Terry Francona may no longer be managing the Red Sox, but the two-time World Series champion will still be very visible around these parts, and will likely have much to say about his former team as part of his new role at ESPN. (Francona also apparently has a book in the works with Dan Shaughnessy.)
Francona essentially replaces the man who replaced HIM in the manager's office, Bobby Valentine. Jed Drake, ESPN Sr Vice President and Executive Producer, Production, joked during a Tuesday conference call that ESPN pulled off the biggest trade of the baseball winter meetings with the Francona for Valentine swap.
Francona had worked with FOX for the MLB playoffs, filling in for Tim McCarver alongside Joe Buck for a pair of games. Francona said that he did have "very serious" talks with FOX about continuing with them in 2012, and noted that he went to them first, having made "some new very dear friends" from his experience there. However, of the ESPN job, he said "this was too good to pass up. Just too many things that I think I will enjoy, I've already made friends here, developed relationships, which is huge in anything you do."
With the disappointment of the Red Sox season still lingering, Francona continues to put the blame on himself for how things turned out. "I felt it was my responsibility always to be accountable for when things didn't get done, and when a team plays like it did in September, I felt it was my responsibility. I think that was kind of a nutshell comment, that probably got a lot of legs after that, again, there's a lot of reasons why things don't work, you can talk until you're blue in the face, pitcher's ERA is high...it doesn't matter what you say, I think you understand, but as the manager, you're responsible, that's how I felt, and I will always feel that way. When things don't get done properly the guy in charge has to take the responsbility, that's what I was trying to do, I didn't want to try to put it on anyone else, it wasnt' fair."
However ugly things may have gotten at the end, and in the aftermath of his departure, including the leaked allegations of prescription drug dependency and distractions from his home life, Francona insists that his judgement will not be clouded either way when it comes to talking about the Red Sox in his role at ESPN. While still remaining friendly with the likes of Dustin Pedroia, he doesn't see himself pulling any punches if things aren't going well. He says "I think because of my playing career, coaching career, I've been so many places, I think I know just about everybody in the game, I would hate to give an opinion on a team or a person and not tell the truth, that's not doing your job very well."
He touched on what his own approach will be when someone makes a mistake that needs to be pointed out "I think it's my personality, where I hope, at least, that I would be respectful, but also honest, I think that's what people are looking for, and everybody has their own personality, and you have to be true to yourself, and I have no problem watching a game and telling the truth, that doesn't seem like, if someone doesn't catch the ball, you say they didn't catch the ball. I don't know that you have to be a smart-aleck about it or anything like that, but I really love the game of baseball, and I really enjoy the people in the game of baseball, so I actually look forward to it."
In his new job, Francona will join Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser in the Sunday Night Baseball booth, provide analysis for Baseball Tonight, among other news and information shows, and ESPN's coverage of the Little League World Series.
He is excited about the new job because "It gives you a chance to watch baseball, not just the team you're going to play now or three days away." He notes that as a manager, "you get so consumed in who you're playing" but that now "I've been looking at a lot of the National league stuff and it actually kind of surprised me because I wasn't as familiar as I need to be. I get to watch all 30 teams now, You're not just desperately trying to win your game that night, you're watching the teams and seeing what they're doing."
While he may look to get back into the managerial game again in the future, don't expect Francona to be managing from the booth during the games. "I don't think you actually can manage a game from the booth, when you're in the dugout, you're privy to so many things that people outside of that dugout aren't. Where it is probably fair to say you want to question a manager on something he did, I'd be willingy to bet that 99 times out of a 100, the manager has a pretty good answer for why he did it."
One of the things we enjoyed most about Francona while he was managing the Red Sox was his willingness and ability to explain almost any decision he made during the course of a game, unlike say, Jimy Williams, whose favorite postgame quote was "manager's decision." If he's not managing the Red Sox, watching Terry Francona on ESPN might be the next best thing.