Picked-up pieces while waiting for Patriots-Cowboys . . .
▪ Terry “Tito” Francona managed the Red Sox for eight seasons, averaged 93 wins, made it to the playoffs five times, and won two World Series. A future Hall of Famer, he is the greatest manager in Boston baseball history, and Sunday is the last day of his 36th and final major league campaign.
Raised in big league clubhouses — son of the original Tito, who played 15 seasons (.363 in 1959) — Francona is retiring after 11 years in the Cleveland dugout. The 64-year-old skipper has endured more than 40 surgeries throughout his career, and faces more this winter.
“I’ve taken pride in doing what I think is right, and I think this is right,” Francona said. “I don’t have the energy to do the job the way I want to do it. Rather than hang around for the wrong reasons, I’d rather just go out on my own terms. Not many people get to do that.”
Francona didn’t get to leave on his own terms in Boston. He was fired in late September of 2011 after a 7-20 month took the Sox out of what appeared to be a certain playoff spot. Francona wasn’t treated very well on his way out the door, but there was a lot of success here before the chicken-and-beer collapse.
How does he remember his Boston experience?
“When you get away from something for a while, it’s a lot easier to remember the good and not fixate on the not-so-good,” he said. “That year, when I left, it was still pretty raw.
“It’s hard. You have emotions and you feel them. But then I came to Cleveland and I was so content and happy, it’s made it way easier to think about the good in Boston. I spend zero time thinking about the not-so-good.”
What was it like managing in Boston?
“It’s busy and there’s usually a fire to put out every day, and if there isn’t, someone’s making one up. You’ve got to be younger and have the energy to do it — like Alex [Cora]. I think Alex has been awesome. Even now, when I’d go up there for a four-game series as a visiting manager, I’d be worn out when it was over.
“You have to be better when you manage in Boston. Every game I managed was a sellout, and there wasn’t one day that I walked down that tunnel not thinking, ‘This is [expletive] awesome.’ I loved that.”
In the course of co-authoring Francona’s book about his Red Sox years in 2012, I interviewed Theo Epstein, who spoke passionately about how Tito “loves every aspect of the clubhouse” and “believed in the clubhouse ethos.”
After a lifetime in the locker room, I worry that Francona might not know how to live without the daily routine of the baseball life.
“I’ve been hearing that,” he acknowledged. “But it’s not like I came to this decision overnight. I thought I might have problems with that when I left as a player, but it didn’t happen. I put my equipment bags away and never looked back. So now I’m not afraid of what’s going to happen next.
“I don’t know what it’s going to be. How much am I going to miss it? Am I going to miss it? If I do, I’ll figure something out. But I’m not afraid to go home and sit in my rocking chair and play golf and swim. If I have certain feelings, we’ll see what happens.
“I think I’ll be fine. I really do. I don’t need to start bawling and all that. I’m OK with this decision. I’m actually really good with it.
“I’ve enjoyed my 11 years here, and my eight years in Boston. I enjoyed the journey, always have. I don’t have to look back. I lived through it and I loved it, but it’s just time to move on. I don’t know if everybody believes me, but I’m in a good place.”
▪ Quiz: Twice in MLB history, the MVPs of both leagues were third basemen. Name the years and the players (answer below).
▪ Because of Curt Schilling’s carelessness, it was learned late this past week that Tim Wakefield and his wife are both battling cancer.
The Red Sox Thursday issued a short statement in which the Wakefields acknowledged that they are “navigating treatment” and requesting privacy.
Wakefield forever will be one of the most important and beloved players in Red Sox history, and he has done nothing but make friends and contribute to the community since retiring after the 2011 season.
Every member of the 2004 Red Sox remembers Wakefield’s selfless contribution in the ALCS when he gave up his start and volunteered for mopup duty in the Game 3 rout, setting up Francona’s rotation for the subsequent four straight wins over the Yankees.
Wakefield has been a Jimmy Fund champion for three decades.
▪ RIP Brooks Robinson. He was the nicest man in baseball, the best-fielding third baseman of all time, and the most beloved athlete in the history of Baltimore — more than Cal Ripken Jr. or Johnny Unitas.
I spent a great deal of my youth throwing a rubber ball at porch steps and learning to glove the rebounds like Brooks. In 1977, on my first trip as a 23-year-old beat reporter covering the Orioles for the Baltimore Evening Sun, Brooks introduced himself in an elevator in Cleveland, asked me how old I was, and told me how much fun it was going to be.
The late Gordon Beard, an Associated Press reporter in Baltimore, once said, “Reggie Jackson has a candy bar named after him in New York. In Baltimore, we name our children after Brooks Robinson.”
My oldest grandson, born in 2016, is a slick-fielding 7-year-old infielder. His middle name is Brooks.
▪ Allow me to nominate Oregon football coach Dan Lanning for American sports Man of the Year. Lanning’s merciless beatdown (42-6) of the Colorado Buffaloes pumped the brakes on the runaway Coach Prime train and restored some sanity to college sports. The egomaniacal Deion Sanders is not the only one who “keeps receipts.”
▪ Remember when the Red Sox were comfortably ahead of the Yankees just a few weeks ago? The Sox showed an elite level of quit, dropping 17 of 21 going the weekend.
▪ It’s trendy today to value the baseball general manager more than the manager. Not in Boston. Cora won the power struggle with Chaim Bloom, and whoever replaces Bloom will have no say regarding who is manager.
Memo to the next boss: Trade Alex Verdugo and make room for Wilyer Abreu.
▪ If Jerry Jones has any sense of theater, he’ll wear his Hall of Fame jacket to Sunday’s game vs. the Patriots and he’ll have a halftime ceremony honoring the new Hall of Famer and a native Texan, the late Buddy Parker.
▪ Apple TV has commissioned Imagine Documentaries to produce a 10-part series on the Patriots. The series is based on Jeff Benedict’s book “The Dynasty,” which chronicled the team’s unprecedented run of six Super Bowl wins in 20 years primarily through the eyes of Bob Kraft. Kraft loved the book so much it was used as a thank-you gift to Patriots season ticket-holders. Can’t wait to hear Tom Brady’s take on Bill Belichick.
▪ Speaking of documentaries, “Frontline” has produced “The Astros Edge: Triumph and Scandal in Major League Baseball,” a 90-minute doc premiering Oct. 3 on PBS and streaming platforms. Sounds like a party-starter in the Cora household.
▪ Boston-Milwaukee NBA games just got more interesting. Damian Lillard is a Buck. With Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo teamed up, the Bucks are new favorites in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Lillard’s presence also gives Arlington native and St. John’s Prep grad Pat Connaughton a shot at another championship ring.
▪ Every week, Josh McDaniels looks more like a creation of Brady and Belichick.
▪ Quietly, the playoff-bound Brewers have won 86 or more games in six straight seasons (excluding 2020).
▪ Dave Dombrowski probably takes satisfaction being in the playoffs this year and last (World Series), while the Red Sox are locked away in the basement both years.
▪ Kyle Schwarber will be the first big leaguer to bat under .200 while hitting 40 homers.
▪ Congrats to the Worcester Red Sox. Polar Park was sold out 41 times this summer, and the WooSox sold more tickets than any other minor league team. Congrats also to team president Dr. Charles Steinberg, who’ll be married to Kara Lynch at Tanglewood next Sunday.
▪ The Patriots are 1-8 against the Cowboys in games played without Brady.
▪ Confession: I watched on TV when the Redskins beat the Giants, 72-41, in 1966. Loved the Giants in those days, and it was worth it to see Homer Jones catch a 50-yard touchdown pass.
▪ The Red Sox correctly brag about Rafael Devers having the most career home runs of any Sox player before turning 27 (tied with Jim Rice), but that feels incomplete without mentioning that Ted Williams had 127 homers in four seasons by the age of 23, then left MLB to serve his country in World War II for three full seasons.
▪ The Diamondbacks went into the weekend with a chance to be the first MLB playoff team with a negative run differential since … the 2007 Diamondbacks.
▪ City of Palms Park, built in 1992, spring home of the Red Sox from 1993-2011, has been virtually dark for a long time. It was abandoned as a spring training site when the Red Sox moved into JetBlue Park in 2012. Fort Myers officials are hoping to use the park to lure a professional soccer team.
▪ The only year in which the Red Sox and Patriots both finished last in their division was 1992, led by Butch Hobson and the late Dick MacPherson.
▪ One of my great readers notes that the 49ers, Eagles, and Dolphins are the only remaining undefeated NFL teams and wonders what happens if the Dolphins last longer than the other two. Would Mercury Morris pop corks if Miami ends up being the last unbeaten team, then eventually loses?
▪ Tickets for the Sports Museum’s 22nd “Tradition” Nov. 29 at TD Garden are on sale and can be purchased by emailing Rachel Locke at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dennis Eckersley, Doc Rivers, Briana Scurry, Bob Sweeney, and Dana White will be honored, with more honorees to be announced soon.
▪ Quiz answer: 1980, Mike Schmidt and George Brett; 1964, Ken Boyer and Brooks Robinson.