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When ex-Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona joined ESPN as an analyst for the 2012 baseball season, it was inevitable that there would be some, let’s say, interesting exchanges when he was inevitably asked to comment on his former team. In the wake of his unceremonious exit following September’s collapse, Francona will be called upon to provide unique insight into what used to be his clubhouse.
So when current Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine banned beer from the clubhouse in (over?) reaction to the Bud-guzzling, chicken-gobbling, weight-gaining gentlemen of the pitching staff, it was only a matter of hours before ESPN solicited Francona’s response.
He didn’t disappoint.
“I think it’s a PR move,” Francona said on ESPN. “I don’t think it’s a surprise that they put this in effect, or the fact they announced it. It’s probably more of a PR move just because, you know, the Red Sox [took] such a beating at the end of the year.”
But is Francona right that this is one big publicity stunt by the Red Sox brass, or is this a legitimate decision as Valentine establishes his managerial presence? And is it even appropriate for Francona to comment from his position?
While I can’t totally blame Valentine for making the decision to establish his authority by laying down new ground rules, I completely agree with Francona’s assertion. Why else does the newly enforced rule have to become a public service announcement? Only if the Red Sox prohibition is supposed to serve as much as an apology for last year’s failure as a preventative measure for this season. Only if the beer ban means as much to the men in the fan base as those on first base.
Besides, is it even effective to institute such a policy? Josh Beckett and Jon Lester and other members of the roster over 21 (even Jose Iglesias is of legal drinking age, so yeah, that’s everybody) will find a way to have a beer if they want one. They’re adults. They shouldn’t need someone to manage them outside the lines as well as between them. And even if you argue that they do, who’s to say they would listen? Rules were made to breed resentment and defiance. And to be broken, obviously.
Maybe it will be different since these are grown men and/or professional athletes, but I can say from experience that I was still familiar with the taste of hard liquor despite a ban on the substance at my college a year ago. As Francona said
“I think if a guy wants a beer, he can probably get one. You know, it’s kind of the old rule … If your coach in football says no hard liquor on the plane — I mean, you serve beer and wine — somebody’s going to sneak liquor on the plane. If you furnish a little bit, it almost keeps it to a minimum.”
If only he could have spoken at my school.
Some people (Bobby Valentine included, I’m sure) would just like for Francona to keep quiet altogether. After all, the former manager weighing in on current affairs can only create negative and distracting storylines. I understand that, but Francona is paid to be a talking head analyzing every headline that hits the news wire. Besides, I want to hear his perspective. I want to know what he would have done coming off such an epic collapse, how he would handle the media maelstrom, how he would diffuse the lingering effects of the blame game. If Valentine and his players can’t manage to overcome one tidbit in the 24-hour news cycle during spring training, then the Red Sox have much bigger problems on their hands, particularly when this team hits its first prolonged losing streak of 2012.
I recognize why Valentine took this somewhat drastic step heading into the season. As the New Guy in (Bean)Town, he doesn’t have that same “implicit trust” that Francona would have after managing some of these players (most of them clubhouse leaders by now) for eight years. With so much media and public scrutiny, it makes sense to address the issue head on and nip this in the bud (no pun intended). Alcohol isn’t much of an accelerant to productivity (unless you’re Babe Ruth or Tommy Heinsohn), and as David Ortiz said, “We’re not here to drink. This ain’t no bar.”
But Francona is still right. Whether it’s to soften the spotlight focused on the failures from last year, an apology to the fan base, or a serious statement to curb the pitchers’ drinking problems, to go so far out of the way to publicly pronounce this corrective measure can only fit under the category of PR.
After all, it’s called “public relations” for a reason.