BOSTON — Red Sox manager Terry Francona often jokes about how people view him in Philadelphia. He had four straight losing seasons as manager of the Phillies in that sports-mad town, and was not always well-received, to put it lightly.
How times have changed.
Nearly 11 years after he was let go by Philadelphia, Francona is on the verge of becoming the 57th manager in major league history to reach 1,000 wins. He has 999 of them entering Saturday night's contest with Seattle.
The skipper deserves plenty of credit for his success, and for the way in which he made those days with the Phillies a mere footnote, but he was quick to pass that credit on to those who have surrounded him since he arrived in Boston before the 2004 season.
"What it does mean to me is I got really lucky," Francona said Saturday at Fenway Park. "I caught a huge break in being able to be the manager here because we have a great organization. We've had great players and I just feel pretty fortunate. That's kind of how I feel."
There was a time when Francona thought achieving such success would be easy. His first game with the Phillies saw Curt Schilling throw eight scoreless innings in a 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was, relative to the rest of that 68-94 season, a piece of cake.
"I thought it was going to be easy," he said. "We played, caught the ball. Then we went the rest of the road trip and didn't win."
Well, the Phillies actually went 2-6 the rest of that career-opening voyage for Francona and they were a ghastly 23-60 by July 4 of that year. Under the calm guidance for which Francona has become known, the club would gain a measure of respect with a very good second half. In fact, a team once thrown into conversations with the 1962 New York Mets would go 44-33 after the All-Star break that season.
It likely didn't make rabid Phillies fans feel any better, but it was a sign of things to come. Francona had weathered a storm.
"He handles the media well and knows how to not let things get riled up, and makes things very easy-going for the clubhouse," said Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis. "His best attribute, I think, personally, is the way he can handle the media and the way he can handle the clubhouse."
The importance of having that ability has become paramount in Boston, where the pressure is on par or even greater than it is in Philadelphia. It's hard to argue with the results — two World Series and a .580 winning percentage in seven-plus years. And soon enough, he will add a major milestone to that impressive resume.
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