Sunday, January 27, 2013

FN Book Review: 'Francona: The Red Sox Years'

Right off the bat, there are two things you should know about Francona: The Red Sox Years: 1.) WEEI's Gerry Callahan is 100% correct that the real title should be Tito's Revenge, and 2.) you have to suspend all of your previously held prejudices against Dan Shaughnessy—because the CHB turns in one of the best Boston sports books ever. While there are some self-serving moments in the book, it's hard to come away from the 343 pages without realizing that Terry Francona got royally screwed—primarily by the NOG and the entitled players that populated the 2010 and 2011 rosters.

Larry Lucchino is the prime villain—although there are moments that indicate he is not the complete Mephistopheles that he is portrayed to be. Tom Werner is characterized as the ratings-obsessed "Fredo" of the ownership group—always looking to weasel his way into the process. And, principal owner John Henry comes across as the detached data freak, who creates confrontation by avoiding it. This is not the PR template the owners want out there. Theo Espstein is cast as Tito's protector—the go-between who smooths things over time and again with the NOG. Tito and Theo are almost seen as hardball soulmates—despite having totally different perspectives on the game.

In a larger sense, this book is about the tension between two Red Sox world views: the small, homegrown development machine versus the big, image-conscious ratings monster. For a few years, winning masked the divide, but in the end, everyone was caught in the cross-fire. This book is Tito's tale of what it is like to go from the innocent joy of two rings to the drudgery of losing games and pride. Aside from the compelling narrative, scores of weird little tid-bits are revealed that—by themselves—are worth the price of the book. For example:

• the fact that Night Shift is Tito's favorite movie (endearing him to us forever);
• details of the 2011 market research study that called for the signing of big, "sexy" stars;
• the image of Pedroia's mother chewing him out for swinging at a pitch in the dirt;
• the revelation that John Henry paid for a clubhouse worker's uninsured medicine;
• the $20,000 bet between Lucchino and Tito for the manager to quit chewing tobacco;
• Derek Jeter's nod to Tito when he came to bat—and A-Rod's feeble attempt to copy it;
• Aceves' comment when the '11 Sox finally broke .500: "Now we flip the tortilla";
• the revelation that Mike Cameron started the Popeye's fried chicken tradition in 2010.

All in all, this is a masterful work of sports journalism. It is a must read for every Red Sox fan. You can buy it HERE.