Red Sox give Franconia contract extension
AP Sports Writer
Vail, CO Colorado
FORT MYERS, Fla. ” After managing the Boston Red Sox to two World Series championships in four seasons, Terry Francona was rewarded Sunday with a three-year contract extension that runs through 2011.
The deal includes club options for 2012 and 2013, which would give him a full decade as manager if the team exercises them.
Francona also received something else: a touching e-mail from general manager Theo Epstein as final details were being worked out Saturday night.
“It was just personal (about) what we’ve been through since the very beginning,” Francona said after Sunday’s spring training workout. “It meant a lot to me. He means a lot to me.”
Francona guided the Red Sox to World Series sweeps of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004, their first title in 86 years, and the Colorado Rockies last year. He succeeded the fired Grady Little when he signed a three-year contract on Dec. 4, 2003. Francona later received a two-year extension through the 2008 season.
“The ballclub showed a lot of trust in me, which I don’t take lightly,” he said.
At 48, he is entering his fifth season as manager, the last of his previous contract. If he serves the full three-year extension, he would have eight seasons on the job. The only Red Sox manager with a longer tenure was Joe Cronin, who held the job from 1935-47.
Francona has come a long way since his four-year tenure as Philadelphia’s manager, all losing seasons, from 1997-2000. Epstein studied that and decided that Francona had learned a lot from managing a team with mediocre talent.
“But for that experience in Philly, he wouldn’t be the manager that he is today for us,” Epstein said. “It’s a great day for the organization to know Tito will be around for at least the next four years, if not the next six.
“This demonstrates that he’s a core member of the organization. Now he has a contract that reflects that status as well.”
Financial details were not released, but Francona moved closer to Joe Torre as baseball’s highest-paid manager. Torre signed a $13 million, three-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers after spending the past 12 seasons as manager of the New York Yankees.
Despite being the most successful manager over the past four years, Francona, who prefers to deflect praise to his players, hasn’t gotten the national recognition that comes with such accomplishments, third baseman Mike Lowell said.
“I think he was underpaid for a couple of years, too,” Lowell said. “He’s not that outspoken guy where he says what he did, but he has his own way of allowing guys to maximize their talent. I actually view that as a strength.”
Francona is considered a players’ manager. He handles the pressure of a passionate and demanding fan base well, and has become more comfortable when he has to confront players, Epstein said. But he does it privately and never uses the media to send a message to them, Lowell said.
Francona also stands by players through their on-field struggles.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia was batting .172 last May 1, but Francona kept using him. Pedroia finished the season with a .317 batting average and won the AL Rookie of the Year award.
“It just shows what kind of guy he is and how he defends his players and sticks by us through any situation,” Pedroia said. “He’s the only manager I’ve ever played for up here but he’s the only one I’d want to play for.”
Epstein and Francona, who let agent Pat Rooney negotiate for him, acknowledged that the talks weren’t always smooth.
But early in spring training, owner John Henry and Epstein were optimistic the extension would be completed before the regular season.
“Sometimes when there’s success in an organization, there’s higher prices that come with it and Tito certainly deserves it. So ownership stepped up,” said Epstein, who always felt the agreement would be reached. “It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to get this contract done.”
Francona agreed and let Rooney handle the talks rather than be in an adversarial relationship with his bosses.
“I had a couple of nights where I was a little concerned,” Francona said.
His .710 winning percentage (22-9) in postseason games is the best in major league history among managers with at least 20 games. He also has the most World Series wins (eight) without a loss.
He led Boston to the 2004 title after trailing 3-0 to the rival New York Yankees in the AL championship series. His basic demeanor never changed during that comeback, catcher Jason Varitek said.
“If you don’t change during those tough times,” Varitek said, “that’s a great example for him to lead by.”
Francona’s .579 regular-season winning percentage (375-273) is the second-best in club history among managers with at least 350 games.
“I think baseball’s in his blood. I think the Red Sox now are in his blood,” Epstein said. “As long as the blood keeps coursing through his veins and we can keep him healthy I think that he’ll want to be a manager.”
As long as Francona keeps winning and treating players with respect, the Red Sox will probably want him.
“We try to treat everybody that we come in contact with like they’re special. I think the players have earned that right when they come in our clubhouse,” Francona said.
On Sunday, he got his due.
“Because this is the way I make my living, it’s a big day,” he said, “but what’s nice is starting tomorrow all we’ll talk about is the Red Sox.”
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