Image drove Red Sox owners, Terry Francona laments
Former Sox manager says marketing trumped winning
Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner wanted “sexy” players to boost the team’s waning television ratings after its disappointing third-place finish in 2010, according to former manager Terry Francona, a desire that led to the acquisition of new stars, huge contracts, and ultimately the historic collapse of September 2011.
The ownership group commissioned a $100,000 study by an outside consultant to determine how to make the team more marketable. The result: Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, both of whom proved to be busts in Boston.
“Our owners in Boston, they’ve been owners for 10 years,” Francona wrote in his book, “Francona: The Red Sox Years,” which was excerpted in Sports Illustrated this week and will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt next week. “They come in with all these ideas about baseball, but I don’t think they love baseball. I think they like baseball. It’s revenue, and I know that’s their right and their interest because they’re owners — and they’re good owners. But they don’t love the game. It’s still more of a toy or a hobby for them. It’s not their blood. They’re going to come in and out of baseball.”
The book, co-written with Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, tells of the discord that led to the 2011 collapse and provides Francona’s view of his subsequent firing after eight seasons and two World Series titles.
Henry did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment, and Werner declined to comment on specific criticisms in the book, saying, “We had unbelievable success together for many years, and now our focus is on 2013.”
Francona, in a telephone interview Tuesday, said he is “not concerned with any fallout” from his book. “If you read the book cover to cover, you’ll know why. There were plenty of good things that happened in Boston that we wrote about,” he said. “There’s context. What’s in Sports Illustrated isn’t the whole story.”
According to the book, Henry and Werner commissioned the consultant’s study to determine how to make the team more appealing to the public.
“They told us we didn’t have any marketable players,” former general manager Theo Epstein is quoted as saying in the book. “We need some sexy guys. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. We’d become too big. It was the farthest thing removed from what we set out to be.
“[That] was evidence to me of the inherent tension between building a baseball operation the way I thought was best and the realities of being in a big market . . . which had gotten bigger than any of us could handle.”
The book describes Werner as complaining about slumping ratings for the team’s regional sports network, NESN, and asking Francona to win games “in a more exciting fashion.”
The Red Sox allowed team-oriented sluggers Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez to leave as free agents after the 2010 season. Epstein then traded three prime prospects to the San Diego Padres for All-Star first baseman Gonzalez and signed free agent outfielder Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million contract.
Gonzalez was later given a seven-year, $154 million contract extension. The two marketable stars proved disappointing in Boston, Crawford often sidelined by injuries and Gonzalez hitting for less power than expected. The two also contributed to what became a sour clubhouse chemistry.
The Sox lost 20 of their final 27 games in 2011 and missed the playoffs. Francona was fired two days after the season following a meeting with Henry and Werner at Fenway Park.
“I was just trying to take accountability. But I kind of viewed that meeting as a charade,” Francona wrote. “When people ask me if I left the Red Sox on my own or if I was fired, I don’t even know how to answer that. I tried my ass off to put the team in position to win, and I worked my ass off that last year more than ever.”
Red Sox president Larry Lucchino pushed for the team to hire Bobby Valentine, a wisecracking former manager who had fashioned a television career, to replace Francona. He lasted only one year, the team going 69-93 and finishing in last place amid almost daily controversy.
Crawford and Gonzalez were traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last August along with righthander Josh Beckett. John Farrell, the third Boston manager in as many years, was hired in October.
Francona was hired this off-season as the manager of the Cleveland Indians after spending a year with ESPN.
The Globe will run excerpts from the book for three consecutive days starting Jan. 27. On Sunday, Shaughnessy will write about the making of the book and his relationship with Francona for the Globe Sunday magazine.