NASHVILLE — A large crowd of reporters gathered around Indians manager Terry Francona Wednesday afternoon. Within a few minutes, everybody was laughing.
Francona appeared relaxed as could be as he discussed returning to the dugout after spending a year with ESPN. He also seemed at peace with how his eight seasons ended with the Red Sox.
Francona left Boston in a fog of acrimony, upset with how the team collapsed at the end of the 2011 season and that he was blamed for it by ownership.
“That was tough, man,” said Francona. “I don’t care what city you’re in. When you go 7-20, if you’re the manager, you’re wide open for criticism. That’s just the way it is.”
While he was hurt by what happened, said Francona, he didn’t want to be vindictive.
“I have too many people there that are too special,” he said. “I was disappointed with the way it ended, and I’ll probably always feel that way, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great seven years and five months.”
Francona felt stepping away from the game was something he needed.
“It’s not necessarily the easiest thing in the world to tell yourself you need to do that, but it was, I think, really healthy for me,” he said. “I know I get back into it now feeling like I’m better prepared to do the job correctly because it’s got to be almost 24 hours a day to do it right. At least I think so.
“I was pretty beaten up by the end of that last year.”
Then came the jokes.
Francona was asked about the Red Sox coaching staff.
“Being totally honest, I think Boston’s biggest weakness is their manager,” he said, joking about his close friend John Farrell.
Then there was this zinger about evaluating the moves teams make in the offseason.
“As I found out the hard way, the team that wins the winter doesn’t always win the season,” he said. “Sometimes it makes you an analyst.”
Francona also mentioned that he thought the 2008 Red Sox, who lost in the ALCS to the Rays, were the best team he managed. Josh Beckett’s injury cost them that series, he felt.
“Besides that one guy in the third row that used to scream at me, I thought Boston [was] a wonderful place,” he said. “If you care about baseball, it’s a wonderful place.
“Sometimes things happen in that city. You can’t have all that good without having some of the bad, and I got caught up in it.”
Francona has a book coming out early next season (with Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy) and was asked what he thought the reaction to it would be.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I hope people want to buy it.”
Rule 5 day
The Rule 5 Draft of veteran minor leaguers will be Thursday morning. The Red Sox, who have the seventh overall pick, could select a player. Any player selected must remain on the major league roster all season or be offered back to his original team. “Wouldn’t rule it out,” said general manager Ben Cherington. “We have done it in years past, we’ve taken Rule 5 guys and carried them. It’s a little tough in a place where you’re trying to win, trying to put the most developed 25-man roster out there.” First baseman Chris McGuiness could interest the Sox. The 24-year-old lefthanded hitter was drafted by the Sox in 2009 and spent part of two seasons in the organization before being traded to Texas as part of the deal for Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Cubs righthander Nick Struck is considered a likely pick by scouts. The Red Sox have several players they could lose. Righthanded reliever Josh Fields, 27, had 78 strikeouts in 58⅓ innings last season and walked only 18. He spent the majority of his season with Double A Portland. Outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker hit .273 with an .807 OPS last season. He had 19 home runs and 36 steals.