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Posts Tagged ‘Miguel Tejada’


I miss baseball. Covid-19 has us missing many things. Baseball is one for me, and it is getting likely there won’t be any this year.

So I decided to read Red Sox Rule: Terry Francona and Boston’s Rise to Dominance by Michael Holley while donating plasma.

In terms of his career with the Red Sox, this book centers on the 2007 season. Similar to his books Patriot Reign and War Room, Holley was embedded in the organization for a year. He picked a good one since the Red Sox won the World Series that year.

I thought this book would cover the 2004 season as part of that rise to dominance. I was sadly disappointed. It was still interesting and enjoyable, but I wanted more about the Idiots who broke the curse. There were so many good stories about those players, and obstacles to overcome. Where was the famous Thanksgiving dinner with the Schillings to get him to buy into the trade?

He begins in a preface about Boston, aka The Hub. Holley wants to put the setting in context. Boston is kind of unique. Until about 2004, the Sox ruled the town. It had been a long time since Bird and the Celtics ruled the roost. But the Patriots’ consistent prolonged success changed all that. Well, and the fans frustration with owner John Henry. While Kraft can do no wrong (or bounces back quickly), Henry can seemingly do no right. That passion for baseball wasn’t like the similar passion in St. Louis. It could break a team, a player and a manager. After the soul-crushing loss in 1986, manager John McNamara (who made more wrong moves than leaving Buckner in) said, “Why me? Why did this have to happen to me? I go to church every day. Why me?” Failure can reveal faulty theology too.

Holley does not tell the story in linear fashion. It is more thematic. So he sets the stage with the fateful night in 2003 when Grady Little sent Pedro back out after more than 100 pitches. I remember screaming at the TV because anyone who was paying any attention knew that Pedro’s ERA after 100 pitches shot up like a rocket. The inevitable happened as the lead evaporated, Little left a spent Pedro in the game, and the Yankees tied it. Holley has Francona watching the game disinterestedly. He was on the coaching staff for the A’s and thought they were the better team. But the Sox beat them anyway to advance to the ALCS against the Yankees.

Francona felt bad for Little. He’d been housemates with Grady for a few months back in 1992 and played with his brother in the minors so many years ago. Baseball is that way sometimes- you either know each other or a guy who knows the other in the small fraternity of professional baseball. He thought it was a bit crazy that Grady would be fired. And he never thought he’d spend nearly a decade there as the manager.

Holley then talks about the search that ended with Francona taking over the manager’s office in Boston, the last thing he expected. A few days after Little was fired he was in Georgetown with his son when Mike Barnicle came up to him like an Old Testament prophet “You’re going to be the next manager of the Boston Red Sox.” Francona, not knowing he was a Boston writer, thought he was crazy.

He had some interviews to attend. His meeting with the Orioles went south quickly. He met with Ken Williams of the White Sox, but the fact they met at the airport was not encouraging. He didn’t get that job either. Terry had talked with Bud Black who was rumored to be in the Red Sox crosshairs. They were old teammates and he encouraged Bud to pursue it. But a few hours later the Sox invited him to interview. He called Bud back, and Bud withdrew his name.

I wasn’t sure about Francona, from a fan perspective. The Philly years were not inspiring. Former Red Sox Glenn Hoffman was a sentimental favorite and I hadn’t really heard about Joe Maddon. Theo Epstein had been given the reins as the game’s youngest GM. This was his first major hire. He had clear ideas about what he wanted, and how to go about getting it. Old friend Mark Shapiro warned Terry not to BS Theo because he wouldn’t fall for it, and Theo could tie him in knots.

Theo had devised a series of tests to see how Francona thought. There was a 16 question multiple choice test. While they said there were no right answers, they didn’t tell him there was no wrong way to defend your answer. They spent 2 hours talking through that test. Then they were in front of a big screen so Francona could “manage” a game. The video started in the 7th inning. They wanted to see how he applied his baseball principles and thought in the thick of it.

Don “The Gerbil” Zimmer

This is when Holley shifts from the story to the mega-shift that took place in managing baseball. He uses Dick Williams who led the ’67 Impossible Dream team. He was no-nonsense. He’d even wrestled with players. He wasn’t alone in that mindset. But things began to shift. Entitlement began to settle in and change how managers approached players. Managing became more and more about relationships and managing the room, not just the game. Holley brings the Gerbil, I mean Don Zimmer, into this equation. You also had to be media savvy because guys like Glenn Ordway were on the air back in ’78 (he’s still on the radio).

In the next chapter he summarizes Francona’s childhood and career as a player. Terry came from a baseball family. His father Tito played for a number of years and teams. He was a teammate of Joe Torre in Atlanta. Terry always wanted to play baseball, and hanging out in clubhouses gave him a good head for the game. He had talent too. That talent took him to Tucson to play at the University of Arizona rather than accept the Cubs $19,000 offer. Like Tedy Bruschi years later, he’d meet his wife there. Terry still has a home in Tucson.

Francona’s story as a player only takes up one chapter. Terry was drafted 22nd in the first round by the Expos, one pick ahead of future boss Billy Beane. He’d sign for $100,000. It doesn’t end well. Knee injuries took a promising career and turned him into a struggling journeyman player.

There is a fast forward to the year of managing Michael Jordan. This was an important year for Francona. He learned about managing big personalities, powerful personalities. He learned about having a democratic spirit, and allowing the right players to manage the club house for you. There are some interesting stories about that time, including some pick up games.

“The key was to have players who could command the respect of their teammates, and to have a manager secure enough to accept input from those players.”

Holley talks about why Jordan played baseball, which is interesting in light of watching The Last Dance. Holley notes that Jordan was bored with basketball. You can see why when you see how grueling it was to win 3 championships and a gold medal in 3 years. It had become too routine, not enough of a challenge. He was tired of monotony. He was also looking for an escape from the non-stop hero worship. While he didn’t get a complete break from fame, he wasn’t in the spotlight for over a year.

Then we forward jump to 2006 and the Red Sox on-going duel with the Yankees. In the midst of the tiring battles between the teams, there was the personal relationship between the coaches that went back to Francona’s childhood. They played chess in these match ups and their strategy is revealed in some of the stories. But the main story was a sweep late in 2006, rather than a certain series in October 2004. 2006 saw the Red Sox begin well, and were on pace to win 100 games when the wheels fell off. Varitek got hurt at the trade deadline forcing them to trade of Javy Lopez, a guy who just didn’t fit. Then it was Wakefield who got hurt. Beckett seemed to struggle in even numbered seasons, and did. And then it got worse: Big Papi had palpitations, Lester was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Manny was being Manny with a bad hammy, Schilling strained a muscle and Papelbon had a shoulder subluxation. They were a mess going into the series that would shape their off season.

Theo alluded to the development of rookies that would make a big impact in 2007: Pedroia and Ellsbury. But they also needed veteran help. The “competitive obsession” that led to the big moves before 2004 led to big moves before 2007 as well. So began the Dice-K story, the signing of J.D. Drew and whether or not Papelbon would remain a closer or shift to a starter after his injury. But here is also where Holley addresses how Varitek, Cora and Ortiz ran the club house. That was often a challenge with Manny. When frustrated with the man-child, he’d send Big Papi in to talk to him. Sometimes even Papi wanted to kill him.

In 2007 Terry implemented a change so when they played the scouted team, those scouts would be there to talk it through, not just send in reports. This helped him in game prep. When that was done it was time for communication: texting his kids, walking the room or beating Pedrioa in cribbage.

“…the sign-stealing ability of Rodriguez. Sometimes catcher Jason Varitek and Schilling would change their signs three times an at bat when facing Rodriguez. They didn’t begrudge him for it; they did the same thing. “Everybody tries,” Francona explained. “We try to steal third-base coaches’ signs. They try to get ours. That’s part of the game.””

This is very different from what the Astros did (and some other teams) in using their own center field cameras and algorithms to crack the signs. But you see the same mind set: everyone was looking for an advantage. It was gamesmanship at the core. But once tech was used, like with Apple Watches by the 2017 Red Sox, the line was crossed. But all of this was part of how they turned the tide against the Yankees in 2007.

(Associated Press)

Holley then jumps us to the trade deadline that season on a ride that took Theo and Terry to a boiler room to have a private conversation with Jonathan Papelbon. This is about the ill-fated trade for Greg Gagne whose stats were nearly identical to Papelbon’s. But they wanted to shore up the bullpen, particularly since Papelbon had the injury in 2006. They were taking no chances but didn’t want to mess with his head. It ended up messing with Gagne’s though. He became very hittable, and frustrating to Sox fans around the world who feared he’d sink their chances.

So, here we are in the middle of the 2007 season and Holley returns to 1988. Why 1988 you say? He mom, Birdie, was diagnosed with cancer. Here battle would last until his first year managing in the minors, 1992. After her death, Holley recounts his moves around the league as a coach until the fall of 2002 when a series of medical problems nearly killed Terry.

Then he brings us back to the stretch run in 2007 as the lead shrank and the fans’ ire grew. Not only was Pedroia a new member of the Sox-Yanks rivalry, so was hard throwing Joba Chamberlin. And he went head hunting. But Clay Buchholz emerged with a no-hitter. Pennant race tensions also hit during a series in Baltimore when a frustrated Cabrera hit Pedrioa prompting a clearing of the benches. Baltimore catcher Ramon Hernandez lost his cool in the fray. Francona had a word with Oriole’s star Miguel Tejada.

“Miggy,” Francona said, calling Tejada by his nickname. “That was bullshit.”

“I know,” the shortstop said.

“Miggy, we’ve got Josh Beckett pitching on Sunday, and he throws real hard.”

“I know,” he repeated.

Old school baseball rules. On Sunday, while winning his 18th game of the season, Beckett hit Hernandez.

But at one point, the Red Sox lead was down to 1 1/2 games. Gagne had been horrible. Lugo and Drew were struggling at the plate all season. Talk radio was full of criticism for the team, the GM and Terry Francona. It seemed to take far too long but the Sox clinched a playoff spot and then the division. Now it was time to see who’d they play: Indians or Angels? They would play future Red Sox John Lackey and the Angels. They would beat them soundly, actually.

I remember spending the weekend in 2007 in Treasure Island near St. Pete. I was doing pulpit supply and they let us stay at a vacation home on the water. I spent the evenings listening to or watching the series against the Indians. Francona was betting on his team’s experience to be the deciding factor. It likely was as the Red Sox came from behind to defeat them before sweeping the previously red hot Rockies.

The afterward covers, very briefly, the 2008 season which saw Manny force his way out of town and a depleted Red Sox team barely lose a 7 game ALCS against the Rays. Oh, that hurt.

So, in some ways this is a strange book. It wasn’t what I’d hoped. I thought it would cover more of his career with the Red Sox. It jumped around with the time line like a Quinten Tarantino movie. But it was still a fun, informative read. It is worth adding to any Red Sox or baseball fan’s collection. Francona was a man who provided a transition in how the game was managed. He maintained relationships and honored the game on his way to success. I’m not sure what his pastor/piano tuner grandfather would say about his language, but he still displayed plenty of character.

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