Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

So far, Francona is having it his way

A rainy afternoon on the Fens, and for a change, Terry Francona had a chance to sit back in his office chair.

"I unpacked yesterday," the Red Sox manager said. "That's big. When you unpack, it feels more like home. I don't want to feel like a stranger, look like I'm the visiting team all year, so I made sure I unpacked everything, because I can have the tendency of just living out of my suitcase, just like I did in spring training.

"I made myself unpack, so this would be home."

Francona walked around town a little bit on Monday, an off day.

"I'm amazed at how friendly people have been here," he said. "They've been going out of their way to say something to me."

It was a little different his first go-round, as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.

"It was tough," he said. "This really shocked me. I was on the highway, everybody's going 70, and people still recognized me so much they could do this" -- Francona flipped a finger and shook his head.

Not here. Not a week into his first regular season as skipper of the Olde Towne Team. He dropped into a store on Beacon Street to try out the recliners.

"Manny [Ramirez] bought one, but I just sat in one," Francona said. "I had my eyes closed. Three people came up to me, and said, `Way to go.' They were really upbeat."

Not one of them, he insisted, asked why he didn't bunt Varitek.

But as long as the subject came up in his office -- Jason Varitek, in a two-on, no-out situation in extra innings Sunday that in some minds cried for a sacrifice bunt, swung away and rolled into a double play -- Francona was more than willing to discuss why he did what he did. No crouching behind "manager's decision," the way Jimy Williams did in his four-plus years here.

Brace yourself, purists. Despite his National League pedigree, don't expect Francona's team to be squaring around with any regularity. It's far more likely that the Sox will resemble the Blue Jays (a big league-low 13 sacrifice attempts last season) than the Marlins (110 tries).

"I'll bunt when I think it puts our ball club in the best position to win," Francona said. "I think about it a lot. I'm not trying to be stubborn."

In the situation in question, Francona was not going to have Varitek, swinging from the left side against a pitcher more effective against righthanded hitters than lefties, bunting when the next two batters due were righthanded.

"To me, with runners on first and second and nobody out, your chances of scoring are every bit as good swinging away than by bunting," he said. "That's been proven."

You'll never see him playing for just one run early in a game. And more likely than not, his guys will be swinging late in the game, too, unless an accomplished bunter (and light hitter) like Pokey Reese is at the plate.

"Because so many people have done it in the past, that doesn't mean you have to do it now," he said. "I've heard the moans and groans for a long time, when I'm watching a game and an announcer says they should have bunted, but I don't think you have to to put yourself in the best position to succeed."

Francona said he was the kind of player who was asked to bunt a lot.

"I was the perfect guy you wanted to have bunt," he said. "I was a .300 hitter with no productivity. I never walked, I never drove in runs. I never helped us win. I got a lot of `personality' hits.

"Maybe I learned the hard way."

Francona once played for Dick Williams, who asked him to lay one down on more than one occasion. "I think the game has changed," said Francona, noting how teams no longer guard the lines late in a game as zealously as they once did, realizing that the percentages aren't in their favor -- there are simply too few occasions when a hitter pulls the ball directly down the line in that situation. The numbers show it.

Sure, he bunted more, managing in the National League. But it used to make him crazy to follow the norm, and have the pitcher bunt with runners on first and third with one out. All you got out of that was runners on second and third, and two out.

"I'm just not comfortable giving up outs," Francona said.

A by-the-numbers manager? In one way, Francona is amused by that label.

"I've been described as a computer geek," he said. "I'm really a baseball lifer. But I like to think I keep my eyes and ears open."

Francona didn't have to be persuaded by Sox management to embrace whatever data was available to him. In his first conversation with stat analyst Bill James, he sensed that James was holding back in deference.

"I told him, `If you can make me think about something, I love it.' "

Besides, he said, relying on a little quantitative analysis isn't as new as some people would have you believe. Before Theo Epstein owned his first laptop, Earl Weaver had a young Charles Steinberg keeping all kinds of charts for him, which supported his unconventional platoons -- and eschewing of the sacrifice bunt in favor of the three-run home run.

"I told myself, if I ever got the chance to do this again, I would be true to myself," Francona said. "Maybe that's why I got the job. I didn't have to change my way of thinking. I was asking for all the information I could get."

And one week into the job, no one is yet telling him -- to his face, anyway -- that his way might not be the right way.

Check back with us in September, someone said. Then you'll know what you're in for.

"Good," Francona said. "I hope so. It's great. Shoot, it means they care. It's electric. It's a chance of a lifetime to be a part of this."

red sox extras
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives