Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona left town early this morning after a whirlwind media spree about his new book, “Francona: The Red Sox Years.” Boston Globe sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy convinced Francona to do the book with him shortly after the infamous collapse of 2011. Francona sat down with WGBH’s Emily Rooney.
Emily Rooney: So why did you write the book – was it the money – revenge, setting record straight?
Terry Francona: That is certainly not what the book was supposed to be. What we did was we tried to go through eight years, and we started it at the beginning in ’04, which was really fun. And I do think the way it ended and my disappointment with the way the owners probably communicated with me, I'm sure if came out in the book. I also tried to make sure that everybody knew, I think they're great owners. And they're really good people.
Anyone picking up Terry Francona’s book looking for 300 pages of inside dirt on the Red Sox owners and players will be disappointed – the book is about baseball and his love for the game – including his time at the majors.
TF: I thought I was a hot shot. I thought I would make a ton of money, retire on my own terms, win a batting title. And my rookie year I hurt my knee and two years later hurt my other knee. So from there I was hanging on. I was a journeyman, which is another way of saying I'm not very good.
ER: You had a ton of injuries back then. You admit back then you started taking painkillers.
TF: In 2002, everything kind of went haywire. I had the blood clots and pulmonary embolism and staph.
ER: You almost lost a leg.
TF: And you know what, so many times those stories are exaggerated. I think this was downplayed because it was in the off-season. I probably should have died, or at least lost a leg.
Terry Francona made a lot of friends going up the baseball ladder — and it wasn’t long before he found himself on the short list to replace outgoing Sox Manager Grady Little in 2003 — but getting there was a long and drawn out process.
ER: That story of you going down to Palm Beach to meet John Henry, and waiting for him for an hour. It's like an episode of Downton abbey or something. Sees you for ten minutes.
TF: Yeah it was different. I was panicked. I was nervous to begin with, because I knew how important it was. And I kept waiting and waiting. And I kept looking at my notes, and then he came out and was kind of hunched over. He obviously wasn't feeling well. It didn't last very long. I didn't know if I offended him, I didn't know if he wanted — you know, I just didn't know. And then I talked with Theo [Epstein]. He said, ‘I heard it went great.’
The ‘04 season got off to a slow start. But as the summer crept on, the Sox edged closer and closer — finally clinching the wild card. Then came the 7-game ALCS with the Yankees.
ER: Creeping through that comeback, you know, down three games — what was that like?
TF: It was actually really fun. When we did win it was great. But when everybody was pouring champagne ten minutes into it, I'm like, ‘OK, what's next?’ For me, the journey was the fun part.
Francona says it was after the second World Series win in ‘07 that things started to sour — the owners, he said, were focused on marketing, commercialism, making the game more exciting for fans — and he says that ‘08 start in Japan was a disaster.
TF: I was miserable, grumpy.
Still, the fans kept coming. The Red Sox front office bragged record attendance, and season sellouts. And things were looking good for the team as summer turned to fall in 2011.
ER: Everybody analyzed this 2011 collapse six ways to Sunday. Was there a reason?
TF: There are a few reasons. Our pitching wasn't very good, and our offense was wildly inconsistent. And then to be honest with you — this is my responsibility — the good teams handle frustration, and we didn't.
And if the collapse wasn’t bad enough, a front page Boston Globe story put more meat on the bones, saying Francona was distracted by his marriage break-up, was addicted to painkillers and allowed chicken and beer in the clubhouse while games were still in play.
TF: A lot of stuff was off the record, got in the story. So it was a fiasco all the way around for me.
ER: I am going to say you were obsessed with figuring out who did this. You wanted the owners to figure it out.
TF: I wouldn't say that.
ER: You wanted to know.
TF: I didn't say obsessed.
ER: I did.
TF: I was hurt, and I thought that was wrong. What I wanted the owners to do was care as much about me as they seemed to be caring about maybe how they were being perceived.
ER: Do you think you know who did it?
TF: No, I really don't. And I never thought it was the owners. I told Larry that.
ER: So would you ever come back here? Can you imagine a scenario?
TF: I can't imagine that. And it doesn't mean I didn't love it here. Eight years here, in baseball, that's like dog years. So it takes a toll on you. And now it's somebody else's turn.
And so it is – Terry Francona’s onetime pitching coach John Farrell starts his stint as manager this spring.