Third of three excerpts from former Red Sox manager Terry Francona’s memoir, co-authored by Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, which went on sale Jan. 22.
In February of 2011, in his eighth year as manager of the Red Sox, Terry Francona stayed in a condo at the Miromar Lakes country club. It was his first year away from the Fort Myers Homewood Suites in the Bell Tower. Miromar had a pool Francona could use in the dark hours of morning before driving to the Sox minor league complex.
The manager’s recently married middle daughter, Leah, came to visit for a few days with her husband and was disturbed when she came across a bottle filled with as many as 100 Percocets. Like everyone else around her father, Leah Francona knew her dad took pain medication. He had considerable history with pain pills and joked about it regularly.
The manager of the Red Sox had undergone an extraordinary number of surgeries in his 51 years. The most recent knee replacement followed the 2006 knee replacement, knee scopes, knee reconstructions, cervical disk surgery, and numerous wrist, elbow, and shoulder surgeries. He’d cheated death during the Christmas season of 2002, surviving a pulmonary embolism on each side of his lungs, as well as subsequent blood clots, staph infections, massive internal bleeding, and the near-amputation of his right leg. He had a small metal device (a Greenfield filter) implanted into his vena cava vein to prevent clotting. He was unable to jog and would be on blood-thinning medication (Coumadin) for the rest of his life. He still wore sleeves on both legs, and still got cold easily. Anytime he sat too long, his legs swelled and needed to be elevated. He had a hard time remaining comfortable. Blood-level maintenance and pain management would be part of his daily life for as long as he lived.
The vial of Percocets had been stockpiled over a long period of time.
“I saved ’em up,” said the manager. “I had hoarded them.”
Francona’s daughter was concerned that his pain was not being carefully managed and asked him to consult with Dr. Larry Ronan, Red Sox head team internist since 2005. Francona knew Ronan well and trusted him.
“I had that bottle, and Leah was worried,” said the manager. “It was legal, but it wasn’t good. I didn’t even open ’em. It wasn’t under the Red Sox umbrella. She knew what I’d gone through, and she wanted me to go to Larry [Dr. Ronan], so I did. I told Larry the truth and that it was no big deal. I didn’t want to lie to him. I told him, ‘I have these, didn’t open them, but I like the idea of having them if I need them.’ I wanted to be up-front. He said he’d keep an eye on me. The next day he said he wanted to tell Theo Epstein. He told me, ‘I know you’re okay, I see your eyes, but I want you to meet with somebody, a pain management guy.’ He said he had to document this.”
As Epstein recalled, “I got a call from Dr. Ronan telling me what happened and what he thought we should do about it. We talked about how we could handle this in a way that fulfilled our responsibility to the organization, protected Tito, and, most importantly, protected Tito’s confidentiality. We had to limit the amount of people who knew about this and get Tito the help if he needed it. We had to alert MLB that something was going on, but do it without mentioning Tito’s name. Terry’s name was not specified in our report to MLB. It was just reported that there was a staff member who had an issue. And that was pretty much it. I have tremendous trust and faith in Dr. Ronan. He’s one of the special people in the world. So I felt like as long as he was the point guy handling it, that Tito would be in good shape and we’d ultimately be covered too.”
Francona agreed to participate in the MLB program and see a pain management specialist several times per month during the upcoming season. Still, he was uncomfortable with the arrangement and worried about his privacy.
“It was just Theo, Dr. Ronan, and me with that agreement,” said Francona. “I remember Larry [Dr. Ronan] looking at me as a friend and saying, ‘Tito, nobody outside of this room will ever know.’ And I said to him, “This will come back to bite me in the ass. I know how [expletive] works here. This will [expletive] me someday.”
According to Major League Baseball’s executive vice president Rob Manfred, the only people authorized to know the identity of an individual in the MLB drug program would be the three-man MLB drug policy oversight committee (Manfred, MLB drug abuse consultant Dr. Larry Westreich, and Jon Coyles, director of MLB’s drug policy) and the “employee assistance professional” at the participant’s own ball club. The employee assistance professional for the Red Sox in 2011 was Dr. Larry Ronan. Under the terms of the program, Francona met with a pain management specialist a couple of times a month, usually at Ronan’s office.
. . .
Larry Lucchino said that ownership was initially unaware of Francona’s participation in the program, adding, “Later in the season I became aware of it, but not earlier in the season.”
“They weren’t supposed to know,” said Francona.
Eight months later, after the September collapse and subsequent firing of Francona, the Boston Globe ran a page one story, headlined “Inside the Collapse,” written by Bob Hohler. The story included multiple examples of ballplayers behaving badly, but the ex-manager took the biggest hit as details of his personal life were uncovered.
“By numerous accounts, manager Terry Francona lost his ability to prevent some of the lax behavior that characterized the collapse,” Hohler wrote. “Team sources said Francona . . . appeared distracted during the season by issues related to his troubled marriage and to his health.”
Further down in the story, Hohler wrote, “Team sources also expressed concern that Francona’s performance may have been affected by his use of pain medication.”
There it was. Francona’s spring prediction to Dr. Larry Ronan had come true.
The ex-manager was quoted through the story, saying, among many other things, “It makes me angry that people say these things because I’ve busted my [butt] to be the best manager I can be. . . . It [pain medication] never became an issue, and anybody who knew what was going on knows that.”
In a Feb. 18 column in the Boston Herald, Francona told Michael Silverman, “I called John Henry seven or eight times. Never heard from him. I have not talked to John since the day I left. It makes you kind of understand where you stood.”
This got Henry’s attention. The owner called his ex-manager and said he was concerned that Francona was angry with him. He repeatedly asked the manager why he had talked about ownership not having his back.
“Like I always said, it’s not only your right, it’s your obligation to get the right manager,” Francona told Henry. “I understand that. And it’s not me anymore. But if you’re hearing what I heard before our meeting, during our meeting, after our meeting — and then reading that article — how would you feel if you were me? Instead of caring about me and my reputation, you start running into radio stations to make sure it’s not about you. I wanted you to care about me.”
Ten minutes after they hung up, Henry called Francona again.
“Tito, how about if you come back and throw out the first pitch for us on Opening Day?” asked the owner.
“No thanks, John,” said Francona.
“It was the same stuff as before,” the ex-manager said later. “It was like when they made us play the doubleheader and John thought he could make up for it by giving the players his boat and giving them headphones. But the one thing that did come out of that — John promised me he would get back to me regarding that Hohler story. He said the same thing Larry said, but to this day I never heard back.”
. . .
In 2012, Francona returned to Fort Myers for the first time when the ESPN crew visited JetBlue Park for a much-hyped exhibition game between the Yankees and the Red Sox in March. The former manager skipped the customary pregame information session in Bobby Valentine’s office, leaving Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser to carry out the chore.
Despite his efforts, Francona was corralled by a number of Boston baseball reporters. He said he hadn’t heard anything about Fenway’s 100th birthday bash in April, adding, “I’m not quite ready for the hugs yet. I’m still trying to stop the bleeding.”
Weeks later, Francona was in a phone store in Tucson with three young Verizon employees, learning to use his new iPhone. While the phone was on speaker, he took an unexpected call from Lucchino.
“Tito, this is Larry,” Lucchino started.
“Hey, Larry,” said Francona. “Just so you know, I’m in a Verizon store learning to use my new phone and we’re on speakerphone here.”
“Fine,” said Lucchino. “I was just following up to make sure you know we’d love to have you on hand with all the other ex-Sox players and managers when we celebrate Fenway’s 100th on April 20.”
“Larry, you know what my answer is, don’t you?” said Francona.
“Yeah, you’re not ready to hug everybody,” said Lucchino. “I read all about it.”
“That’s right, Larry,” said the ex-manager, “I said the same thing to John. I told him I don’t want to be included in anything to do with the Red Sox until he gives me a decent answer on who [expletive] me in the newspaper.”
“It wasn’t [expletive] me!” insisted Lucchino. “And it wasn’t [expletive] John!”
“That’s fine, Larry,” snapped Francona, aware that folks in the phone store were starting to look at him. “I believe you. I’m just telling you how I feel. I don’t want anything to do with the Red Sox until you care enough to find out who said it. Call me when you got a better answer!”
Later in the day, Francona tried to call Lucchino and left a message with the CEO.
“I thought it was a respectful message,” said Francona. “I wasn’t emotional. I just wanted him to understand why. I didn’t want it to be a fight.”
When Lucchino returned the call, Francona started to ask if the CEO had received his message, and Lucchino snapped, “I didn’t listen to it.”
“That led us to round two,” said Francona.
“That was a bit of a blowup,” admitted Lucchino. “He was mad we hadn’t publicly identified the person who had leaked this story, and I told him how hard it was and how frustrating it had been my whole career, and you just can’t keep turning your organization upside down and expect that you’re likely to find who had done it. I never had any great success.”
Lucchino understood that Francona felt betrayed and persisted in his efforts to find the leak. But there were limits. As a Yale law student, Lucchino had worked alongside classmate Hillary Rodham on the Senate Watergate impeachment committee. Lucchino rejected the notion of conducting what he termed a “Nixonian investigation.”
“That would entail a special prosecutor and literally calling people in,” said Lucchino. “I’ve never done this, tempted as I’ve been in the past to have people come in and take a lie detector test. I’ve been frustrated enough about leaks that have been damaging to me and the organizations I’ve been with and the other people in the organization, and I know how hard it is to try to identify that person.”
Lucchino believed the primary source was someone who had already left the organization.
“The people who actually do know aren’t saying it,” said Lucchino. “So I’m not sure the responsibility falls on those of us who don’t know.”
“That’s interesting coming from someone who promised to find out,” said Francona. “Maybe this will help people understand my frustration.”
The Sox principal owner ignored multiple emails from Francona requesting cooperation for this book.
Francona’s final email to John Henry, sent in August 2012, read: “Hello John. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was that after 8 years together and what I thought was mutual respect you chose not to even respond to my email. I guess I know now where I stand with you. Good luck. Tito.”