NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – The Terry Francona era is over in Boston.
The manager who led the Red Sox to their first World Series championship in 86 years is out after one of the worst months in club history.
In a joint statement released on Friday, the Red Sox announced they will not pick up the option on Francona’s contract for a ninth year in the wake of the team’s September collapse in which they blew a nine-game lead in the AL wild-card race.
Owners John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino acknowledged a change was needed and thanked Francona, who led the franchise to titles in 2004 and 2007. But the statement also mentioned that Francona was ready to head in a different direction.
“Tito said that after eight years here he was frustrated by his difficulty making an impact with the players, that a different voice was needed, and that it was time for him to move on,” the statement said. “After taking time to reflect on Tito’s sentiments, we agreed that it was best for the Red Sox not to exercise the option years on his contract.”
The press release highlighted a whirlwind day at Fenway Park that saw all of the principal parties shuttle in and out of the facility. Francona was in the building three different times.
Later, Henry was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital to be examined after a minor incident on his yacht, the Red Sox said. WBZ radio reported that he walked off his boat wearing a neck brace.
Boston missed the playoffs despite its nine-game lead with 24 left on Sept. 4. It went 6-18 after that, ending with a 4-3 loss Wednesday night in Baltimore amid reports of conditioning and clubhouse problems. The Red Sox did not win consecutive games all month.
“I didn’t feel like the players need to go to dinner together, but they need to be fiercely loyal on the field,” Francona, who rarely criticized players publicly, said at a news conference after the announcement. “I didn’t always get that feeling and it bothered me.”
He also said it was his decision to leave, although the owners seemed to want to make a change.
“I’m not sure how much support there was from ownership. I don’t know that I feel real comfortable,” said Francona, wearing a long-sleeved dress shirt instead of the red Boston pullover he wore during games and postgame news conferences. “It’s got be everybody together. I was questioning that a little bit”
Still, the official announcement praised Francona.
“We have enormous respect, admiration and appreciation for Tito and the job that he did for eight years, including two World Series championship seasons and five playoff appearances,” the statement read. “His poise during the 2004 postseason was a key factor in the greatest comeback in baseball history, and his place in Red Sox history will never be forgotten.
“We wish him only the best going forward.”
General manager Theo Epstein released a statement earlier in the day, saying the club had not yet made a decision on Francona’s future. But he later revised his thoughts.
“Nobody at the Red Sox blames Tito for what happened at the end of this season; we own that as an organization. This year was certainly a difficult and draining one for him and for us,” Epstein said. “Ultimately, he decided that there were certain things that needed to be done that he couldn’t do after eight years here, and that this team would benefit from hearing a new voice.
“While this may be true, his next team will benefit more than it knows from hearing Tito’s voice. I will miss seeing Tito every day in the manager’s office, and I wish him and his family nothing but the best in their next chapter.”
Francona said he didn’t know what he would do next but wants to stay in the game. He could be interested in the managerial opening with the Chicago White Sox. He was a manager in their minor-league system, even handling a team on which Michael Jordan tried his hand at baseball, before becoming manager in Philadelphia in 1997.
He said he supports his bench coach, DeMarlo Hale, to replace him but there has been little speculation about who would take over.
Asked about reports of drinking in the clubhouse during games by starting pitchers not playing that day, Francona said, “I’d rather talk about generalities.”
In Francona’s four seasons with the Phillies, they had a 285-363 record with their best coming in 1999 at 77-85.
The Red Sox failed to make the postseason in Francona’s final two seasons but sold out every game since he replaced Grady Little after the 2003 season.
“We met this morning to look back on the 2011 season and to consider the future of the Boston Red Sox, including my involvement with the club. I passed along my frustrations at my inability to effectively reach the players. After many conversations and much consideration, I ultimately felt that, out of respect to this team, it was time for me to move on,” Francona said.
“I’ve always maintained that it is not only the right, but the obligation, of ownership to have the right person doing this job. I told them that out of my enormous respect for this organization and the people in it, they may need to find a different voice to lead the team.”
The decision came as both of the American League Division Series were set to begin. So, obviously, the Red Sox were a hot pregame topic in Texas and New York.
“I know how well liked he is by his players and that city and in baseball in general. He’s a great guy; he’s not just a good guy,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s not easy.”
Maddon’s Rays, and Joe Girardi’s Yankees both made the postseason out of the same division as Boston.
“These jobs are precious, there’s no doubt about it. There’s expectations. A lot of times they’re extremely high expectations when you’re in certain towns,” Girardi said. “We understand that when we take the job. High expectations are better than no expectations. You do enjoy it and you enjoy your time when you’re there.
“Tito has done a great job there.”
The Red Sox went 744-552 under Francona, and 8-0 in World Series games under him, sweeping the Cardinals and Rockies. He became the first manager to win his first six World Series games. They were 90-72 this season.
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