How to Come Back from a Collapse
[media-credit name="Photo courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt" align="alignleft" width="300"][/media-credit]When Terry Francona signed on to manage the Boston Red Sox in 2004, he walked into a cursed team that hadn’t won a World Series in 86 years, in a town that scrutinized each Red Sox move on and off the field as if it were a life-or-death situation. Indeed, “The Curse of the Bambino” was as real as the big, wild personalities of Red Sox players like Manny, Pedro, and Papi. The odds were against him.
Yet that October, Francona and his team reversed the curse and brought a World Series to Boston. The city rioted with happiness. And when in 2007 he brought another world championship to Beantown, he became the city’s most beloved person.
Then 2011 happened. That year the Red Sox entered September nine games ahead of their nearest wild-card rival. With a month left to go, the team had more than a 99 percent chance of making the playoffs. But a spectacular September collapse saw the team win just 7 of 27 games, miss the postseason entirely, and Francona walk out of the clubhouse doors for good. (As for the 2012 Sox under one-year manager Bobby Valentine? A 69-72 record—21 games worse than the team's 2011 mark.)
Now Francona, who joined the Cleveland Indians as the club's new skipper last fall, is reliving his Boston days in his new book, Francona: The Red Sox Years. Here, the manager reveals his favorite highs from his historic stint with the team, and how he dealt with the crushing lows. Use his advice to handle your own disappointment and defeat and emerge mentally tougher than ever.
Men's Health: It seems that there’s a misconception that this is a book that’s critical of Red Sox ownership. What’s it really about?
Terry Francona: It’s about my 8 years in Boston, with a lot of hopefully funny, touching stories. The book deals with the end of the 2011 season because it was very public, but it isn’t supposed to be a book hammering the owners. Yes, there were some things that happened in the end that I was very disappointed in—and that probably comes across. There were a lot of ups and downs. Thankfully there were more ups than downs.
MH: How did you draw that line between “What happens in the clubhouse, stays in the clubhouse,” and having the book be truthful, and actually giving readers an insight into what goes on?
Francona: I grew up in the clubhouse. I believe in the sanctity of the clubhouse. If anything in the book involves a player, I made sure [co-author] Dan Shaughnessy spoke to him first. There was one instance where David Ortiz and I had gotten into a little bit of a skirmish because he didn’t hustle in New York, and we wanted to include that in the book. So Dan went and talked to David. If David had said no, the story wouldn’t have been included. Probably the only guy that gets hammered in the book is me.
MH: How did you deal with the big personalities that you had in Boston? Guys like Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez can be so mercurial.
Francona: Well, the idea was to keep them on the field. Because when guys like that stayed on the field, we were a much better team. But then I would bring in other veteran guys and empower them to be a part of the decision-making process, to help not just with Manny and guys like that, but with a lot of things. It was an ongoing tug-of-war, but we made it a team effort.
MH: The Red Sox have a lot of statistics gurus working for the team. How did you deal with what the stat guys had to say versus what you thought was best for the team as its manager? How did you find that balance?
Francona: Sometimes it was hard to strike a balance. As manager, I thought it was my obligation to know the stats—to always have a reason for doing something. But at the same time, I was dealing with people, not numbers. You can’t just manage by the numbers or anyone could be a manager, but I did feel an obligation to know them. [Former Red Sox General Manager] Theo [Epstein] and I had a great relationship. We had the ability to butt heads one day and to be fine the next. That’s healthy. I think in any organization you want your manager to have a strong opinion. You don’t want them to just say, “Yes, sir” to things they don’t believe in.
MH: How did you deal with the media scrutiny in Boston?
Francona: There’s so much passion and so much interest in the Red Sox in Boston. What I tried to do was to not wake up in the morning and run to see how I was being perceived in the press, because it didn’t help me do my job any better. It’s not that I didn’t care; it’s just that it didn’t help. It’s easy to get your feelings hurt. But if guys were taking shots on a player and I thought that it was unfair, I would confront people. I think that was healthy. I didn’t mind guys being critical. In fact, I would tell them if you have a question, ask. If I don’t have a good answer, shame on me. I just wanted to make sure they asked a question.
MH: How did you realize it was time to move on from the team after 2011?
Francona: Well, things were starting to bother me that hadn’t in the past. As a manager you get hit from every different direction. And I wasn’t handling that as well as I had in the past, and that was on me. And then I didn’t think the owners wanted me back anyway, so it was probably a moot point. When the season was over, I kind of knew my time was over. It was just time for a new voice.
MH: After you left the team, musclemorphosis.com that used a lot of anonymous sources, and it kind of threw you under the bus. Many would argue that the article went into some stuff that it probably shouldn’t have. What was your reaction to that, and how did you bounce back from that?
Francona: Right after the season ended I thought I took responsibility and moved on. Then about 3 days later, that article came out and I thought it was below the belt. There were unnamed sources and it was very personal and it hurt. It hurt a lot and it made me angry. I don’t wake up in the morning and think about it very much anymore, but at the same time, I don’t ever think I’ll change my mind, my opinion, that it was wrong. It bothered me a lot. Time has helped. And I got another job—that’s helped.
MH: How do you feel about this upcoming season with Cleveland?
Francona: I’m excited. I think taking a year off was healthy for me. It was hard to say that I needed to take a step back, but it allowed me to take stock and re-energize. That was really good for me. I know Cleveland has its own set of challenges, but I love the guys I work with and I think it’s a perfect place for me and I’m really excited.
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