Four More Years

I like Stephen King. He’s no Gabriel García Márquez, obviously, but then who is? King, in my view, takes his craft seriously and does have legitimate strengths as a writer (besides the obvious productivity) that his fellow Hudson News bestsellers lack. More even than his absurd commercial success, however, I have a great deal of respect for the way that King has never forgotten the economically challenged state he hails from. That kind of loyalty is as admirable as it is rare in this day and age.

But one area where I break with America’s bestselling author is on the subject of one Terry Tito Francona. As has been documented, King and his co-author Stewart O’Nan spent much of the very readable Faithful slagging the Red Sox manager, much as an average fan might be expected to do.

Today, however, with the benefit of a second world series under his belt, the man King and O’Nan came to call Francoma received a contract that values him as the upper echelon manager his record proclaims him to be. Where value equates to $12 million, guaranteed, over a three year period.

Not that I’ve been a fan of Francona’s from day one. While I can’t dig up the actual text – and certainly I wasn’t writing here at the time, my recollection of my reaction to the signing within an email to a few friends can be summarized in one word: skeptical. Much like all of the Patriots fans in the audience probably were after Robert Kraft brought on Bill Belichick who had been fired in Cleveland. As Francona had been fired in Philly.

Nor am I convinced that the one-time Philly outcast is the perfect manager. I have frequent issues with his bullpen usage, occasional questions about his loyalty to certain players, and infrequent problems with his in-game tactics.

But for all that, I’m aware that Francona has forgotten more about baseball than I’ll ever know, and has access to information – quantitative, injury, personality, morale and otherwise – that I lack. Which is important, and can – at times – trump the numbers.

Francona was hired in part because of his acceptance of the numbers – the data wrangled by the front office into meaningful, actionable information. The front office makes a point of employing both traditional scouting techniques and modern statistical analysis side by side, rather than excessively favoring one over the other. It’s clear that Tito, for his part, augments his decision making process with the information fed to him by the front office. Whom he clearly trusts, and has forged an excellent working relationship with. Tito listens.

Where Little before him was content to leave the reams of statistical data provided him by the front office collecting dust on his manager’s desk, Francona seems to honestly and genuinely appreciate the additional data. He seems to uniquely understand that more data is generally a good, rather than a threatening, thing.

Off the field, Francona also seems to have the singularly unique yet utterly necessary talent for putting Red Sox nation in its place – without offending.

The fans, media and wicked clevah alike jump to the conclusion that Crisp is out in favor of my Navajo brother? Francona tells us that while it’s ok if we forget, it’s his responsibility to remember what Crisp brings to the table (which is, not coincidentally, almost perfectly aligned with the GM’s view). The fanbase is bitter after a mere 101 wins? Francona has no problem calling us on it, but does it so deftly we don’t even remember to be offended.

No, I’m not prepared to make the argument that Francona is the perfect manager. But I could certainly build and defend the case that he’s the perfect manager for this town, and this team.

All of which is a long winded way of saying that I’m very pleased the front office and ownership saw things the same way.

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