BOSTON — Terry Francona is a player’s manager. Therefore, when he talks about calling a team meeting in early September to address some issues with the team, one gets the image of a great communicator doing his thing, and nothing more.
But for Francona to publicly address the issues he had with those players says all you need to know about the internal makeup of a clubhouse that could not put it together down the stretch.
Francona did not get into specifics when addressing those issues, whether they be off-the-field issues or whatnot, but his words Thursday at Fenway Park spoke volumes, especially when you consider the timing of the gathering.
Boston was coming off a 14-0 victory in Toronto. It featured a 20-hit attack and perhaps the best start of the year for Jon Lester. The club had an eight-game lead in the wild card with just 21 games to play. And still, Francona sensed trouble.
“This team I think became challenging at the end,” Francona said. “I remember a day in Toronto, it was after the game we won I think 14-0, and I ended up having a meeting. Not even sure if anybody knew. Because there were some things I was worried about. I thought we were spending too much energy on things that weren’t putting our best foot forward toward winning. And we spent a few minutes in the clubhouse that day talking about that.
“There were some things that did concern me. Teams normally, as the season progresses, there’s events that make you care about each other, and this club, it didn’t always happen as much as I wanted it to. And I was frustrated by that.”
Francona would never point a specific finger at a specific player. That’s for him to know and everyone else to speculate. By the sounds of it, management saw issues up and down the 40-man roster.
“I think having gone through the whole season, having been here in spring training and as the season evolved into September I think there were things that caught Tito’s eye, caught my eye,” general manager Theo Epstein said. “Even when we were winning there were things that weren’t quite right. Sometimes you look past them because you are winning.”
Later in the postmortem, Francona was asked about loyalty and the team’s ability to protect one another. It was then that he offered a glimpse into what may have been ailing the club, even though the win-loss record didn’t necessarily reflect it.
“I think we fell short at times,” he said of the loyalty factor. “That’s what I think Theo was talking about earlier. We noticed some things during the year, things that … again, I respect that group down there a lot. Been around those guys for a long time. But to be the very best, you’ve got to be, there’s got to be some extraordinary things that happen and I thought at times we didn’t put our best foot forward and that’s my responsibility. That’s why it bothered me.
“It’s still probably a little raw and fresh for me to touch on right now. We’re 12 hours from coming off a tough loss. I wanted us to handle things on the field a little bit better than we did and at times we just didn’t get there. And it was very difficult.”
Enough so for Francona to step out of character and point to problems with his players.