Image drove owners, Francona lamentsWednesday January 16th, 2013
Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner wanted “sexy” players to boost television ratings, according to former manager Terry Francona, and their meddling led to ruinous roster decisions.
Those are among the assertions in a new book by Francona in which he tells of the discord that led to the Red Sox collapse in 2011. The book also describes Francona’s subsequent firing after eight seasons and two World Series championships.
“Francona: The Red Sox Years” paints Henry, Werner, and team president Larry Lucchino as sometimes being more concerned about the team’s image and marketability than winning. The book, co-written with Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy, comes out Jan. 22.
In excerpts published this week by Sports Illustrated, Francona says that the owners did not feel the same passion for the team that he did.
“Our owners in Boston, they’ve been owners for 10 years,” he wrote. “They come in with all these ideas about baseball, but I don’t think they love baseball. I think they like baseball. It’s revenue, and I know that’s their right and their interest because they’re owners — and they’re good owners. But they don’t love the game. It’s still more of a toy or a hobby for them. It’s not their blood. They’re going to come in and out of baseball.”
Henry did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment, and Werner declined to comment on specific criticisms in the book, saying, “We had unbelievable success together for many years, and now our focus is on 2013.”
Francona said he is “not concerned with any fallout” from his book. “If you read the book cover to cover, you’ll know why. There were plenty of good things that happened in Boston that we wrote about,” he said. “There’s context. What’s in Sports Illustrated isn’t the whole story.”
According to the book, Henry and Werner commissioned a $100,000 study by outside consultants after the Red Sox finished in third place in 2010. Their mission was to determine how to make the team more appealing to the public.
“They told us we didn’t have any marketable players,” former general manager Theo Epstein is quoted as saying in the book. “We need some sexy guys. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. We’d become too big. It was the farthest thing removed from what we set out to be.
“[That] was evidence to me of the inherent tension between building a baseball operation the way I thought was best and the realities of being in a big market . . . which had gotten bigger than any of us could handle.”
The book describes Werner as complaining about slumping ratings for the team’s regional sports network, NESN, and asking Francona to win games “in a more exciting fashion.”
The Red Sox allowed team-oriented sluggers Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez to leave as free agents after the 2010 season. Epstein then traded three prime prospects to the San Diego Padres for All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and signed free agent outfielder Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million contract.
Gonzalez was later given a seven-year, $154 million contract extension. The two marketable stars were busts in Boston, Crawford often sidelined by injuries and Gonzalez hitting for less power than expected. The two also contributed to what became a sour chemistry within the clubhouse.
The Sox collapsed at the end of the 2011 season, losing 20 of their final 27 games and missing the playoffs. Francona was fired two days after the season following a meeting with Henry and Werner at Fenway Park.
“I was just trying to take accountability. But I kind of viewed that meeting as a charade,” Francona wrote. “When people ask me if I left the Red Sox on my own or if I was fired, I don’t even know how to answer that. I tried my ass off to put the team in position to win, and I worked my ass off that last year more than ever.”
Lucchino pushed for the Red Sox to hire Bobby Valentine, a wisecracking former manager who had fashioned a television career, to replace Francona. He lasted only one year, the team going 69-93 and finishing in last place amid almost daily controversy.
Crawford and Gonzalez were traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last August along with righthander Josh Beckett. John Farrell, the third Boston manager in as many years, was hired in October.
Francona was hired as the manager of the Cleveland Indians after spending a year with ESPN.
The Globe will run excerpts from the book for three consecutive days starting Jan. 27. On Sunday, Shaughnessy will write about the making of the book and his relationship with Francona for the Globe Sunday magazine.