With a coaching carousel that featured five managers from 1992-2003, Terry Francona has provided the Red Sox with consistency and reliability since taking over as the team?s head coach in 2004.
Francona currently sits second on the Red Sox all-time win list (Joe Cronin leads Francona by nearly 500 wins), and the even-tempered manager has led his team to two World Series championships, a feat he shares in the organization with Bill Carrigan, manager of the 1913-1916 Boston Red Sox.
But what if Francona hadn?t signed with the Red Sox? What if he had instead signed with the Chicago Cubs, a suggestion that Cubs general manager Jim Hendry mentioned Saturday night to ESPN.com? Would the Cubs, who haven?t won a World Series in 102 years, have seen their cursed misfortunes turn around quicker than those of the Red Sox?
If your blood pressure is starting to rise, Red Sox fans, relax. Terry Francona has club options through 2013, so it appears that Tito is going nowhere fast. Still, the theory is interesting. When talking to reporters Saturday night, Hendry all but assured that Francona would have been manager of the Cubs had then-manager Dusty Baker decided not to return after the 2002 season.
?I had pretty much made up my mind that if we didn?t get Dusty … we were going to do it,? Hendry said, ?It never got real deep with Terry, but it certainly wasn?t out of a lack of respect. We thought he?d do a great job.?
Instead, Baker returned to the Cubs, leading his team to within five outs of a World Series berth in 2003, before an infamous catch by Chicago fan Steve Bartman forced a Game 7. The Cubs eventually lost the NLCS to the eventual World Series champion Florida Marlins.
Across the league, another cursed team was also five outs from a World Series berth. Boston fans, of course, know the story very well. Red Sox manager Grady Little let starting pitcher Pedro Martinez stay on the mound in the middle of the eighth inning to face the heart of the New York Yankees offense despite Martinez having given up three straight hits and throwing more than 100 pitches. The Yankees came back to tie and eventually won the game, and the American League pennant, in the 11th inning.
Baker returned to the Cubs? for the 2004 season. Little did not stay with his club. The Red Sox replaced their manager with Francona, who had managed the Philadelphia Phillies from 1997-2000.
Had Francona been managing the Cubs, the Red Sox would have been forced to go another root. Charlie Manuel, the current manager of the Phillies, was an option for the Red Sox. He?s won a World Series in the past couple of years and has done an admirable job managing big names in a big market, similar to Francona in Boston. Jerry Remy, NESN?s color man, was another intriguing option for the Red Sox. The second baseman played nine years in the majors but had no coaching experience. His knowledge of the team (and, probably, his personality) was enough for him to be seen as a leading candidate.
If we really want to look into it, Curt Schilling, who single-handedly (or foot-edly) led the 2004 pitching staff in the regular season and playoffs, revealed that his willingness to waive his no-trade clause prior to the 2004 season was because the Red Sox had hired Francona. Needless to say, I think the Curse of the Bambino may have lingered had Casey Fossum taken Schilling?s spot on the depth chart.
Francona is Boston?s, though. The manager has embraced the pressure that comes with managing in a big market while also managing unique personalities,including Manny Ramirez, David Wells, Schilling, and others. The manager?s packed cheek on game day has become almost as synonymous with a Red Sox game as Nomar Garciaparra?s fidgets in the batting box had. That packed-cheek manager very well could have been donning Chicago blue instead of Boston red.
?I?ve heard about that a lot of times, maybe too many times,? Francona said in response to Hendry?s comments. Francona also acknowledged that he had interviewed for the Chicago White Sox job in the fall of 2003.
?I have a lot of fond feelings for Chicago,? the manager added.
Does the mean Francona could switch teams when his contract is through?
?I?m very happy where I ended up,? Francona said, ?[Boston] has been good to me. I caught a break.?
So did the Red Sox.