By Rich Levine
Terry Francona was angry as hell on Wednesday afternoon.
Well, at least by Terry Francona standards.
For instance, had it been Bill Belichick giving that interview with Dale and Holley (listen here, if you haven't) snapping at jokes, calling out the media, reacting to questions as if someone had just spit in his face you'd have probably thought, "Hey, the coach is in a decent mood today!" But because were talking about Tito a light-hearted guy who's far more likely to crack a joke at his own expense than he is to speak out against anyone else, a guy who's so naturally uncomfortable with being a jerk, that its sometimes hard not to laugh when he tries Wednesdays performance definitely qualifies as pissed off.
But more interesting than the anger itself, was where and to whom it was directed.
How much do they really know?
It's a question I ask myself a lot when it comes to professional athletes and coaches.
And for the sake of the column, I guess I'll get more specific.
I wonder how much they know about what's being said in the public sector; how aware they are of their reputations among the fans, what's written about them online, or screamed about them on TV.
When Adrian Wojnarski tears LeBron five new orifices in a scathing 2,000-word column, does LeBron ever get wind? As Felger calls Rasheed Wallace useless and pathetic for six straight months, is 'Sheed ever lying in bed watching TV with his wife and maniacally plotting Felger's death? Does Kevin Durant read through every mention he gets on Twitter? Do these guys know what's really going on, or do the columns, shows and tweets that dominate the periphery of professional sports not really exist within the walls?
It's not a terribly important question; it's not going to decide the outcome of any game or season or title. But if you're a sports fan, its no less interesting.
Does KG realize that everyone jokes about him being crazy? Is J.D. Drew aware of the eruption of jokes on the Internet every time he strains a hamstring? Does Manny Ramirez even know the Internet exists?
I think the answer varies from player to player. There are athletes who are in tune with everything that's going on and being said. While none of them would ever admit it, I'm sure there are tons of pros who Google themselves every day, click through message boards and want to know every little thing that's typed about them.
And I'm sure there are guys who've never Googled themselves. Guys who are confident enough, or just don't care enough to wonder what anyone else says. But while I respect and envy that crew, theres something about the players and coaches in that first group the ones who take it personally, and make you feel like they care as much as you do who are so much more fun to root for. Who provide fodder, and personality, and make sports just that much better.
Which brings us back to Wednesday's interview with a pissed-off Terry Francona, a man who no doubt sits among that first group. A man who's well aware of all the stories and drama and the public perception of his team.
He hears the calls for Papelbon's head:
"Every time Pap gives up a run," he said, "I hear the clamoring about exchanging him and I think sometimes, I don't know why, maybe it's because you're fans . . . "
He knows what people are saying about Jacoby Ellsbury, the questions theyre asking about his toughness, and, likely, the tweet from a local radio show that called him a five-letter p-word.
"I think for anyone to ever say that he's soft, especially for a radio host, is very disrespectful," Francona said. "Talking tough on the radio is a lot different than running into a wall or getting hit with a pitch. It's easy to be a tough guy when you get away from the field."
Hell, he even admits to reading Dan Shaughnessy:
"I don't want to put words in your mouth," Holley began a question, to which Tito responded, "Shaughnessy does it all the time." It was playful, if not unprovoked. Obviously not a big deal, but for Francona to come up the line as quickly as he did, it's clearly something he'd been thinking about. You can almost imagine him sitting in his office perusing Shaughnessy's column and wanting to reach through the pages and strangle him.
The point is he's reading. He's watching. He's in-tune. He cares.
There's no doubt that his players appreciate that. And fans should, too.
Now if only that appreciation could shave off a few games in the Wild Card.