Picked-up pieces while kicking off summer with a bucket of whole-belly fried clams …
▪ Red Sox vs. Guardians in Cleveland this weekend means a chance to see perhaps the two best managers in baseball — probably the two best managers in Red Sox history — going head-to-head for three days.
Hyperbole? Maybe. But name a current manager who consistently does a better job than Terry Francona and Alex Cora. And does anyone think Dick Williams, Joe Cronin, or Bill Carrigan could deal with today’s analytics geeks, stubborn/entitled (anti-vax) ballplayers, and nonstop media obligations that are part of the daily, skull-imploding Boston baseball experience?
If you are a Sox fan, you should be glad that management brought Cora back after a year in MLB jail for his role in the Houston Astros cheating scandal. The Sox finished in last place the year Cora was gone. In his other three seasons, Cora went 108-54, 84-78, and 92-70, winning one World Series and getting within two wins of another Fall Classic last October.
In 2022, Cora has his team back in playoff contention after one of the worst starts in franchise history. After their 10-19 start, the Sox went 29-12. They arrived in Cleveland with a 16-4 June record, beating a succession of Tomato Cans, but also taking two of three at home against the Cardinals, a series that made one think the ‘22 Sox might be legitimate after all.
Cora is a big reason. And he learned from the best, playing four of his 16 big league seasons in Boston under Francona.
“I don’t want him to win three games against us, but I’m one of his biggest fans,” Francona said before the start of the Red Sox-Guardians series. “People always ask me if I thought this guy or that guy was going to be a manager someday. You don’t know because you’re trying to find ways to win games. I knew Alex was a great teammate. He was ultra-intelligent on seeing the game. I was probably harder on him than a lot of other guys because of that.
“Look at the way he handled things with [Dustin] Pedroia in 2007 when Pedey got off so slow and Alex was hitting like .330. Alex helped Pedey. That spoke volumes with me.”
Francona managed eight seasons in Boston, averaging 93 wins per year, making the playoffs five times, and winning two World Series. He never managed a Fenway game that was not a sellout. He handled the media, needy owners, and a cast of egomaniacs including Manny Ramírez, David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, and David Wells. Sox seasons age a manager in dog years. Francona knows what it must be like for Cora today.
“It’s a different place, and you’d better acknowledge that,” said Tito, now in his 10th season in Cleveland. “I don’t think I could do it in Boston anymore. You’ve got to be young and you’ve got to have some energy. You’d better bring it every day. I really respect how Alex goes about it.”
Dave Roberts (Dodgers), Gabe Kapler (Giants), Kevin Cash (Rays), Rocco Baldelli (Twins), David Ross (Cubs), and Mark Kotsay (A’s) are other big league managers who served as bench players for Francona in Boston. Bench players — Francona was one when he played in the majors — often see things that the stars don’t notice.
“Bench players see stuff,” said Francona. “Buddy Bell” — a five time-All Star — “used to ask me about it, and I’d say, ‘Buddy, you’re out there playing third base. I’m sitting here watching the game.’ And Alex was always like that. He was always seeing the game. He is extremely quick. His baseball clock is really good.”
Francona and Cora. The two best to ever work in the Red Sox dugout.
▪ Quiz: Name the six Red Sox who’ve won the Rookie of the Year award (answer below).
▪ Can’t wait to see the Yankees, who were no-hit by the Astros Saturday, up close and personal in two weeks. The Red Sox haven’t seen the Pinstripes since going 1-2 in the Bronx to start this season. The Yankees’ 70-game start (52-18) was third-best in franchise history and matched the third-best start after 70 games by any big league team in the past 93 years. The 1927 Yankees, who started 50-20, finished 110-44, a .714 winning percentage.
▪ Hard to keep track of the retirements and comebacks of Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady, and Julian Edelman.
▪ What is up with the Red Sox pushing Manny’s Redemption Tour? I had a front-row seat when Ramírez blatantly quit on the Sox in the summer of 2008 (Manny freely admits this) and got himself traded to the Dodgers.
Francona still says those ‘08 Sox might have been his best team, but they were beaten by Tampa Bay in a seven-game ALCS. Manny went on to hit .396 with 17 homers and 53 RBIs in 53 games for the 2008 Dodgers. Think he would have made a difference here? Instead, he quit on you and probably cost you a championship.
Then we learned of his three positive PED tests. Now he’s in the Red Sox Hall of Fame and the Red Sox love him — even though he was Kyrie Irving when he left here.
▪ Couldn’t resist e-mailing Hall of Famer Jim Palmer after Nate Eovaldi gave up five homers to the Astros May 17. I remembered Palmer giving up five to the 1977 Red Sox at Memorial Stadium. I suggested that one might have been knocked over the wall by an Orioles outfielder and Palmer replied, “Yes. Tip-in by Pat Kelly.
“I had a four-hitter going into the ninth. Three homers. I tell Earl [Weaver] I’m exhausted. He says, ‘If you think I’m relieving you with Dick [expletive] Drago, you’re crazy.’
“Rice hits a bloop double down the left field line. Fisk hits a high fly ball to left and Kelly catches it, stumbles, and it goes out of his glove for a two-run homer. Hobson hits another dinger and I get the loss, but it’s one of my 211 complete games.”
The estimable Bob Ryan covered this game for the Globe and it serves as a great chapter in Ryan’s fabulous new book, “In Scoring Position.”
When I asked Palmer if it was OK to publish his response to my question, he answered in the affirmative, adding, “I trusted Dick Drago. Earl didn’t.”
▪ Don’t know about you, but I am super-geeked for Army-Navy football at Gillette on Dec. 9, 2023. This is one of America’s great sporting events and it’ll be the first time it’s ever been played in New England. Bill Belichick loves the Army-Navy game the way the rest of us love good food.
▪ Also happy about the return of Pat Patriot helmets with the (occasional) resurrection of throwback uniforms in 2022.
▪ According to the Wall Street Journal, Cowboys owner and Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Jones’s $1.1 billion investment in natural gas four years ago is now worth $2.7 billion.
▪ Since we are constantly told that NFL owners are held to a higher standard, and since NFL players are routinely punished when there is no criminal conviction, I wonder how Bob Kraft avoided Roger Goodell’s hammer after Kraft’s lawyers broomed his Orchids of Asia charges.
▪ Team-killer Kyrie can opt out of his Nets contract and become a free agent at the end of the month. If things don’t work out with Brooklyn, I’m guessing Kyrie gets the band back together with LeBron. The Clippers and Knicks are other possibilities.
▪ Hope you noticed that J.R. Smith — who played with Kyrie and LeBron when they won the NBA championship in Cleveland — played college golf at North Carolina A&T this spring and was named the school’s academic athlete of the year. Smith is 36 and his GPA was 4.0. Well done.
▪ Pick up a copy of “Fighting for Survival: My Journey through Boxing Fame, Abuse, Murder, and Resurrection,” by Christy Martin with Ron Borges.
▪ Check out the glamping trailers behind the Verb Hotel adjacent to Van Ness Street in the shadow of Fenway Park. It would make for a sweet commute for Red Sox September call-ups.
▪ RIP Lennie Rosenbluth, who died last weekend at the age of 89. At 6-5, Rosenbluth was the star center for North Carolina’s 1957 NCAA champs. Those Tar Heels beat Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas Jayhawks, 54-53, in triple overtime. Chamberlain averaged 30 that season but was held to 23 by Rosenbluth in the championship final.
▪ All four 2022 state champion coaches in Massachusetts high school girls’ lacrosse have connections to former Westwood coach Leslie Frank. Margot Spatola (Westwood), Meredith Frank McGinnis (Notre Dame), Mary Laughna (Medfield), and Erin Massimi (Dover-Sherborn) all either played for or coached with Frank, an eight-time state champion coach at Westwood.
▪ Quiz answer: Walt Dropo, Don Schwall, Carlton Fisk, Fred Lynn, Nomar Garciaparra, Dustin Pedroia.