Farewells reveal rift between Francona, ownership


Farewells reveal rift between Francona, ownership

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
BOSTON -- For the better part of the last two days, as the Red Sox attempted to explain a season that went horribly, inexplicably wrong, the focus was squarely on Terry Francona's relationship with his players.

On Thursday, approximately 24 hours before he and the Red Sox parted company, Francona spoke of the "challenges'' he sometimes faced communicating with the players and provided some details about a team meeting he was forced to call last month in Toronto.

In the press release -- carefully crafted, revised and issued some seven hours after the fateful meeting between Francona and his superiors -- the ownership troika of John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner spoke of the need for an improved "clubhouse culture'' and the need for a new "voice.''

Then, separated by 75 minutes, Francona met with reporters, followed by Werner, Lucchino and general manager Theo Epstein, the four mostly echoed the same thoughts.


But every once in a while, someone would steer, if only ever-so-slightly, off script. The talking points got tossed aside and instead of buzzwords like "reach'' and "voice'' some honesty seeped through.

Sure, you had to be paying very close attention. But if you listened carefully, it was there. And what emerged was the undeniable fact that, beyond whatever problems existed between Francona and his players in the sanctum of the clubhouse, Francona had also lost the support of his bosses, and he, his patience with them.

Time and again, Francona blamed himself for his inability to get his players to be more committed, more loyal to one another, more invested in the game. He chastised himself for his "inability'' to reverse the team's September slide.

He cited the need for responsibility and accountability, the same things he asks of his players. He spoke of the demands of the job, and noted that managing the Red Sox is, in essence, both the best and worst job in baseball.

But occasionally, Francona couldn't help himself. He answered with a simple "No'' when he was asked if the owners had ever offered him the chance to return next season. And, when asked why he didn't ask for another chance to make up for September, Francona went unfiltered.

"To be honest, I'm not sure how much support there was from ownership,'' he said with no hint of rancor. "You've got to be all-in with this job. And I voiced that today. There were some things, going through things here, to make it work, you've got to have everybody together and I was questioning some of that a little bit.''

And there it was. A peek behind the curtain at the real dynamics.

Who knows how ownership and management could have aided Francona in September when both their record and the attitude were on the skids. Perhaps picking up the option years earlier in the year, or last winter, would have sent the not-so-subtle message to players that Francona had their backing, that he would be in charge for several seasons to come.

Instead, Lucchino reacted with great surprise when asked about Francona's remark.

"I was actually puzzled by that comment,'' said Lucchino. "We have done nothing differently this year than we've done in previous years. I think it's a question you should probably ask him.''

Clearly, Francona's candid assessment was not part of the pre-approved script. Lucchino made the point that Francona had done an otherwise solid job of fixing the blame right on himself.

This other stuff? Where other people might have had a hand in the team's undoing, or the manager's inability to halt it? Not part of the scrubbed-clean talking points.

Sure, Francona had, in no particular order, the owners' "thanks, gratitude, respect and appreciation.'' Check, check and check.

But support, backing and advocacy? Those were apparently in short supply.

Werner and Lucchino shifted uncomfortably when they were asked if it had been their intention to retain Francona before hearing his concerns Friday morning.

They never got around to answering that directly. Werner noted that they had gallantly "respected his wishes,'' to move on. But their refusal to answer was moot. The answer, quite simply, was no.

They didn't want him, and in the end, Francona didn't want them.

Neither side said as much, at least when they were all staying on script.

But occasionally, in the middle of the carefully rehearsed lines and glowing praise being slung around, the real reasons for Francona's departure were revealed.

The problems with clubhouse culture were real, but so too was the, ahem, disconnect that existed between Francona and his bosses.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.