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CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

After all he's done in Boston, Francona didn't deserve this


They eat their baseball people whole in Boston. Grady Little. Bill Buckner. John McNamara. Calvin Schiraldi. Eventually, if you wear the red stockings, there will be men in suits knocking on your door saying, "We can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way."

With Terry Francona, you always thought it would be the easy way.

Yet there is no surprise when it wasn't.

With no assurances for 2012 and in the aftermath of an epic collapse for the ages, Francona was in a tight spot, and so were the Red Sox.

Realistically, what were the choices?

What? Were the Red Sox going to award him with, say, a three- or four-year contract extension? Uh, no.

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Were they going to pick up the option they hold on his contract for 2012? Then what? If next year's Red Sox start 2-10 as they did this year, Francona immediately would have been even more embattled and the public conversation would turn to his job status?

If you're Francona, after all you've done in Boston, would that have been acceptable?

Francona, 52, spent eight mostly wonderful years in the home manager's office in Fenway Park, but that equates to somewhere near 30 years on the Boston Manager Dog Days Scale. It is a meat-grinder, every day. Presidents and Boston managers age more quickly than most humans when they're in office.

There are no easy nights in June in Kansas City when the Red Sox skipper can take one brief millisecond, ease back on the bench, look up at the summer sky and take a moment to count his blessings and appreciate how fortunate he is. Those fleeting but satisfying moments may be available to other managers in other cities, but not in Boston, where every singular moment is either a dramatic victory or a five-alarm crisis.

Add to that the fact that Francona didn't like his current team very much, and after the all the blood, tears and sweat equity he put into this job over eight years, it's easy to see why maybe a job in, say, Chicago, might look more attractive.

That's what stood out more than anything during Thursday's post-mortem on the season at gloomy Fenway Park, even more than general manager Theo Epstein saying "it would be totally irresponsible and shortsighted" to blame this September on the manager.

In talking about a team meeting he held in Toronto earlier this month, Francona said the reason he called it was because, "normally, as a season progresses, there's events that make you care about each other."

He added: "With this team, it didn't happen as much as I wanted it to. I was frustrated about that. You don't need a team that wants to go out to dinner together. But you need a team that wants to protect each other on the field and be fiercely loyal to each other on the field."

That speaks volumes.

Again: That. Speaks. Volumes.

And it goes miles in explaining how this September could have happened even beyond the injuries to Clay Buchholz, Kevin Youkilis and others.

Epstein's initial reaction to the humiliation is as we've come to expect from him: Reasoned and measured. He insisted that the Red Sox will not "scapegoat" Francona, and he said the organization has to look long and hard at re-examining its process of evaluating and pursuing free agents. Hello, Carl Crawford and John Lackey. Woof!

On the surface, that the Red Sox tossed a two-time World Series-winning manager overboard -- or afforded him the chance to cast ashore and get away -- is jaw-dropping ludicrous.

If you measure by World Series titles -- and isn't that what we heard for nearly a century from New England? -- Francona is the best manager the club has ever had.

I mean, who's Francona's competition? Bill Carragan?

Seriously. Carragan is the only manager in the history of the Red Sox to win back-to-back World Series titles, in 1915 and 1916.

And before Francona, as you might have heard, the Red Sox had not won a World Series since 1918.

How times -- and culture -- changes.

There was a time when Boston even let Don Zimmer return and manage for two more seasons after Bucky Bleepin' Dent and that epic 1978 collapse.

Those days, as Grady Little can describe in vivid detail, are as long gone as Pedro Martinez.

Today, the noise is louder, the stakes are higher and life moves faster. The world is less forgiving.

The Red Sox said they would not scapegoat Francona. But the Boston managerial job comes with a hard expiration date. Whether it was a mutual decision doesn't matter because there were indications that Francona had reached the end of his rope and needed some space to breathe.

Whatever is next for him, there is no shame in that.

Even though he has listened his final Sweet Caroline from the Red Sox dugout, you can say this definitively about Boston baseball while Francona was there:

Good times never seemed so good ... so good ... so good. ...


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