [Keith] Foulke and [Mike] Timlin and [Tim] Wakefield. But once the World Series started, we were like a steamroller.’’
The 2004 Cardinals did not seem like candidates to be swept. They won 105 regular-season games and had Larry Walker, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds in the heart of the order. They were managed by Tony La Russa.
“Sometimes things happen,’’ said Francona. “You’ve got to be good and a little lucky and good enough to take advantage of that luck. I think all of those things happened in that Series. I think if you look at every team that’s won, that’s pretty much the formula.
“We had great advance scouting reports on them and our pitchers executed the plan. I remember Keith Foulke executing against Edmonds, pounding pitch after pitch. He faced him in some huge situations and kept pounding him with that one pitch and it was really amazing.’’
Nine years ago, the Sox won Game 1 , 11-9, despite making four errors.
“We didn’t even play that well,’’ said Francona. “Manny [Ramirez] had trouble on a couple of balls. It was cold and Wake’s ball wasn’t moving. But we hit some home runs and won.’’
The Cardinals’ everyday catcher in 2004 was Mike Matheny, now the St. Louis manager.
“We knew he was smart,’’ said Francona. “He was the field general. He was their Jason Varitek.’’
The only player from the 2004 Cardinals still playing for them is catcher/leader Yadier Molina. As a rookie in 2004, Molina got into a dustup with Ramirez at home plate during Game 4. As the players exchanged heated words (in Spanish), Francona was summoned by umpire Chuck Meriwether to find out what the argument was about.
“I got out there and asked Manny what the beef was about and Manny pointed to Yadier and said, ‘They say I’m stealing their signs.’ ’’ Francona recalled. “I looked at Chuck and said, ‘Manny doesn’t even know our signs.’ That was the end of it.’’
That was the same night the Cardinals allowed ticketless Sox fans to enter the ballpark for the end of the sweep.
“I think that speaks volumes about their organization,’’ said Francona.
Three years later, in Denver, another Francona team completed a World Series sweep. Francona remains a perfect 8-0 in the Fall Classic.
“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that,’’ he said. “I really enjoyed what we were doing and I was proud of each team, but once it was over, you kind of move on. You want to be 9-0.’’
He regularly texts Farrell and Pedroia, but said, “You’ve got to be careful. They’re busy. They’re still working.’’
After he was fired by the Sox in the wake of the 2011 collapse, Francona interviewed for the vacant Cardinals managing job. The Cardinals selected Matheny.
“I think they made a great choice,’’ said Francona. “I got to visit with Mike when I was working with ESPN and I’m a pretty big fan.’’
Francona returned to the dugout this year in Cleveland and led the heretofore woeful Indians to 92 wins and a wild-card berth. For a few hours, it looked as though Tito and the Tribe might be coming to Fenway for the Division Series, but the Indians were beaten by Tampa in the one-game playoff.
“I don’t think we were good enough,’’ he said. “But it would have been fun.’’