Francona skillful and relaxed amid the chaos of Boston
Originally Published: October 23, 2007By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com
BOSTON -- Terry Francona feels no particular urge to listen to sports talk radio or read the daily papers in an effort to monitor his public image. Most of the time, the scoreboard tells him all he needs to know.
Now that Joe Torre is kicking back in Harrison, N.Y., and assessing his future in the game, Francona is carrying the mantle for media-friendly types who roll with the punches and create a comfortable environment for players. Peruse the Boston clubhouse, and Francona's players credit him for "having their backs," staying positive during the hard times, maintaining the lines of communication and fostering a team concept while allowing them to be individuals. Francona is also skillful in dealing with the relentless and obsessive Boston media. His news conferences are an entertaining mix of thoughtful analysis mixed with banter and self-deprecating humor. When Francona pokes fun at his baldness or prominent nose, it's just a case of Terry being Terry. Francona seems even more relaxed and in his element than in 2004, when he led the Red Sox to their first title in 86 years. But in an odd twist, that crowning achievement made him more conscious of the burden that he carries. "In 2004 I was oblivious to a lot of the surroundings and I think it made my job easier," Francona said. "After I saw what that did for people around here, it actually made 2005 harder. I started feeling the responsibility of every game a lot more because I understood more what it meant to people around here." Francona's ability to stay calm amid the chaos is a reflection of his background and his personality. He is forever Tito's son, the kid who grew up around major league clubhouses and achieved big things on the diamond, then showed enough feel for the game to keep achieving when his knees went and his playing career followed. Few people in the Boston clubhouse have more insight into Francona than bench coach Brad Mills. It goes back to the late 1970s when they were both recruited by University of Arizona coach Jerry Kindall -- Mills as a hotshot junior college transfer and Francona as a high school star out of Pennsylvania. Mills vividly remembers his first encounter with Francona before the Wildcats' opening practice. The team gathered at a central spot on campus to watch a baseball "Game of the Week," and Francona made himself right at home on a couch in front of the television. "He's lying there on that couch, and he's got hair down past his shoulders," Mills said. "He was wearing high-top red Chuck Taylors with a T-shirt and cutoff Levi's with the strings hanging down. I'm like, 'You're Terry Francona? You've got to be kidding me.' "
Rick Scuteri/US Presswire Terry Francona has led the Red Sox to the World Series in two of his four seasons as manager.
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Francona also showed admirable restraint in September, when the Red Sox were on the verge of blowing their AL East lead to the Yankees. Amid the hysteria, he was secure enough to take his foot off the gas pedal and balance a desire to win now with the need to prepare for October. Francona backed off Schilling and Daisuke Matsuzaka, shut down Hideki Okajima and allowed Ramirez to rest until his strained oblique muscle was fully healed. Nobody is questioning those decisions now. Through eight seasons as a manager, Francona has grown accustomed to the fickle nature of public and media acceptance. "Let's face it -- half the room is going to say one move is good and another move is bad," Francona said. "So I don't really feel like I need it re-explained to me. I do the best I can every day, always stay true to myself and do what I think is right. Regardless of how I'm perceived, if it works in that [clubhouse], that's what I truly care about." Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireTerry Francona, left, is widely respected by the players who play for him.
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