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Is Terry Francona to blame for this mess?

Sep 27, 2011, 4:00 PM EDT

Terry Francona AP

The “blame Theo” chorus kind of died down this week as the shock of the Red Sox actual collapse seemed to overtake the rancor of the collapse-in-progress.  But Curt Schilling was asked about it again today and he said that, if you have to blame someone here, it’s better to blame Theo Epstein than Terry Francona (though he does note that the players own this thing too):

“I think more of it’s on [general manager] Theo [Epstein] than on Tito, anyway,” Schilling said. “I would tell you that the environment around what they’re doing now, the guy managing this team is the only guy that could keep them together. I would argue that with another manager in this position right now, you’d have some in-fighting, big-time in-fighting going on given what they’re going through.”

Schilling’s defense of Francona isn’t really rhetorical here, as I’ve seen a lot of people around the web and on Twitter starting to ask if Terry Francona really shouldn’t be getting tons of blame for this collapse and whether it should cost him his job.

I haven’t thought too terribly hard about it, but yeah, there have been some instances of Tito-panic lately. The bullpen usage has been a bit odd. Batting Jed Lowrie cleanup in tonight’s game (really).  Not the acts of a man whose hand is steady on the rudder, so I get why he’s drawing fire.

But can you really blame Francona for a collapse that has, more than any collapse I can recall, been a total team effort?  Offense, defense, pitching, you name it, it’s been terrible.  Francona can’t make the pitches that Josh Beckett and Jon Lester haven’t been making. He can’t throw out Vlad Guerrero at second base.

Which isn’t to offer a full-throated defense either.  I guess I’m just asking the question of people who have been following the Red Sox demise on a day-in, day-out basis. To what extent is this a Terry Francona failure? And if it is, is it enough in your mind to cancel out all of the good stuff he’s done over the years?  Because, really, I consider him one of the better managers in the game.  What has he done to make me wrong about that?

  1. Glenn - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:08 PM

    Sports talk in Boston has been almost as if Francona’s firing is a foregone conclusion. I don’t get it. Are people really that short-sighted and reactionary?

    • aceshigh11 - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:12 PM

      In Boston? Yeah, they are.

      It’s impossible to dislike Terry Francona as a person, but he’s made some very curious moves lately.

      • marshmallowsnake - Sep 27, 2011 at 5:22 PM

        You beat me to it! It is always doom and gloom up there. I lived there for 30 years…it is like they put negativity in the water…and the people radiate it in realation to sports teams.

    • woodenulykteneau - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:14 PM

      “Are people really that short-sighted and reactionary?”

      Wait. You mean sports talk is the lowest common denominator? Really? What do you think Jimmy Carter’s odds of solving that crisis in Iran are?

    • kopy - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:21 PM

      The rules of being a fan written by Bill Simmons (ironically a prominent Red Sox fan) states that front office and management gets a 5 year free pass after winning a championship. I completely agree with this. Francona should not be fired until after the 2012 season at the earliest.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:40 PM

        You do realize Simmons proceeded to break those rules one year into the Red Sox first WS championship? Complaining how management broke up the team that reversed the curse?

        He’s the last person I’d quote on the rules of being a fan.

    • 18thstreet - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:23 PM

      The players have been terrible. Different manager decisions wouldn’t have changed anything.

      It’s not crazy to keep Lester out there and hope he can get this next guy.

    • Glenn - Sep 27, 2011 at 11:29 PM

      Last week in Boston, it was all about how they should fire all of the doctors and trainers. Sometimes I wonder why I ever listen to sports radio or read pop sports columnists.

  2. haroldb1234 - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:13 PM

    schill is right. tito is not to blame. the players are to blame for most of SEPT collapse, but if theo had bought some ace pitchers last winter, like ciff lee, when he full well knew his staff would be gassed by SEPT, maybe the collapse would have ended sooner or averted altogether.

    blame pie: 1) front office, theo epstein for poor player needs assessments, especially starting pitching, which was perfectly foreseeable after 2010 2) players (most of them) who stunk in SEPT 3) tito, but i do not see how he could do much better with the horses he had, especially their poor play in SEPT, and lets not forget their 2-10 APR.

    makes you wonder if it is an entitlement mentality that’s at work.

    • Ari Collins - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:19 PM

      While Lee has been great this year, I’m not sure that giving him 7 years to get him away from the Phillies would have been a smart move. And that’s assuming no one else upped their offer.

    • 18thstreet - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:26 PM

      Ace pitchers? Who should they have signed? They already had a starting rotation: Lester, Buchholz, Beckett, Lackey, and Dice-K. Whatever Dice-K’s failures are (and I am NOT a defender), he’s better than most 5th starters. Ditto Lackey at No. 4.

      If they DID sign an ace pitcher as a free agent, there’s someone very expensive (or Buchholz) in the bullpen. Get real.

      Things just didn’t work out.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:41 PM

        Didn’t you realize, Theo was supposed to know they’d need 10 or 11 starting pitchers this year!

      • 18thstreet - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:46 PM

        What’s really impressive is that he was ready with Wakefield at No. 6 and Andrew Miller at No. 7. There was probably a thought about Aceves getting spot starts, but — come on — no one expected he was going to be this good as a reliever. Ditto Albers for most of the year. (It’s not like everything went wrong.) The Yankees, who were pretty desperate for starters, let him go.

        Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out.

      • 18thstreet - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:49 PM

        Hell, Kyle Weiland was pretty good in Pawtucket last year. They had back-up options.

    • adowding3 - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:33 PM

      How do you full know your staff will be gassed? He and Miss Cleo got together and saw that Dice and Buchholz were gonna go down?

      There wass a great stat reported on Firebrand of the AL the other day. At the time of the article, the Red Sox were forced to give 43 starts (over 25% of the season) to starters ranked 7-10 on their spring training depth chart. That is truly remarkable stat, and theres no way he should have been prepared for that before the season started.

  3. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:20 PM

    I hate wishy-washy criticism like the kind Theo and Tito are getting lately.
    Sure, theyr’e collapsing, but it’s arrogance for us fans and the media to assume whose fault it is.

    Only that front office and clubhouse have any inkling as to what’s going on – that is, if anything other than a broken-down roster is due any blame at all.

    And while you can blame that part on them all you want (Theo or Tito, take your pick), the truth is that rotation was well equipped. Not perfect, but well equipped.

    Sometimes the dice doesn’t roll your way. Who knew Garcia and Colon would dominate for New York, while Buchholz got hurt and Lackey found himself pitching like crap?

    • bigleagues - Sep 27, 2011 at 7:57 PM


      There are some Yankees fans, who will remain nameless, that have completely lost track of how many variables have broke their way this season. Not the least of which is that Starting Rotation.

  4. Jay Seaver - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:24 PM

    Well, to the extent that it’s a “total team effort”, that does make Francona a common denominator. As much as I’m not sure he deserves much of the blame, he’s done a number of things that certainly didn’t help (Darnell McDonald, Carl Crawford’s .296 OPS in the #2 slot, practically handing opponents double plays by batting noted slow runners David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez back-to-back), as well as multiple Grady Gump moments of sticking with pitchers several batters past when everyone in the ballpark knows they’re out of gas.

    Even beyond the tactical stuff, though, the modern manager’s job is to handle the mood of the team, and he really doesn’t seem capable of doing anything to counter the sloppy play and mental mistakes that have spread through the team. One player slumping is random; everybody not looking right seems to imply a cause. By now, he may just be too close to his veteran staff to exert enough authority to change the team’s direction.

    I’m not close to convinced he needs to go, and I think the four-plus months when the team was playing .600+ ball deserves just as much consideration as the one-plus of disaster at either end, but if he’s not capable of harnessing the talent he’s been given rather than just staying out of its way, it may be time to try someone else.

  5. proudlycanadian - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:30 PM

    Boston fans and the Boston media seem to be unable to accept defeat and almost always seem to want to blame someone. There are 30 teams in baseball and only 1 will win the World Series each year. You can have a great team on paper based on the past performances, but injuries, luck and poor player performance can lead to a poor result.

    I blame the Boston fans and the Boston media for unrealistic expectations. The other teams out there are trying their best to beat your team.You can’t win them all and one World Series win every 30 years should be the norm.

    • aceshigh11 - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:44 PM

      “I blame the Boston fans and the Boston media for unrealistic expectations.”

      So…you’re saying that the Red Sox INTENTIONALLY played badly as some sort of karmic payback for the fans putting unrealistic pressure and expectations on them?

      That’s basically what you’re implying.

      • proudlycanadian - Sep 27, 2011 at 5:38 PM

        Your usual warped nonsense. You are one messed up Red Sox fan who can’t take any criticism. Why is it difficult for you to understand that the majority of baseball fans do not support the Red Sox?

      • aceshigh11 - Sep 27, 2011 at 6:24 PM

        It has nothing to do with that.

        You said you blamed the fans and the media for this meltdown. How does that work?

      • aceshigh11 - Sep 27, 2011 at 6:50 PM

        Look…let’s restart this whole thing.

        Both of us aren’t going anywhere, so I’m not going to bitch and moan about your aversion to the Sox anymore. I’ll be more civil from now on.

        Sound good?

      • proudlycanadian - Sep 27, 2011 at 7:18 PM


    • oldenerz - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:48 PM

      We like to have high expectations for this team. It’s been a while since we’ve had to let go of any hope of them making the playoffs on Opening Day…

  6. mianfr - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:33 PM

    Uh, yeah it does.

    If he’s not to blame for any of this, is he also not responsible for any success that the team might have, too? Can you point to those things?

    It’s hard to quantify a manager’s impact, but they do get paid a lot of money, so it’s reasonable to believe they do something.

    And that is to manage the players, and he’s let them get far, far away… He should be on the hot seat for this. Maybe not fired, but warned.

    • 18thstreet - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:42 PM

      By this logic, a bad team has NEVER had a good manager. If the team is losing, it must be at least partially the manager’s fault.

      Someone tell owner Connie Mack to fire his manager. That guy sucks.

  7. Jonny 5 - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:42 PM

    ” He can’t throw out Vlad Guerrero at second base.”

    My Grandfather could.

  8. davebrownspiral - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:59 PM

    Francona is going nowhere. He is the manager of the team that he guided to two World Series titles after after 86 years of futility. Joe Torre wasn’t fired after the Yanks collapsed in the ALCS in 2004, and neither will Francona. Is it Francona’s fault that Lackey is awful, Crawford is terrible, Youkilis is hurt and Lester is throwing batting practice? No. All the blame falls squarely on the players, and if you want, Epstein for handing out those God awful contracts to Crawford and Lackey that the Sox and their fans will have to endure for the better part of the next decade.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 27, 2011 at 5:24 PM

      Joe Torre wasn’t fired after the Yanks collapsed in the ALCS in 2004, and neither will Francona

      I honestly wish he were. He had all the chips fall right in the first few years on the job, and then the last few he made a lot of mistakes. Of course no one in the NY media had the balls to call him out on it, but that’s another story.

      Cashman admitted as much that they had to change the way they handled relievers and young players due to Torre =\

  9. seano21 - Sep 27, 2011 at 5:34 PM

    Lol at all you fucking idiots in the offseason that proclaimed yourself champions

    • Ari Collins - Sep 27, 2011 at 5:44 PM

      I’m pretty sure no one said the Red Sox had already won the World Series. Keep trying, though.

      • Kevin S. - Sep 28, 2011 at 9:48 PM

      • bigleagues - Sep 28, 2011 at 10:00 PM

        SOBER Red Sox fans scoffed at that idiotic report because we know better. The Herald also proclaimed them the ‘best team evah’ before a pitch had been thrown.

  10. oilcanjim - Sep 27, 2011 at 5:45 PM

    While I agree Tito has made some unusual choices in his lineups lately, he’d be blasted even more if he ran the same card out every night. I can just imagine the headlines about Francona going down with the ship and refusing to bench his favorite veterans even though it cost the Sawx a playoff spot.

    • Glenn - Sep 27, 2011 at 11:38 PM

      When you are losing, you can’t “win” no matter what you do. 20-20 hindsight is a wonderful thing.

  11. bigharold - Sep 27, 2011 at 5:51 PM

    Assigning blame to one party or the other is not really going to help. If I were to I think about it I’d say 50-60 percent of the blame should be shared equally between the players and Francona, leaving the remain 50-40 percent going to the FO. One could debate the percentages ad nauseam and it wouldn’t get to the real issues.

    First of all the FO is the responsible party for acquiring players whether FA, expensive or otherwise, trades or development. Come September some those acquisitions that were expected to contribute didn’t.. Some under performed others were injured to one degree or another. Regardless it’s the FO’s job to have a fall back plan or get replacements some how. They get a great big F for that this year.

    The players, for the most part just plain stunk in September. I don’t think it’s a question of desire or motivation but the results speak for themselves. You’d have to ask the players why they were, in large part, under performing this September but don’t expect an answer. I’m sure if they knew what the issues was they’d have corrected it. Unfortunately, players can’t be fired en mass.

    Francona’s portion of the blame is that it’s his responsibility have the team prepared to play. To know with players are right for certain situations. To put players in the best situation to succeed with the proper frame of mine. Again, the results speak for themselves.

    There are many parallels between Francona and Joe Torre’s tenure with the Yankees. Rabid face base, high pressure media, big spending owners, high expectation, both brought multiple WS championships to teams that had not had them for years, neither is considered especially good as a baseball tactician or handling pitching, both of them were considered far better at handling the media, the high priced talent and essentially being a players manager. Torre’s tenure ended just as Francona’s will someday because at some point change for the sake of change is needed. Players will respond to a coach only so long. Things get too comfortable, .. players that would do anything for him, move on or retire and their replacements don’t have the same relationship. Sparky Anderson once recounted, near the end of his tenure with the Reds, that he was talking to the team about doing better and he realized that Joe Morgan wasn’t paying attention and that Johnny Bench was dozing off. He realized then that he had lost the team. Similarly Torre lost the team and they stopped responding. Francona may well be at the beginning of that phase now but I think it’s too early to tell just yet.

    Both Francona and Epstein share blame here but more importantly responsibility. While I wouldn’t go as far as saying that neither should be fired, Epstein seems far more the responsible party for the RS embarrassing fade this September. I don’t think this should be the end for Francona, it may well be the beginning of the end. I’d think he should be around next year to find out.

    • aceshigh11 - Sep 27, 2011 at 6:51 PM

      Well-put, as usual.

  12. aceshigh11 - Sep 27, 2011 at 7:05 PM

    Chad Finn and Tony Massarotti from the Globe made a really good point on the site today:

    People who aren’t Sox fans might not realize the endless managerial turmoil before Tito came to town (Grady Little, Jimy Williams, Kevin Kennedy, John McNamara, on and on)…

    The last 7 years have been relatively harmonious, and you really can’t put a price on that. Francona has managed to keep relative peace with truculent and eccentric personalities like Pedro, Manny, Bellhorn, Millar, Lackey, Beckett, etc. around.

    Yes, this season has turned into complete shit, but you can’t discount everything else the guy has done for the team.

    And also: no one has suggested a replacement who would be any better.

    • Ari Collins - Sep 27, 2011 at 7:34 PM

      Bellhorn was a difficult personality? Never heard anything about that. I always liked the guy.

      • aceshigh11 - Sep 27, 2011 at 7:46 PM

        I don’t think it was that, but he had a totally crappy 2004 until he came alive and played a key role in the ALCS. I think that’s what they were referring to.

      • Ari Collins - Sep 27, 2011 at 8:26 PM

        He hit .264/.373/.444, pretty excellent numbers for a second baseman. Over 3 wins according to FG, BR, and BP.

        Crappy? He was our best 2B in years until Pedroia came along.

        But back then, people focused on BA and strikeouts too much.

      • aceshigh11 - Sep 27, 2011 at 8:41 PM

        I’m trying to remember what the issue was with him…maybe he had a really bad ALDS and was dormant for the first part of the ALCS.

  13. bigleagues - Sep 27, 2011 at 7:48 PM

    The Red Sox struggles were once easily traceable to the disruption of countless and seemingly never ending injuries, but that shifted over the last two weeks because

    1) even as the injuries mounted they had a 9-game lead entering September and

    2) their current predicament really comes down to winning just two more games this month – being 8-17 in September versus 6-19 and

    3) if they do collapse, Francona makes for the easiest scapegoat and

    The fact of the matter is Francona a great manager. And the Red Sox have endured more than their fair share of roster disruption the last two seasons. But with the injuries to Pedroia, Youkilis and Ellsbury last year, NESN ratings and profits sunk in the second half. This year would make two straight years without making the playoffs, which hasn’t occurred since Theo and the Trio have been in charge. A huge aspect of the Sox competitive advantage comes from revenues generated by NESN.

    If the Red Sox collapse, as unthinkable as it is, Francona could be made the scapegoat in order to frame next season as a fresh start and keep the pink hats enthusiastically engaged.

  14. deviantradio - Sep 27, 2011 at 8:44 PM

    How come nobody is blaming the training staff? Last year, they had so many injuries they were written off, but stayed in the race until the last 2 weeks of the season. This year they’ve had an insane amount of injuries, but have stayed in it until the end. Most of the horrible play has been guys coming back from injuries and not finding their stride.

    Not to mention the misdiagnosis of injuries. (Elsbury’s broken ribs last year, Bucholz’s broken f’ing back this year). Everytime a player comes down w/ a serious injury they end up fighting over whether to have surgery or gut it out. Most other teams are pretty spot on when it comes to that decision, even if the player does get a 2nd opinion, it’s usually in line… not w/ the Sox (ie. DiceK).

    As far as Tito, yeah he’s made odd moves, but the definition of insanity is doing the same thing & expecting different results… if he was doing a bad job, there would be so much finger pointing inside the clubhouse it would be apparent.

    • bigleagues - Sep 27, 2011 at 9:14 PM

      I raised this issue a few weeks ago. I think regardless of what happens, something may change in that department.

  15. kingkreg12 - Sep 27, 2011 at 9:31 PM

    I personally don’t think that it’s right to put blame on Francona, but this is the first season that I have ever found myself questioning him. On several occassions this season he has pinch run for some of his better players in the 9th inning when the game was tied and it bit him in the toosh later on as the games dragged on forever.

    Just last night he left Beckett in for two batters too long as he clearly had lost his control. I agree that you can’t blame him for the poor performances but like I said before he has made some strange calls.

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