Francona familiar with firing line
Red Sox manager reaches out to former Orioles skipper Trembley
BALTIMORE -- Dave Trembley had just been ousted as manager of the Baltimore Orioles and was sitting at the airport Friday afternoon, waiting to board a plane home when his cell phone rang.
The voice on the other end was the Red Sox's Terry Francona, who was sitting in the visiting manager's office at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, watching the press conference of newly appointed Baltimore skipper Juan Samuel.
Francona reached out to Trembley because the managerial fraternity in baseball is a tight one. Even though the Orioles record was 15-39 at the time Trembley was replaced, it can't be a good feeling to lose your job, and Francona knows all too well what that feeling is like.
"As much as we want to beat the Orioles, with somebody's job and their livelihood, you never -- but we've all lived through that," Francona said. "It's not something that makes you feel very good. I actually just talked to him. It wasn't a long conversation, because he was in a crowd. But I was able to say hello to him. I just wanted to tell him I was thinking about him."
Before he became the second-longest tenured manager in Red Sox history, and well before he won two World Series titles with Boston, Francona managed four miserable years with the Philadelphia Phillies. He never had a winning season, and the Phillies never finished higher than third with Francona at the helm. He was let go after the 2000 season.
"I knew it was coming. I've always been pretty honest about it. If I was a general manager, I would've fired me also," Francona said. "I think they didn't really have a choice. Saying that, the last however many days that there's speculation, that's the hardest."
With his pending pink slip on the way, Francona thought about what it would be like without a job in baseball. After all, being the son of a former major leaguer, the game has been his entire life. At the time, though, he thought losing his job would be a huge weight off his shoulders.
"It wasn't," Francona said.
"You can't live with people almost 24 hours a day and it doesn't just go away. I thought it would, and it doesn't. So that was a little bit, I don't know if the word is enlightening for me. The season was over, [then-Phillies GM] Eddie [Wade] talked to me and I thought there would be this 'whew'; and there wasn't. You're so close to people for so long, just because your job title changes or goes away doesn't mean you care less about people. You can't just turn it off, and I thought that's how it would be."
After the Phillies fired Francona, he spent a few days golfing in Florida. He wanted to clear his mind and completely remove himself from the game.
But the game came calling.
On the second day of his golfing trip, he received a call from the Arizona Diamondbacks and was offered an interview for their manager's job.
"It shocked me because I wasn't in that mode. I was just trying to take a deep breath like you do at the end of the season," Francona said.
He went for the interview, and other organizations also started offering coaching jobs. When one of the calls came from the Cleveland Indians, one of the five clubs he played for during his career, he became even more interested in what the Indians were offering.
General manager Mark Shapiro lured Francona into the organization as a special assistant to baseball operations, a role that changed his perspective on the game. For the first time he was off the field and learning an entirely new side of baseball.
"It's the best thing I ever did," Francona said. "It gave me a chance to step away from the emotion of being a manager, which is hard. You look at things from a different perspective, where you don't have emotion involved."
In 2002, he got back on the field as a bench coach for the Texas Rangers. Before he became bench coach for the Oakland A's in 2003, he interviewed with the Orioles for their managerial job, but it was clear to him and the organization that he wouldn't be the right person for the job in Baltimore.
Finally, on Dec. 4, 2003, he became the manager of the Red Sox. The rest is history.
Because of the organization's philosophy and resources, Francona said he has never felt his job was in jeopardy with the Red Sox. Now in his seventh season, he has known only success.
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"Saying that, though, I mean this sincerely, it was hard," he said. "I've never lost sleep over losing my job [with the Red Sox]. Ever. I lose sleep over a lot of things; that's not one of them. It's not that I don't care. It's just, I think if you do this job for the right reasons, those things take care of themselves. Ever since I've been an A-ball manager, I've said, 'Put the players first and the team, and my situation would always take care of itself,' and you know what, it does."
Most of the current Red Sox players have been through a lot with Francona, both on and off the field.
Francona is a player's manager, and he'll do anything to protect his guys. Not only does he have to manage on the field, he has to manage a clubhouse of different personalities and egos, and he does it very well.
"He's been great," Marco Scutaro said. "He's one of those guys who lets you play. If you play hard for him, you're going to be OK."
Once Scutaro signed with the Red Sox during the offseason and arrived in Fort Myers, Fla., for spring training, it didn't take him long to realize the respect and confidence the players have in their manager.
"I used to hear good things about him when I played in Oakland and Toronto," he said. "I was told he's a good manager and likes to communicate with his players. He lets you play and that's what I'm seeing. It's good to have a guy like that. If you play hard, you're going to be fine. If you don't play hard and give 100 percent, he'll let you know. That's the way it should be."
By the time the Red Sox had dismantled the Orioles 11-0 in Samuel's debut, Trembley was probably already home.
Still, the reality of baseball being a business did not go unnoticed by Francona on Friday afternoon. Whether his call to Trembley did anything to ease the former manager's disappointment, Francona not only did what was right by baseball standards, but by human ones as well.
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.