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Francona Leaving Red Sox

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Terry Francona (Elise Amendola/AP Photo)

Terry Francona (Elise Amendola/AP Photo)

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By HOWARD ULMAN
AP Sports Writer

BOSTON (AP) _ The Terry Francona era in Boston began with the
Red Sox first championship in 86 years. It ended after one of the
worst months in club history.

Players who didn’t listen to him needed “a new voice,” he
said, and his employers agreed.

The team announced Friday that it was not exercising its
contract option for next season and wouldn’t hurry to name a
replacement for the manager who rarely criticized his players
publicly. That loyalty may not have been returned.

“I trusted them explicitly and things weren’t getting done the
way I wanted it in the end,” Francona said, “and I was frustrated
because of that. If that’s letting me down, maybe it is.”

But, he said he liked his players and “I actually feel I let a
lot of people down.”

In a statement, the Red Sox said they wouldn’t pick up the
option for a ninth year as manager following the team’s September
collapse in which they blew a nine-game lead in the AL wild-card
race. They went 7-20 in September, capped by a 4-3 loss to
Baltimore, as Tampa Bay beat them for the playoff spot on the final
night of the regular season.

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.

The decision was part of a whirlwind day at Fenway Park that saw
the principal parties shuttle in and out of the facility. Francona
was in the building three different times.

As Francona drove away once in his Cadillac Escalade, a fan on
the street clapped and gave him the thumbs-up sign. Later, after
Francona had returned, the driver of a passing ambulance asked a
reporter, “Did Francona get fired?”

A day on which talk shows in baseball-crazy Boston were filled
with Tito talk took a strange turn later when Henry fell on his
yacht moored in downtown Boston and was taken to Massachusetts
General Hospital to be examined. WBZ radio reported that he walked
off his boat wearing a neck brace.

“He’s fine,” Werner said at an evening news conference with
Lucchino and general manager Theo Epstein. “He wished he could be
here tonight so his absence, don’t read anything more than just he
suffered a minor fall this afternoon.”

He said that at Friday morning’s meeting, management suggested
Francona take the weekend to think things over. But he said
Francona had made up his mind. He didn’t directly address a
question of whether the team would have exercised the option had
Francona wanted to stay.

“I was looking forward to hearing Terry’s point of view about
how things could improve,” Werner said, “but I think it became
clear to us that we couldn’t convince him to remain and I think
that’s best for all of us.”

Boston missed the playoffs despite its nine-game lead with 24
left on Sept. 4. It went 6-18 after that 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 said at
a news conference after the announcement. “I didn’t always get
that feeling and it bothered me.”

Epstein said Francona was frustrated with clubhouse issues
before the September swoon. But that didn’t keep the Red Sox from
going 82-44 between a dismal 2-10 start and the 6-18 finish.

“When you’re winning, a lot of that stuff gets covered up,”
Epstein said, “and then in September when we started to lose, some
of our warts were exposed.”

Francona 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.”

Lucchino said, “I was actually puzzled by that comment. We have
done nothing differently this year than we have done in previous
years.”

Werner gave a vote of confidence to Epstein, who has been
criticized for giving long-term deals to underachieving John Lackey
and Carl Crawford and is still under contract.

“He’s one of the best general managers in baseball and has been
integral to the success of our club the last 10 years,” Werner
said.

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,” it 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.”

The statement also quotes Epstein as saying, “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.”

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. Hale has never managed in the majors and Epstein said
experience in that job is preferable but not required.

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.

At Friday’s meeting, “I passed along my frustrations at my
inability to effectively reach the players,” Francona said in the
statement. “After many conversations and much consideration, I
ultimately felt that, out of respect to this team, it was time for
me to move on.

“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.”

Francona was the second winningest manager in Red Sox history
with a 744-552 record and an 8-0 mark in World Series games,
sweeping the Cardinals and Rockies. He became the first manager to
win his first six World Series games. They were 90-72 this season.

“I’m going to miss Tito,” Epstein said, “but I am excited
that we’re going to get the right guy and that under his leadership
these players are going to come together and form a winning team
next year, a really good team.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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