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Former Sox Manager Reflects On Turbulent Tenure

Terry Francona probably never has to buy his own drink in Boston. He's the manager who helped steer the Red Sox to the World Series in 2004 and then again in 2007, turning the franchise from a kind of national sob story into a sleek, rich and successful sports enterprise.

But the Red Sox went into a tailspin at the end of the 2011 season. There were reports in Boston's press about boorish conduct in the clubhouse, matched by clownish play on the field. In the end, Francona was let go by Boston; he's now about to begin his first year as manager of the Cleveland Indians. He joins NPR's Scott Simon to talk about the book he co-wrote with Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, Francona: The Red Sox Years.

Interview Highlights

On Boston's spirit during the 2004 World Series

"When we landed [in Boston] after being in St. Louis, I think it was starting to dawn on me just how important it was to people. The airport scene, the drive back to Fenway on the bus — I mean, it was hard not to be emotional. And then when we started the parade, to see ... between 3 and 4 million people ... elderly people, young people. And then people would send pictures where they put something on their grandparents' gravestone. ... It was just unbelievable, the outpouring of emotion over a baseball team."

On what it takes to manage players like Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon and Josh Beckett

"We try, as a team — and I mean we try desperately — to find an identity. The [2004] team was very ... loose. But when they got on the field, they cared about each other. And when the game started, they played the game the right way. So I thought it would've been wrong to instill my will on that group.

"Now, the [2007] group ... was a lot quieter ... and to try to clone the [2004] team would've been wrong. You know, I don't care about the decibel level in the clubhouse. What I care about are guys playing the game the right way and caring about each other on the field. And both of those teams did it, they just did it in a very different way."

On clubhouse employees, aka "clubbies"

"It's hard to be a clubhouse guy without being a great guy. I mean, the nature of the job is, you know, you're picking up dirty clothes and you're doing all the tasks that the players — that nobody else wants to do. ... A lot of times when we're acquiring a player, if I know the clubhouse guy on that team, I'll call him. Because they know. They know what kind of guy the guy [player] really is."

On "open wallet hour" in the clubhouse

Terry Francona is currently the manager of the Cleveland Indians. In his new book, he reflects on his years as the manager of the Boston Red Sox.
/ Courtesy of ESPN Images
Courtesy of ESPN Images
Terry Francona is currently the manager of the Cleveland Indians. In his new book, he reflects on his years as the manager of the Boston Red Sox.

"It's not [just] the hour. I've never, in 31 years of professional baseball, I've never put my wallet in the safe or locked it up. It always sits on the edge of my desk. And anybody knows, if they need money, [to] go get it. Just put it back. We had a clubhouse kid named Pooky that used to go in there all the time if he needed money. And he always put it back, and I never checked.

"I think the outside world can learn a lot about how to act by watching a major league clubhouse. I don't think you want to do everything the same, but there's a lot of things I think people could learn from."

On managing, and playing pickup ball with, Michael Jordan

"We were out in the Fall League in Arizona, and [it] started out being just a little bit of shooting around. One thing led to another, and we started playing games, and [the] games got a little bit more competitive and I was getting a little tired, so I shot — made a long shot towards the end of the game. It hit the rim real hard and bounced towards the middle of the court. And Curtis Pride was a player on the other team, and went down and [scored] and the game was over. I was kind of glad because I was tired.

"And as I was walking off the court, I heard the ball rattling off the window, and Michael had kicked it — and he was mad. And he walked up behind me and goes, 'Hey, man, I always shoot last.' And I didn't really quite grasp what he said, and he said it again. And I was like, 'Well, you know, this isn't on TV,' and he goes, 'I don't care. I always shoot last.' And I said, 'Well, now you know how I feel when I watch you try to hit a curveball.'

"And he took about two steps and he just hit the floor. I mean, he liked — he genuinely liked being treated like everybody else, and he really liked being one of the guys."

On achieving success

"For me, the fun part is the journey. ... After the World Series was over and everybody was jumping up and down, I know I'd retreat to my office, and it was like, 'OK, what's next?' ... It felt like it was in slow motion. So I got to live through it, and for me that was enough."

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NPR Staff