Sox can make more history
Even by their lofty historical standards, yesterday was a very strange day for the Boston Red Sox.
By mid-morning, the ax had fallen on poor Terry Francona. Or had it? Francona reportedly came and went at Fenway Park three times; by mid-afternoon, general manager Theo Epstein had released an awkward statement saying the club had no immediate plans to release a statement.
Announcing that you have nothing to announce: That’s about as confused as it gets.
By all appearances, management was looking for a graceful way to ease Francona out. This wasn’t turning out to be easy because most fans weren’t buying Francona - the most successful Sox manager since the Wilson administration - as the fall guy for his fat, complacent, underachieving team. The torture ended shortly before 6 p.m., when Francona’s departure became official.
And in the great baseball tradition, the list of likely replacements was full of the usual retreads, led by ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine. Valentine, whose lifetime winning percentage of .510 isn’t likely to get anyone’s pulse racing, his one pennant notwithstanding.
There’s a far better choice, for both the Sox and the city, and he is literally sitting right there. That would be DeMarlo Hale, who has been on Francona’s staff since 2006, the past two as bench coach, Francona’s chief lieutenant.
Hale is already on the radar of many in baseball as a potential manager, and was reportedly a finalist for the Toronto job last year, losing out to Sox pitching coach John Farrell.
He is a lifer who has moved up through the ranks, in the Boston and Texas organizations. He was a successful minor league manager before he reached the majors as a coach, at age 41.
After six years, he knows what it is like to work and survive in this - how can I put this? - excitable media market.
He would be a different voice in the clubhouse, the need for which played a key role in Francona’s exit, according to last night’s lovey-dovey press release.
And let’s not sugarcoat this: Hiring Hale would be a break with the Red Sox’ regrettable racial history. The team that was the last to integrate its roster, that passed on Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, that was owned for so many years by a man about as racially evolved as George Wallace, could earn some redemption.
Black coaches are not a novelty in Boston - thank you Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, and Doc Rivers. But in terms of public affection, the Celtics, even on their best day, are not the Sox.
Hale’s promotion would break one of Boston’s most important glass ceilings. Even better, it’s only one of the many reasons to seriously consider him for the job.
It says here that the Teflon-coated Red Sox management team just made the worst blunder of its tenure yesterday.
Francona was calm, thoughtful, and supportive - to a fault, maybe - of his players. He led the greatest comeback in baseball history. And yes, the greatest collapse, but this might be a good time to remember that he didn’t bat or pitch.
The Sox are expected to look for a “name’’ to replace Francona. That is partly because they think big (good) and because that will make the Francona removal easier to spin (gutless). The problem is, the list of Francona’s peers is short, and all of them have jobs.
Of course, any new manager will be a risk, especially given the collective trauma just inflicted on the fan base. There’s not a lot of room for error, but that’s no reason to settle for the predictable.
The Red Sox have a chance to be bold, and I hope they seize it.
Personally, I’d hire Hale over Bobby Valentine any day. He could well be the next Terry Francona - who was, let’s remember, a bench coach none of us knew much about before he came to town.
Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.