Daniel W. Drezner

Who’s underrating Terry Francona?

Who’s underrating Terry Francona?

Both the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy and the New York Times’ Jack Curry devote their columns today to Red Sox manager Terry Francona.  They have similar themes — Sox fans underappreciate Francona, but not true baseball insiders.  Shaughnessy first

Francona is never going to get the Red Auerbach or Bill Belichick treatment around here. In the eyes of some old-school Red Sox watchers, he’s not even on a par with Dick Williams. But when do we start looking at what is happening with the Red Sox and assigning some credit to the man in the corner office? Just because Francona doesn’t intimidate people or try to portray himself as a genius, is that any reason to diminish what the man has done?

And now Curry

Although Francona has more World Series rings as a manager than Lou Piniella,  Bobby Cox or Jim Leyland, he is not routinely mentioned as one of baseball’s elite managers…. Stop fans on any street that is not in New England and ask them to pick baseball’s best managers. Not many would select Francona. When Francona was presented with this theory, he said, “My dad would.”

OK, enough — do Shaughnessy and Curry have some secret bar where they meet a few guys named Sully once a month so they can write this kind of “fan-on-the-street” crap with a clear conscience?  As a Red Sox fan who talks to other Sox fans, I have rarely, if ever, heard an unkind word directed at Francona during his tenure as manager here.  In fact, most Sox fans think Francona excels at the three biggest challenges a Red Sox manager faces:  a) keeping the players on the same page; b) handling the media; c) never panicking during the season. If anything, it’s the national media — I’m looking at you, BBWAA — that underrates Francona.  Consider that he’s never won Manager of the Year.  In the miracle year of 2004, he finished fifth in the voting, receiving zero first-place ballots.  In 2005, he managed to get a team without a true #1 or #2 starter and no established closer into the postseason and finished sixth in the voting, receiving zero first-place ballots.  Last year, despite helming the team with the best record, he finished fourth in the voting and received zero first-place ballots.   Oh, and he’s not going to win it this year, either — Joe Maddon will.  Why is this?  The MOY tends to go to the guy who’s team exceeeds expectations — and since Francona’s been around, the Red Sox have been expected to go in the post-season.  GM Theo Epstein (deservedly) gets a lot of credit that might otherwise go to Francona.  It’s a regular season vote as well, so Francona’s post-season success doesn’t count.  And Francona really is pretty self-effacing — if it’s an act, then it’s a very convincing one.  So, to use a poker metaphor, Francona usually holds better cards than the other guys.  His skill at playing those cards, however, is underrated.  If the Red Sox win the World Series again this year, however, my bet is that Francona’s reputation goes sky-high.  By some metrics, the Red Sox are still the best team in the league, but they’ve had to deal with a lot of injuries plus the whole Manny brouhaha.  Unlike last year, they’re not expected to win this year.  Joe Torre is no longer in New York City.  If he can exceed expectations again, then maybe the national baseball media elite will catch up to what Red Sox fans have known for quite some time — Terry Francona is a damn fine manager.