Red Sox extend Francona's contract
Manager stays put with one year remaining on original deal
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In a select few locales around Major League Baseball, a team is identified by its manager. Such is the way it is in Atlanta with Bobby Cox and in St. Louis with Tony La Russa. That's the way it was in New York for Joe Torre until he went to the Dodgers. And now, that is officially the way it is for Terry Francona and the Red Sox.
Following Sunday's Spring Training workout, the Red Sox and Francona announced the agreement of a three-year extension that includes a two-year club option. This means that the man everyone around the Red Sox franchise refers to as "Tito" could be with the club through the 2013 season. Francona will honor the final year of his existing contract before the new pact kicks in next year.
"On a lot of levels, it's good," said Francona. "None of us wanted this to go into what we're doing down here. Through a lot of hard work, we were able to get it done where I think everybody is comfortable and we can concern ourselves with baseball, which is what we should do."
When Francona got to Boston, the Red Sox had gone 86 years without winning the World Series. While he's been on the job, the Sox have won two World Series championships in four seasons.
Francona was rewarded for his success with his new deal, which will make him one of the highest-paid managers in the game. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Francona is expected to earn well more than $3 million annually in the guaranteed portion of the deal, and the two option years are believed to be in the $4 million range.
"We're very happy -- it's a great day for the organization," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "Tito will be around for at least the next four years, if not the next six. This demonstrates that he's a core member of the organization, and now he has a contract that reflects that status as well. It was a great job by ownership stepping up to show that commitment to someone who deserves it. Sometimes, when you have success in an organization, higher prices come with it. Tito definitely deserves it. Ownership stepped up. It wasn't the easiest thing in the world to get this contract done, but they did a great job."
Managing the Red Sox has often been described as a grueling and stressful job. But Francona has probably made it look easier than it is. During his time in Boston, Francona has proven to be a strong in-game manager with the ability to manage superstar personalities amid the pressurized atmosphere of Red Sox Nation.
"I've been here now four years," Francona said. "Your relationships either grow or they go a different direction. I think I understand how this works in this city. It doesn't mean it's easy. It's really not easy, ever. Again, the people I go through it with, I respect a lot. I want to be part of this. If I didn't want to be part of this, I wouldn't have done this."
Once the 2008 season is over, Francona will become the first Boston manager to guide the team for five consecutive seasons since Joe Cronin, who wrote out the lineup card from 1935-47. If Francona maximizes the terms of his deal, he will be in the Boston dugout for a full 10 seasons.
"Today, I feel like the ballclub showed a lot of trust in me, which I don't take lightly," Francona said. "I appreciate it, and like I said, I'm honored and I'm hopefully humbled by it."
There was satisfaction all around the clubhouse following the announcement.
"He's a smart man and an intelligent man," said Red Sox captain and catcher Jason Varitek. "He gives time to the media like he's supposed to, and he allows time to communicate back to the player. He has to deal with his bosses, but more importantly, he's been able to mix and match and allowed us to do things on the field that has brought two championships to an organization that had to wait 86 years."
Some managers are said to relate well with veteran players, while others excel with younger players. Francona has the support of all factions of his team.
"He's the only manager I've ever played for up here, but he's the only one I want to play for," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who won the American Rookie of the Year Award in 2007.
When players like J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo struggled mightily last year after signing big contracts to come to Boston, Francona didn't abandon them.
"A lot of guys sometimes give up on you when stuff like that happens; he gives you the confidence to be the player you are," said Lugo, who hit .385 in the Red Sox's four-game sweep of the Rockies in the World Series. "He knows sooner or later, you're going to play the way you've always been playing. He knows how to handle this stuff."
And in Boston, there is a lot of "stuff" to handle. Perhaps that is where Francona has made his true mark.
"I think he's unique," said Epstein. "The thing that stands out about Tito for me is that he can relate to all the different constituencies that he has to deal with as a manager and do it in a genuine way. In being himself, he treats the players fairly, he treats them well. He treats [the media] fairly. He's had a great relationship with management and ownership. It just comes naturally to him. I think, in some way, he was kind of born and bred through baseball for this job. I'm proud to have hired him."
As in any negotiation, there were some ups and downs. But things picked up steam over the past week, particularly when Francona had dinner with Red Sox owner John W. Henry, club chairman Tom Werner and president/CEO Larry Lucchino.
Though the Red Sox typically have a policy of not allowing agents to take part in negotiations that involve management, they gave Francona the OK to have Pat Rooney represent him. That allowed Francona to keep most of his focus on baseball.
"Guys like Theo, I don't ever want to be in an adversarial relationship [with]," Francona said. "First of all, he's smarter than me, and I'm not going to do good. I'm just not comfortable with that part of it. I did get to go to dinner with John and Tom and Larry, which I actually appreciated. I think it was important to talk to them a little bit about things that were important to me. But I also appreciated not being in on all of it."
Last October, Francona became the first manager in Major League history to win his first six World Series games. That streak was extended to eight when the Red Sox swept the World Series for the second time in as many tries.
Francona's 375 wins in his first four years on the job are the most any Boston manager has won in his first four seasons.
"I know, from the players' standpoint, we feel like he has our back no matter what," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "I think there's managers in big markets that can sometimes use the media to get to players. You don't ever see Tito do that, and I think guys appreciate that and I think he provides an atmosphere in a big market where guys can be themselves, and that's big."
For one day, Francona was in the spotlight. By Monday's workout, the attention will be back on the players, which is how Francona likes it.
"What's nice is starting tomorrow, all we'll talk about is the Red Sox, which is as it should be," Francona said. "I'll be happy to do that. Today, I'm really honored. I got an e-mail from Theo last night that really got to me. I'll keep it. I may need to remind him of that sometime this summer. It meant a lot to me."
What was the theme of the e-mail?
"I just told him how well-deserved I thought it was and how it's been great for me to be in the catbird's seat and see him grow through the years," Epstein said.
While staying humble, Francona made it clear how significant it was to get such a show of faith from the organization.
"Nothing compares to us winning," Francona said. "But again, because this is the way I make my living, it's a big day -- big day."
In Francona, the Red Sox have themselves a long-term manager.
"I think baseball is in his blood," Epstein said. "I think the Red Sox now are in his blood. I think as long as the blood keeps coursing through his veins, and we can keep him healthy, I think that he'll want to be managing."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.