By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
I’m willing to be that Red Sox principal owner John Henry isn’t tuning in to watch a lot of October baseball these days. And if he is, it must be akin to watching your old girlfriend entering the prom on the arm of your best buddy.
Awkward and infuriating.
Woulda, coulda, shoulda, are likely words that have crossed his mind as he watches all the former Sox – players, executives, and a manager – still alive in the chase for a World Series title.
Let’s start with the manager. Twice in the last 10 days or so, Terry Francona has had champagne poured on his by Mike Napoli and Coco Crisp, the first time it was in the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park, a place he called home for eight years. Something tells me the only champagne that ever tasted sweeter to Tito, was when he led the Red Sox to their first championship in 86 years in 2004.
While it was obvious that Francona, and the Sox needed to part ways at the end of the dreadful ’11 season, the way he was vilified and slandered by the club on his way out the door, was way below the belt. Even if there was some truth to some of the leaks that came out after they “mutually parted ways,” there was no need to damage the reputation of the man who helped deliver two World Series trophies to an organization that didn’t know how to win until he showed up.
However, that is the way this Red Sox organization does things. They don’t burn bridges; they hit them with nuclear warheads.
One can only imagine the satisfaction the Indians skipper had when he knocked his old team out of the playoffs with a sweep, right under the noses of those who tried to make it impossible for him to ever manage again.
What goes around comes around, eh?
And while the club’s handling of the situation with Francona was deplorable, the other decision they made following that ’11 season was just plain dumb. Allowing perhaps the best baseball mind of his generation – Theo Epstein – to leave to run the Chicago Cubs, might just be the biggest boondoggle since Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920.
Epstein had tried to force Henry to decide between him and Larry Lucchino dating back to ’05, when Theo famously dressed in a gorilla suit on Halloween to escape reporters after he resigned because of his belligerent boss. Then, as he did again in ’11, Henry chose poorly. And while Epstein eventually came back after his first split, there was no turning back when things took a turn for the worst after Francona was fired.
Had Henry had the sense to turn over the reins to Epstein then, and give Larry a president emeritus title a few years early, it might be Henry sitting next to Epstein watching the best team in baseball, instead of Tom Ricketts.
However, even though his team ran into one in ’13, the post Theo years have largely been tough ones in Boston. Multiple last place finishes and bad decisions with personnel, have caused Henry’s teams to sputter season after season. And when they finally got back to the playoffs, Theo’s old buddy, took a team with one starting pitcher and shut down the most productive lineup in Major League Baseball during the regular season.
Meanwhile, Epstein has built a team that looks like it can contend for the better part of the next decade. The Cubs are the consensus team to beat this post season, and Theo sits just six wins away from breaking a curse that outdates the 86 year one he broke in Boston 12 years ago.
Whether it be Adrian Gonzales, Mike Napoli, John Lackey, John Lester, Francona, or Epstein; John Henry will have to watch one of his former employees hoist another trophy in the next two weeks.
The smart choice might just be not to tune in, John. However, it has been sometime since you have made a smart baseball decision, hasn’t it?