Baseball owners are obviously a small fraternity.
They speak to one another, share views about their organizations. There’s always that small-market/big-market issue, but for the most part they stick together.
So how does Terry Francona’s book, “Francona: The Red Sox Years,” play with them?
How do they feel about Francona calling out the ownership that gave him eight well-paid years and one of the top three payrolls every season, about him revealing things that were said behind closed doors?
It’s a question one American League owner posed to me recently, so you know some of them are thinking about it.
It has to be uncomfortable for the Indians, who now employ Francona as their manager. And if the Indians hierarchy had no past with Francona, they probably would have taken the book into consideration far more before they hired him.
After all, owners believe that once they hire someone, whatever is said behind closed doors should stay there. Obviously, the end of Francona’s tenure in Boston became public and upsetting for him. And while he said in a news conference before Thursday’s Baseball Writers Dinner that the book was not about payback, the payback has come.
Indians president Mark Shapiro said he hasn’t been surprised by the excerpts he has read, as Francona filled him in ahead of time. But the sooner the book tour is over, the better it likely will be for everyone concerned.
“At the time of his decision [to write the book], I wasn’t privy to what he was thinking or feeling, but that doesn’t impact the way we feel about him,” Shapiro said. “Everyone feels that there were a lot of great things that happened in Boston, far more to be celebrated than to be critiqued.
“We all understand the public medium and that people are more focused on negativity and criticism than positive. When you look at the net sum of his experiences and interactions and relationships, they’re 98 percent positive. That’s the guy we’ve known for 15 years. That’s a guy we’re excited to take on a leadership challenge with our organization.
“I’ve only read excerpts and individual selective lines that may sound somewhat negative, but the context to me doesn’t sound different or alarming from what I’ve already heard.”
Deep down, Shapiro probably wishes the book hadn’t been written. Because even though Francona said, “It wasn’t meant to be a slam against the owners,” that’s the way it is coming off.
Red Sox owners have stayed clear of the story.
Shapiro said he doesn’t want to make judgments on the relationships Francona had with the Red Sox. He said he hasn’t heard from anyone associated with the Red Sox about the book, and doesn’t expect to. And he doesn’t believe his relationship with Red Sox executives will be changed because of the book.
“I have relationships with their leadership group,” he said. “I respect those guys. I have a close friendship with Terry and all I know is what our relationship is based upon now and going forward.”
It’s human nature to be upset at your boss after you’re fired. Francona simply expressed those emotions in the book. He said Thursday that he would not have written the book had he still been managing, but because he was at ESPN and had some free time, he agreed. And once he started working with co-author Dan Shaughnessy, he really got into it.
According to Shapiro, interactions between Indians ownership and Francona have been positive, and the book hasn’t come up.
“I know it’s interesting and it’s news and you have to write about it, but it’s not news to us and I don’t think it’s news for the Red Sox,” Shapiro said. “Both organizations, I’m sure, have more important things to do with spring training around the corner.”
All Shapiro is concerned about is how the Indians do with Francona as their leader. He said there has been a little rise in season-ticket sales since Francona was hired. The base is only 6,500, but Shapiro expects that changing the culture of the organization with Francona and free agent acquisition Nick Swisher should help that.
“He’s already made a huge impact with our players and internally with our organization,” Shapiro said. “And the response from our fan base has been very positive. The bottom line is, if we’re more competitive, we’ll move in the right direction, I think.”
Shapiro was somewhat surprised that Francona wanted to take on the challenge of managing a team like the Indians, in a smaller market and with limited resources — far more limited than in Boston.
“I think what was surprising is he knew far more about our situation than I anticipated,” said Shapiro. “He was up for the challenges and we communicated them openly and repeatedly. He called and said, this is what I want. He was consistent and very strong.
“We kept saying, ‘Are you sure? On April 25, if things aren’t going well . . . ?’
“He’s a pretty transparent guy. He said what he placed a premium on at his point in his career, and that our situation was an attractive situation.”
Francona is trying to put a humorous spin on some of the backlash he may get from owners, including those in Boston, but many agree that as the book tour winds down, it’s time to turn the page.