Francona manages to keep low profile

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Hey, Terry Francona, your team just won the World Series for the second time. What are you going to do now?

"I'm going to my kid's volleyball game."

OK, so maybe it isn't Disney World.

"That's my idea of relaxing," Francona said.

That might surprise you. Not Francona wanting to watch daughter Jamie, the youngest of his four children. The fact that it would be a soothing experience, especially now, just days after his Boston Red Sox swept the Colorado Rockies to win their second world title in four seasons.

You would think the kid from New Brighton has grown up to be a New England sports icon who can't venture out in public for fear of getting the Tom Brady treatment

You would think there would be chaos as rabid Red Sox fans line up to get his autograph, take a picture with him, shake his hand and slap his back.

Heck, you would think they would pass a hat to take up a collection to build a statue of him outside Fenway Park.

You would be wrong.

Sure, Francona signed autographs this week and shook a few hands, but he's nowhere near as big in New England as he should be. The sports genius up there is Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Francona doesn't get the same respect -- and he doesn't cheat. The feeling among many Boston bumpkins is that their team wins because it has a big payroll. Even Red Sox management seems to believe that. It didn't give Francona a contract extension this summer -- he has a year left on his current deal -- even though his team ended 86 years of New England agony by sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2004 World Series, made the playoffs again in '05 and went wire to wire to win the American League East Division this season.

"I don't know that I've ever checked," Francona said when asked whether he feels appreciated. "I know I don't care. There's no room for me to have an ego up here. It just wouldn't work."

That goes back to something Francona learned from his mentor, Buddy Bell.

"He always said the players come first, the organization second and we, as managers, third. If you stay faithful to your players, the winning will take care of itself if your team is good enough."

So it has for Francona. By winning a second World Series, he became just the 23rd manager in history with multiple titles. No other manager has won his first eight World Series games.

Obviously, Boston's enormous payroll helps. The Red Sox can afford to amass talent such as Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. When they needed a pitcher last winter, they spent more than $100 million to bring Daisuke Matsuzaka from Japan.

But to say it's all about buying players would be unfair to Francona. Do you think it's easy managing the giant egos in today's game? Do you think it's easy managing in a market the size of Boston, where the media is relentless and brutal and the fan base passionate, opinionated and always willing to second-guess?

"I can handle that," Francona said. "What I have a hard time dealing with is seeing people at our parade the other day cheering me and holding up signs with my name on it. I know they were calling me a dumb ass 10 days before that."

That would have been when the Red Sox trailed the Cleveland Indians, three games to one, in the American League Championship Series. Francona kept his team together and it won three in a row against the Indians before sweeping the Rockies.

Similarly, the '04 Red Sox became the first team in history to come back from a 3-0 deficit when they beat the New York Yankees before taking out the Cardinals.

"We always give ourselves a chance," Francona said. "If we get knocked back, we don't feel sorry for ourselves."

Francona's strategy is fine. His handling of his pitching in this postseason was superb, and just about all of his double switches and defensive moves paid off. But his strength is working his clubhouse, relating to his players, making them want to play their best not just for themselves, but for him. Only Detroit's Jim Leyland is better at that.

It could be old pro Curt Schilling, the one star Francona had when he managed bad teams in Philadelphia. Or it could be rookie second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

"We play cribbage every day at 1 o'clock and talk about everything," Francona said. "I can trust that kid with anything."

It doesn't matter. Francona has a feel for what makes each of his players tick. He also knows team captain Jason Varitek has his back.

"When we were on the field after the [clinching] game the other night, he put his head on my shoulder and cried like a baby," Francona said. "He had willed everybody to be so good. I think that's why I'm so calm. I know he's in charge. It's his team."

Yes and no.

It's also Francona's team.

The top priority of Red Sox management should be a new deal for him that doubles his salary; seven managers made more than his $1.65 million this season.

Then, they should look into that statue.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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