If I'm John Henry I'm pissed.
I'm pissed that Terry Francona is making hundreds of thousands of dollars writing a book that is critical of an ownership that made Terry Francona, put him in a position to be successful enough to write a book that people might care about.
If I'm Henry I'm pissed that Theo Epstein, plucked out of obscurity and handed the keys to the Boston Red Sox and unlimited financial resources at the age of 28, has used the same book to take shots at ownership, just months after bolting for the Cubs after a couple of final dismal seasons as GM that included wasting hundreds of millions of dollars of Henry's money. And now he (largely) blames ownership for Carl Crawford, ownership for John Lackey, ownership for Mike Cameron, ownership for ... who am I missing? Was "The Monster" in the room when Epstein signed Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks (because I'm sure giving Jenks $12 million was in direct response to the "get sexier" results of marketing research in November 2010), traded for Erik Bedard, passed on re-signing Adrian Beltre and couldn't find a shortstop for the last eight years?
Alex Speier reviewed the book Tuesday and had this wonderful line:
In reading “Francona,” it’s difficult to avoid that conclusion. Francona, Epstein, the Red Sox owners -- all (quite understandably) are trying to fight for their legacies in Boston, to preserve the memory of remarkable accomplishments while struggling to reconcile them with the horrific end.
Almost exactly right. Seems to me, reading "Francona: The Red Sox Years," there is some serious CYA going on from all sides.
Except one. In the middle of the madness, John Henry has been silent.
Before we get to that, the obvious: Terry Francona is the greatest manager in Red Sox history. That's not even a topic for discussion. And he was the right man at the right time, the perfect guy for the job, and all it happened in the Internet era. But let's be fair -- Francona inherited a team that won 95 games in 2003, went to Game 7 of the ALCS and almost certainly would have been in the World Series if Grady Little respected data half as much as he trusted his gut (Francona mentions in the book that he might've kept Pedro in, too). Plus, that team added Keith Foulke and Curt Schilling. There are hundreds of managers in baseball who could have won the World Series with the 2004 Red Sox, this wasn't exactly the 2012 Red Sox.
But John Henry signed off on Terry Francona, with a managerial record of 285-363 in four years with the Phillies. If not for that decision, where would Terry Francona be today? Maybe he gets a second shot somewhere else and succeeds, or maybe he's just a bench coach for 20 years, a Gene Lamont or Tony Pena.
With the publication of "Francona: The Red Sox Years" the former Boston manager (with the help of Dan Shaughnessy) takes over 300 pages to tell his story of the his eight years with the Sox. And as sports books go, it's worth a read -- not just for the juicy stuff, don't skip to all things Manny and the collapse in 2011. Start at Page 1 and stick around for the baseball journey Francona had to take before he became the manager who ended the curse.
Terrific reporting by Shaughnessy -- full disclosure, I was convinced this was going to be a money grab and money grab only when this book was first announced last year, but Shaughnessy (who is a passive voice in the book, this is Francona's story) is clearly invested and has a plenty likable and interesting lead character in Francona, with a not-insignificant supporting role from Epstein.
So the book is out and will, I suspect, do major business (I'm rooting for the TV movie, myself. NESN should do it, it'd be the first watchable piece of original programming in the network's history.). And now we are smack in the middle of the promotional tour, for which Francona has appeared with Don Imus, Joe Scarborough and Dan Patrick, done a podcast with Bill Simmons, and shown up all over ESPN as well as both sports radio stations in Boston, among others. And in each interview he's been asked about the Sox owners, and each time his answer has been a condensed version of what you'll read in the book: meddlesome at times, difficult to please, let me down in the end, still haven't answered my calls, but overall good baseball owners if not actually baseball guys, a not-so-subtle kick in the ribs. Passive aggessive mixed with the usual Francona self-deprecation.
Let's take a step back and consider John Henry for a moment. He's become a punchline around here over the last couple of years and we all know why -- the way he looks, the way he talks, the way he's handled certain situations, the perception that he cares more about Liverpool and LeBron James than he does the Red Sox, all that stuff and more. And, yes, he and Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner butchered the firing of Francona and the subsequent fallout from top to bottom. It's been a lousy couple of years here for Henry and he has only John Henry to blame for it. He hired the people who put him in this mess.
And maybe that's why John Henry, never one for a filibuster, now has gone quiet. No recent response to the endless rumors that the team quietly is being shopped, no reaction to a less-than-overwhelming offseason for his team, no reaction to moves made by other teams in the American League.
And no reaction to "Francona: The Red Sox Years."
Very true in the cases of Francona, Epstein, Werner and Lucchino, who all weigh in on each gossipy topic of the eight years (most specifically of the last 30 days) of Francona's tenure and the couple of months that followed. And in the end, protecting and crafting legacies are the reason for many biographies, this is no different.
But John Henry didn't speak (or correspond via e-mail, his preferred method of communication) to Shaughnessy for the book, didn't respond to each and every criticism as Lucchino and Werner did (that, in fact, is essentially the role the two play in the book -- Francona rips them, they respond and go away for the next 15-20 pages until they get ripped again. And one thing is screamingly clear in this book: Francona doesn't like Larry Lucchino, doesn't trust Larry Lucchino; it's Lucchino who comes out the worst in the book, which very well could be an accurate portrayal) and that takes either a remarkable amount of confidence or a remarkable lack of awareness of what this book was going to be.
Henry, Francona asserts, would send e-mails asking baseball questions, e-mails that would arrive with more frequency over the last couple of years -- why is David Ortiz hitting against this left-handed pitcher? It's easy to see how that could be irritating, sure, but isn't that exactly his right as an owner? To my knowledge, every check cleared for Francona in the eight years, we are talking about tens of millions of dollars. If the guy writing that twice-monthly check for, say, $200,000 wants to opine (not order, the lineup always was up to the manager, according to Francona) in an e-mail, isn't that absolutely his prerogative?
I guess I get lost here -- Francona accuses Henry of not being a baseball guy, doesn't love the game, treats it as a business. But anytime he weighs in on anything baseball-related it's viewed as some kind of violation of the Francona Rule.
But the real anger from Francona, as we all know, comes from what he views as broken promises from Henry and Lucchino in finding out who exactly spoke to Bob Hohler in his postmortem of the collapse in The Boston Globe in October 2011. Chicken, beer and painkillers.
I have no clue who leaked that stuff to Hohler. I have suspicions, probably the same candidates you are thinking about right now. And it's Francona's assertion that everyone involved seemed more focused on making sure Francona knew that they weren't the leak, as opposed to sussing out the folks who ratted to Hohler.
Francona should be upset, should still be upset nearly a year and a half later. Some stuff in the story (and, reading it again this morning, what a stupendous piece of work from Hohler, one of the real greats in this city) borders on character assassination. Problem is, there seems to be plenty of truth in it. The Sox, Hohler wrote, were concerned about Francona's marital issues and excessive use of pain medication. In Francona's book, he talks about his divorce and admits he was self-medicating on pain pills. If you owned a major league team, a billion-dollar franchise, and the man in charge of managing the players was self-medicating on pain pills, wouldn't you be concerned?
If Terry Francona was so obsessed with the leak, so offended, needed to know the truth so badly, had to identify the culprits, why didn't he do it himself? I'm serious -- he could've dedicated the last 16 months to finding the guilty parties (now THERE'S a reality show even NESN couldn't screw up). Door to door, talk to every member of the Sox organization until there are no more questions to be asked.
Seems ridiculous, right? Right. This isn't how it works. People leak stuff, that's how it works. Maybe it was Kevin Youkilis, maybe it was Epstein, maybe it was Lucchino, maybe it was a trainer, maybe it was two clubhouse guys, maybe it was a limited partner, maybe it was Josh Beckett. Who knows? But for Francona to think the Sox were going to hold an open trial to establish the identity of The Leak or Leaks is naive at best.
The reality, of course, is none of this would have happened -- the book, the Hohler story, Bobby Valentine, secret hotel meetings to fire managers, texts from Adrian Gonzalez's phone, none of it -- if the Sox had won two more games in September 2011. The players, the same guys Francona always defended and continues to do in the book (save for Manny and some light jabs at Mike Lowell) let their manager down, got fat and happy on his watch because he trusted them. That's on the players and Terry Francona. They failed in September, not John Henry.
And no book or promotional tour will ever change that.