Like every Red Sox manager, Terry Francona has received a considerable amount of criticism in the four years that he's been at the helm in Boston's dugout. The complaints directed at Francona haven't been as venomous as those spewed at most of his Red Sox predecessors and certainly aren't as harsh as the pointed barbs he was subjected to on a daily basis during his unsuccessful tenure as Philadelphia's manager, but each of his decisions is subjected to intense scrutiny.
Like every Red Sox manager, Terry Francona has received a considerable amount of criticism in the four years that he's been at the helm in Boston's dugout. The complaints directed at Francona haven't been as venomous as those spewed at most of his Red Sox predecessors and certainly aren't as harsh as the pointed barbs he was subjected to on a daily basis during his unsuccessful tenure as Philadelphia's manager, but each of his decisions is subjected to intense scrutiny. "I'm originally from western Pennsylvania, which in noted for producing football players," said Francona during the World Series. "In Boston, they produce managers. There are at least 30,000 people in Boston who think they can manage the Red Sox." Only 30,000? That's being much too conservative. Francona still might not be beloved in Boston, but he's already become among the most important individuals in the Red Sox history, and no, that's not an overstatement. Not only was he the manager when Boston ended its 86-year World Series drought in 2004, he guided the club to another championship this year. Be honest, did you ever believe the Red Sox would actually win two World Series crowns, and within such a short period of time? In this year's World Series, Francona completely outmaneuvered his counterpart in the opposing dugout, Rockies manager Clint Hurdle. Francona continually created pitching and hitting matchups that were favorable to Boston. A Denver columnist seemed surprised that Francona had a strategical edge over Hurdle even though he manages in the American League, which doesn't employ the designated hitter. "First of all, I've managed in the National League, secondly, we've been playing interleague games since I've been with the Red Sox," said Francona. "Making a double switch isn't rocket science. Our scouts prepare very detailed reports. We try to take the information they provide and utilize it the best way possible in game situations." After the Red Sox opted to fire Grady Little after Boston's collapse in the seventh game of the 2003 American League Championship Series, Francona, who had been serving as Oakland's bench coach, was hired in part because shared the same basic baseball philosophy espoused by Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. Like his young boss, Francona believes in the value of statistics and computer analysis. A laptop computer is on Francona's desk in the Red Sox clubhouse. As an organization, the Red Sox believe a player's on-base percentage is among the most important statistics when evaluating hitters. Francona said he didn't attempt to tell management of the Red Sox what he thought they wanted to hear when he was originally interviewed. "You can have a good interview and maybe even get the job, but if what you are telling them is something you don't truly believe in, then you are going to create problems when the season starts and you are doing things differently than what the people in the front office expect," said Francona. This doesn't mean that Francona is some sort of a stat-driven robot. His biggest attribute as a manager is the way he handles the clubhouse. The Red Sox's clubhouse has been extremely harmonious overall since Francona has arrived in Boston, which is remarkable considering that he's had to deal with some of the games biggest starts, including Curt Schilling, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez. "One of the things that pleased me the most about this season is that we didn't have any issues," admitted Francona. There have been instances when Manny Being Manny has infuriated Francona, but he's never let his feelings be known publicly. Francona can be very funny and forthcoming when dealing with the media, especially when he's just with the Boston-based writers he's gotten to know and trust, but he'll never rip a player, either to send a message to the athlete or to make his own managerial decisions look good. When Francona needs to reprimand a player, something he's done on several occasions, it's done with his office door closed. Earlier in the season, Francona stuck with rookie second baseman Dustin Pedroia when he was struggling despite the cries from the public to play Alex Cora regularly. "The fact that (Francona) was a player himself makes it easier for him to understand that a player is going to have ups and downs, especially a young player," said Pedroia. Pedroia blossomed into the leading candidate for the AL Rookie of the Year Award and was outstanding in the postseason. Francona also struck with right fielder J.D. Drew when he was producing much less than what was anticipated. The Red Sox were rewarded for Francona's patience by how Drew performed in the playoffs. "One thing about Boston is that a player can't fail, no matter what the circumstances are," said Francona. Throughout the regular season, Francona was cautious not to overuse Jonathan Papelbon. Francona wanted to make sure Boston's outstanding closer wouldn't be fatigued when the games mattered the most in October. Papelbon excelled throughout the Red Sox and finished Boston's 4-3 World Series-clinching victory last Sunday night with an emphatic strikeout. The Red Sox have Francona under contract through next season. Protocol mandates that Francona be given a contract extension before next season begins. Whether Francona merits a new deal is something that can't be debated. Francona sidestepped a question about whether he can be compared to Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who has won three Super Bowls. "Bill deserves all the accolades he receives. And I know that I wouldn't be a very good football coach," said Francona with a smile. Considering the Red Sox's long history of failure, it can be argued that what Francona has done during his four seasons as the club's commander is among the most remarkable accomplishments in the long and glorious history of Boston sports. Art Davidson is a Daily News staff writer. He can be reached at 508-626-4403 or firstname.lastname@example.org.