Pity the fans of Cleveland. First they prostrate themselves by elevating LeBron James to Kim Jong-Il stature and he jilts them on national television. Then the Browns suffer through another rubber-stamp lousy season, being ditched by their owner in the process, only to get a new owner whose first move is to hire a coach whose name inspires a Google search more than it inspires hope. And now they get to watch their estranged original franchise go to the AFCC --- again --- in black and purple uniforms.
And then there are the Indians. The Tribe. The team that Bill Veeck, flush with gimmicks in a city flush with postwar industry, turned into a powerhouse, winners of two pennants and countless futile but entertaining runs at the unbeatable 1950s Yankees. A team with names like Lou Boudreau, Early Wynn, Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Rocky Colavito, Bobby Avila and many more. A team that beat Ted Williams' mighty Red Sox in a playoff in 1948, then beat Boston's other guys, the Braves, in the World Series. A team that went 111-43 in 1954. A team that found a gold mine in Latin America and built another powerhouse in the '90s. A team that was within a game of going to another World Series in 2007 --- before choking versus Boston. That team dissolved as the stars, unaffordable as free agents, were diffused into the league's money pits. It was time to turn things around from the bottom up.
And to whom did they turn to raise the phoenix from the ashes? Terry Francona. Did they really deserve this?
There are as many non-Pink-Hat Red Sox fans who thought the team won despite Francona (he was derided as 'Francoma' before anyone even knew about painkillers) as there are those who thought it was because of him, but make no mistake, he won two World Series. He was brought in to babysit the second-highest-paid roster in the league, a team awash in self-described 'idiots' like Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon, Curt Schilling, Jason Varitek and Nomar Garciaparra. As time went on most were replaced by equally volatile egos like Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon, John Lackey, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford... you get the idea. Francona appeared masterful at keeping this potential zoo yoked together to pull the wagon --- until it all came apart, perhaps tellingly following the departure of steadying influences like Mike Lowell and prodigal son John Farrell. Left alone with the whip, Francona gave no sign of being able to control what quickly degenerated into a madhouse, even with wild man Ramirez gone. What was left for Bobby Valentine wasn't going anywhere. Was upper management partially at fault with Valentine, mollycoddling star players and giving them a red carpet to the front office to complain about the manager? Of course. Were the veteran players at fault? Of course. Was Valentine the cure? Not hardly. But nothing in this soap opera gives any indication that Francona, without broad shoulders to stand on, was a capable manager even for a team loaded with high-priced talent, let alone for a bargain-basement rebuild.
Enter the Indians, who hired the glitter of his two rings to lift them out of the cellar. At that point, success-starved Forest City denizens felt they had reason to rejoice. Here was a big name. This guy had won.
Then came the news that he had also --- gulp --- written a book, or as likely been coaxed into writing one by Boston Globe sports vulture extraordinaire Dan Shaunessey. Ah, the Globe --- as biased and controlling in its politics as it is convinced that it is the heart, soul and conscience of Boston sports --- and which, scant years back, shamelessly begged for its own unprofitable existence until it was discreetly bailed out by the New York Times, its owner and, of course, its political ally. Ah, the Globe, which portrayed the Sandinistas as folk heroes in the '80s, earning the sobriquet El Globo almost everywhere outside the PRC (Peoples' Republic of Cambridge). The Globe, whose election year eat-the-rich movement, amplified by daily radio soapboxes for its scribes, cast the issue as out-of-touch ownership victimizing the fans through a preoccupation with money, this despite the fact that John Henry's massive hedge fund, his cash cow, went belly-up in 2011 --- not exactly a sign of obsessive scrutiny. Forgotten was the fact that this ownership bought as much as brought Boston two titles and nearly a third, following a brief 86-year drought. While it worked, no one's lofty principles were violated.
Despite Francona's book as yet being unavailable, sensational details have been leaked to provide maximum sales stimulus. And it will sell. Doubtless it will also sell Boston's ownership (which made Francona rich and famous) down the river, and equally doubtless it will fail to emphasize that the controlling suits in the front office knew a stooge when they saw one, and an eager stooge at that. Terry Francona made his bed and slept in it.
So what's so sordid about all this? Maybe Casey Stengel never wrote a book shredding Del Webb for canning him after a mere 10 pennants in 12 seasons, but Joe Torre sure wrote one. With the bar lowered appropriately, why can't Francona cash in? Who cares? Isn't baseball ridden with bigger scandals anyway?
Something to consider: Torre, though coy about retirement, knew he was done with baseball when he decided to rip his former organization. He never came back. Terry Francona has apparently forgotten that he's back in the game --- and in the American League. What's to stop Cleveland fans now from feeling that he considers his new job banishment to the minors, something unworthy of his memoirs? Ok, my best days are behind me now, and as I ease into retirement and fatten my nest egg by managing these rubes I'm free to reminisce (and vent) about my glory days in Boston --- plus fatten my nest egg even more. If I flop in this nowhere burg, nobody will want to read my book. I gotta strike while the iron is at least still warm.
Sound harsh? Know what? That's how Red Sox fans would feel if everything had happened in reverse and Francona had just been hired by Boston. Around here, the spin-zone media who begat this masterpiece are already at high rpm, and they aren't likely to implicate Francona. He's making them money and publicly hanging their class-war enemies all at once. Apologists are pushing the angle that he probably didn't torch any of his players a la Torre, so it's ok. That, after all, would damage his ability to manage his new team. Hello? Here's hoping the fans and scribes of Cleveland aren't quite so purposely naive about workplace relationships. The timing of the book, even if it turns out to be a mea-culpa testimonial to the goodness and purity of the Red Sox organization, is tasteless. And it will include an even more tasteless blame game. The admission that he was a painkiller-guzzling zombie will elicit cries of 'courageous' from the spinners, but smells like an attempt at an excuse. The way to show the world that the utter collapse of a league-leading powerhouse in 2011 wasn't your fault is to lead your new team to the promised land, not to publish an expose. Nobody loves a rat. Seen Eric Mangini working the sidelines lately, speaking of Boston and Cleveland?
In publishing his Red Sox memoirs, Francona has announced to Cleveland that he considers the writable portion of his career over. If he's also thrown his former ownership (maybe others?) under the bus, then it must have slipped his mind that he now works for new ownership. This isn't the same as leaving a corporation in a huff to head up a cutthroat competitor. Everybody works for one company, and it's called MLB. Players insist that they are part of a brotherhood. Guess what? So are owners. And an owner is a rather important part of the team. Ya think? There's no winner here except for the yellow media.
Now, if Terry Francona indeed leads the Tribe out of the cellar and back into contention his book will surely become just old news. However, if he doesn't, this curious episode may indelibly cheapen his all-important legacy. It probably has already. More importantly, it will heap further disrespect on the city that was once the Best Location in the Nation, extending its status as the Mistake on the Lake. He may be helping the overbearing Boston media drive out the only owner in a century to take the Red Sox to the top, but the irony is that he's dumping on his new employer and on his new city in the process.
Most importantly, writing any expose cheapens baseball, but writing one while still active breaks new ground, even if every word is true. Pandering to Pink Hats is one thing, but reaching out to the Jerry Springer crowd with Mommy Dearest is another. Biting the hand that fed you looks tawdry. Even reminiscing wistfully about your old team while in the employ of another looks bad. Biting the hand of MLB while it's still feeding you is just plain stupid.