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The final part of our Red Sox midseason review deals with the men at the top: Manager Terry “Tito” Francona and General Manager Theo Epstein. For these guys, it’s the results that matter, and you can’t argue with the results that either of them have achieved, on or off the field.
Tito and Theo have both played their part in the first half of the 2009 season, and there’s no reason to think they can’t help the Sox do just as well down the stretch.
It used to be that Terry Francona didn’t get no respect. No respect at all. But things are changing, and a fan base used to justly second-guessing and deriding managers can be slow to warm to the genuine article. Before the arrival of Tito, it was almost reflexive amongst Sox fans to bitch and moan about the manager, like Rush Limbaugh eating cheesburgers or Jets fans booing draft picks. Automatic.
Even when he did the impossible and won the World Series in his first year with the team, Francona received comparatively little adoration from the Boston faithful. “Well, he’s just got too strong a team to lose,” went the usual refrain. How unbelievable is that? Could you, for an instant, picture the fans of another star-crossed team — the Chicago Cubs, say — reacting in such a way to the skipper whose first season ended decades of frustration? That’s Boston for you.
But we’re all starting to come around, it seems. While even Francona admits that it helps to cook with the right food, two world titles in his five years of management suggest that he must be doing something right. This season, he’s been the same steady hand at the tiller: Giving the struggling Dice-K plenty of chances, but ultimately doing the right thing and yanking him, encouraging 2008 MVP Dustin Pedroia to skip a game in order to be with his wife during a health crisis, and generally doing the little things to keep a talented team on track.
When “Papi stank” early in the season, Francona kept faith in his struggling slugger, and the big man has seemingly rediscovered his stroke. For Tito, it’s a matter of letting the Sox be the Sox, with the occasional quiet nudge in the right direction.
Nothing brings out the crowds like a prodigy, and Theo Epstein is the baseball equivalent to Glenn Gould. (Though hopefully without the personal issues.) As one of the most visible GMs in modern baseball, he has built the Red Sox into a legitimate powerhouse and perennial contender.
This year, he locked up dazzling lefty Jon Lester, quietly signed Brad Penny, and less quietly signed John Smoltz before the season began. While the jury’s still out on Smoltz, who has had some shaky outings, Penny has mostly gotten it done, and Lester has recently looked nothing short of un-hittable.
Like Tito, Theo hasn’t done anything particularly spectacular this year so far, but, with little fanfare, the Red Sox head into the break with the best record in the AL, and don’t look like slowing down anytime soon. Credit mostly, of course, the players themselves, but you’ve got to admit that the Red Sox management had a lot to do with this.