Monday, January 6, 2014

Francona, by Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy--Book Review

Photo: Terry Francona, as he is now--a manager of the Cleveland Indians--in a photo from a Boston Globe article about him winning Manager of the Year.

A very readable, if not mindblowing or all-revealing, look at the life and times, especially 2004-2011, of former Red Sox manager Terry Francona.  I read it in a couple of days, as most decent readers and/or baseball fans would.

I had put off reading it for a long time, as I very much liked and respected Francona (and still do) and did not want to read an airing of his grievances.  He was always a "keep it in-house" kind of guy, and I didn't want to see him break from that and air his--and the Sox's--dirty laundry.  But an uncle of mine let me borrow it, and I had some time off, so I read it.  It was a nice distraction, but if you're hoping to get the nitty-gritty on his quitting / firing, or the real inside scoop on Manny, or Pedro, you'll be disappointed.  There isn't much here that most serious Sox fans wouldn't already know.

In fact, Francona has a few more books in him when his stint with the Indians is over.  I'd like to read more about his minor league coaching days, which are given very short shrift here--surprising, since he had so many minor league jobs, and since he was Michael Jordan's coach in Birmingham, the Double-A club of the Chicago White Sox.  Managing Michael Jordan's baseball days is a book in of itself--a book he should get to, before Jordan's star starts dimming.

I'd also love to hear more about a baseball lifer: the minor-league coaching and managing; the bus rides; the fans; the management.  The major league coaching jobs he had as bench coach with the A's, or the Rangers, or a few others.  His days managing in Philadelphia.  His one year with ESPN.  All of that stuff would be more interesting to me than the stuff written about here, 99% of which I already knew.  The Manny stuff, the Pedro stuff, the last days in Boston--all old news, and already known.  (Though I did not know that the Colorado Rockies purposely had an famous country singer / ex-girlfriend of Josh Beckett's sing the National Anthem before Game 4--while he warmed up in the bullpen to start the game.  He told someone: "For the record, I broke up with her."  That's right out of Major League or Bull Durham, and taught me something else: That Beckett actually has a sense of humor.  I still blame him for most of the catastrophe of September, 2011.)

And, despite the airing of some grievances--mostly about John Henry and Larry Lucchino--Francona and Shaughnessy clearly tap dance their way around every potential volatile issue, so as not to truly upset anyone.  Theo Epstein comes out of it much better than he probably should--partly because he and Francona were so close.  But there are no lightning bolts here, which is, in a way, too bad, because there are lightning bolts to uncover about September 2011, and about who leaked the private information that partly led to Francona leaving.  But I'm glad there aren't any lightning bolts as well.  As I said, I like and respect Francona (and was happy that his Indians made the playoffs [albeit for one game] and that he won Manager of the Year--a first for him, believe it or not) and so I am happy to not see any incredible dirty laundry being publicly shown.  I'm guessing that, because he is that kind of guy, he only wanted to show in the book things that really are in the public realm, things that most serious Sox fans already know.  He showed the dirty socks and shirts, and not the pants, if you catch my extended metaphor there.

So, good book.  It won't be as memorable as Jim Bouton's Ball Four, but it'll pass the time.  I read it mostly during the commercials of the 2013 ALCS and World Series games I'd DVRed.

P.S.--Getting the Cleveland Indians into the playoffs was a better showing of his managerial talents than anything he did with the Sox, in a way.  The Sox always had playoff talent in all his years there.  The 2013 Indians, on the other hand, is a team that he wrung every drop of talent out of to make the playoffs.

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