Dave Van Dyck is reporting that a source close to Terry Francona is saying that Tito “deep down” badly wants to manage the Cubs.
For his part, Francona says he is “trying to stay under the radar” with his unspoken candidacy, but a source very close to him says “deep down” he badly wants to manage the Cubs — for whom he played in 1986 while falling in love with Wrigley Field — and has told Epstein so.
I’ve been on the record many times with regards to Francona. If he isn’t the best manager in all of baseball, he’s one of the very best in my opinion. It’s very difficult to evaluate a manager in terms of his impact on runs and wins, so it’s only an opinion. I’ve believed Francona to be one of the best for many years now and when he became available he was the one I wanted the to hire. This was before Theo became available. Dave Van Dyck says there are complications though.
What would seem to be a simple process actually comes with complications, not the least of which is the Red Sox meltdown in September that made Francona and Epstein available. Yes, the Red Sox won 90 games, 19 more than the Cubs, but they failed to make the playoffs and there was talk Francona had lost control of the clubhouse.
There were hints Francona had become burned out after eight grueling seasons in Boston and that he had burned bridges with his longtime buddy Epstein.
We know the part about Francona burning bridges with Theo isn’t true. Theo holds him in very high regard and even hinted early on that he was the best manaager available this offseason. The performance of the Red Sox in September can’t be blamed on Tito. While he may be at fault in some ways, the bottom line is that winning is about performing and the players didn’t do it. Unless you believe managers can wave a magic wand making players perform up to their potential or above, this is just unfair criticism. Theo and Jed Hoyer are surely not so naive to think that’s what happened.
As for losing control of the clubhouse, there does appear to be some truth to that. The Red Sox clubhouse was out of control. The thing is, if the Red Sox win two more games, running an out of control clubhouse would be seen as a positive and not a weakness. If the 2004 Sox failed to win the World Series, The Idiots would not be seen as nearly as positive as it’s seen today. It’s possible that very attitude would be blamed for their failure. Since they won, it was all cool.
Furthermore, there are 25 adult baseball players in the clubhouse. In September there are even more. There’s only so much someone can do to control their behavior. Keep in mind that these guys make millions of dollars. They’re not easy to boss around. When there is a group of them, it’s even worse and maybe impossible to get them under control. I can accept that Tito deserves some of the blame for this, but I cannot accept that he deserves as much as the Red Sox front office, fans and media have placed on him. I’m guessing we could find the least out of control clubhouse in all of Major League Baseball and by our own standards it would be very much out of control. The degree to which the Red Sox clubhouse differed from others is unknown, but it’s probably not all that much.
Finally, maybe the Cubs could benefit from a less controlled clubhouse setting. It’s possible being able to do as they want, within reason of course, would allow them to focus more on the field. I don’t really see any reason to believe that clubhouse control would correlate with wins on the field. These are human beings and some groups of them could use more structure while others could use less. It’s been my belief for a long time that the worst managers with regards to clubhouse setting are the ones who create just one acceptable atmosphere. From what I’ve read, Joe Torre was very good at dealing with different groups of people in different ways. There’s no reason to believe that what would benefit the 2003 Cubs is the same thing that would benefit future rosters.
The 2004 Red Sox loved the relaxed clubhouse where they could mostly do as they please. It was a strength for that roster. Maybe the 2011 Red Sox needed more structure. I don’t really know, but two rosters aren’t alike. Just as you have to deal with individuals in different ways, groups of people must also be dealt with in different ways.
I had come to accept that the Cubs would probably not hire Tito and had moved on. I had become a fan of Mike Maddux and Dale Sveum. Both seem to be very intelligent baseball guys and Sveum is more the analytical type. But if Terry Francona is still an option, I can’t see how the Cubs could do better than hiring him.