Francona gets extension from Red Sox through '08
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Terry Francona has found a home in Boston.
The manager who led the Red Sox to their first World Series championship in 86 years received a two-year contract extension through 2008, seven months after uprooting his wife and children and moving just outside the city where he works.
"I'm very appreciative," Francona said after the deal was announced Tuesday. "I didn't ever want this to be the story of spring training and it wasn't."
General manager Theo Epstein called Francona "a mainstay of the organization" whose ability to communicate, ignore criticism and create a loose clubhouse atmosphere is important in Boston with its passionate fans and pervasive media.
"He's been everything that we hoped for," Epstein said, "and more, because we think he's really grown on the job and grown into the role of being the manager of the Boston Red Sox, as opposed to being a major-league manager, very well and very quickly."
Francona was hired on Dec. 4, 2003, to succeed Grady Little, who was let go after the Red Sox lost the AL Championship Series to the New York Yankees.
"He's consistent day in and day out and you can't really tell if we've won or lost the night before," Epstein said. "That's an even greater accomplishment in Boston because there are things that can come up that can drag you down."
It happened to past Red Sox managers.
Don Zimmer was stung by fans' criticism in the late 1970s, and Butch Hobson, Kevin Kennedy and Jimy Williams endured difficult stretches in the 1990s. Little was criticized by fans for leaving a tiring Pedro Martinez in late in Game 6 of the 2003 ALCS.
In his first season, Francona guided Boston to its first World Series title since 1918. In his second, the Red Sox had the same record as the AL East champion Yankees, who won that title on a tiebreaker. Boston made the playoffs as the wild-card team before being swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Chicago White Sox.
By that time, the Francona family had lived in Brookline, Mass., a short distance from Fenway Park, for about two months after leaving their home outside Philadelphia.
One son, Nick, was already in college, a pitcher at Pennsylvania. A daughter, Alyssa, plays softball at North Carolina.
But one of his two younger daughters, Leah, is 16.
"That's a hard age when things are going perfect," Francona said. "To be brutally honest, it's unfair to the kids. To be in Boston and to be my daughter is unfair."
It didn't help that a topic discussed in one of her classes was "should I be fired?" he said.
Family is important to the 46-year-old Francona, and he had already moved once when he became manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1997.
"You want to see your kids at night," he said.
He also wanted to show his commitment to the Red Sox, who first hired him to a three-year contract with a club option for a fourth in 2007.
"Being able to walk in [team offices] in the winter and even say hello is important," Francona said. "I don't believe in managing and going home."
In two seasons together, he and Epstein have developed a close working relationship. Epstein said there was never really a question that Francona would get an extension.
"He brings all the strengths we thought he would bring," Epstein said, "communication with the players, feel for the game, open-mindedness, progressive thinking, and now [he] has a lot of experience in the regular season and in the postseason."
Francona said he didn't worry about his contract status before the deal was finalized prior to Tuesday's 9-7 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
Team president Larry Lucchino had told him the club wanted to address his contract situation during spring training. About a week before exhibition games started, Francona discussed it over dinner with Epstein, Lucchino and owners John Henry and Tom Werner.
"I couldn't tell them that night, but they had me that night. I just needed to try to get some more money," Francona said with a smile. "They were so genuine. ... It really was a great night."
His players are happy that he should be around a while.
"He's just easygoing. He doesn't let things affect him," right fielder Trot Nixon said. "I think he's done everything the organization's asked of him."
"He knows when to put pressure on guys and when not to," pitcher Bronson Arroyo said. "It's wonderful playing under him. He never kills us in the paper."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press