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Too Big to Succeed
Terry Francona
January 21, 2013
WHERE DID THE END BEGIN FOR THE RED SOX? LONG BEFORE THEIR HISTORIC 2011 COLLAPSE, THE SEEDS WERE PLANTED BY A FRONT OFFICE THAT SIMULTANEOUSLY GREW INATTENTIVE TOWARD BASEBALL BUT OBSESSED WITH IMAGE (MORE SEXY PLAYERS LIKE DUSTIN PEDROIA?!)
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January 21, 2013

Too Big To Succeed

WHERE DID THE END BEGIN FOR THE RED SOX? LONG BEFORE THEIR HISTORIC 2011 COLLAPSE, THE SEEDS WERE PLANTED BY A FRONT OFFICE THAT SIMULTANEOUSLY GREW INATTENTIVE TOWARD BASEBALL BUT OBSESSED WITH IMAGE (MORE SEXY PLAYERS LIKE DUSTIN PEDROIA?!)

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In June 2010 the Red Sox were slumping, and several veteran players were complaining—privately and to the media—about playing time or the commitment of some teammates to returning from injury. In the middle of the turmoil the team's owners called for a meeting with their manager. It was scheduled for noon on the day of a weeknight game at Fenway Park. General manager Theo Epstein came to get Terry Francona to take him upstairs to meet with principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and president and CEO Larry Lucchino. Francona had been at the park for about an hour and was already in uniform. "Because I was in uniform, I was probably in a little more of an aggressive mood," he remembered.

He and the G.M. took the elevator to the third level of Fenway and walked to Henry's in-game suite. Werner and Lucchino were waiting when Epstein and Francona arrived, but Henry was not there yet. The owner was invariably late for meetings, a habit that annoyed the always-prompt manager.

I've got stuff to do too, Francona thought to himself while the executives made small talk.

Finally Henry arrived. Sandwiches were served. And one by one, the bosses told Francona what was wrong with the Red Sox. Henry talked about David Ortiz being left in to hit against lefthanded pitching. Lucchino, as always, found fault in multiple places. Werner talked about slumping television ratings and whined, "We need to start winning in more exciting fashion."

That did it. Francona started to get up out of his chair, but Epstein grabbed his knee. "A good move by Theo," Francona said later. "When Tom started talking about ratings, Theo knew I was getting ready to flare.

"They all gave me their versions of how things should go. When they were done, I said, 'Guys, I just listened to three different opinions. All I can tell you is that the best thing I can do is be consistent down there.'"

Werner had been a wildly successful TV producer and executive, and he owned two World Series rings with the Red Sox, but his contributions to the success of the ball club were difficult to measure. This much, though, was certain: Werner was in charge of NESN. The Red Sox--owned television network's ratings drove the team's revenue, and they were free-falling in 2010. According to Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal, the Sox plummeted from first to fifth in the majors in local ratings from 2009 to '10. NESN's Red Sox ratings dropped 36% in that period.

The Red Sox were also losing their drawing power nationally. According to NESN's internal data, Boston's appearances on Fox and ESPN were down 32% and 33%, respectively, from 2009 to '10. Managing the Red Sox was never independent of television ratings. "One thing the players were always asking for was getaway day games," said Francona. "The owners would never go for it. They couldn't have more day games because the ratings were already suffering, and that would have hurt worse."

ON JULY 21, while the team was on the West Coast, NESN officials met at Fenway with Werner, Lucchino and Epstein for an emergency "Viewership/Team Interest Discussion." Privately, the young G.M. with two World Series championships on his résumé was chafing at having to sit through a meeting that addressed "indicators of declining team popularity" and "possible factors to reduced interest." The TV executives had agreed to hire a market research and consulting firm. Epstein said the decision to hire the consultants "was evidence to me of the inherent tension between building a baseball operation the way I thought was best and the realities of being in a big market ... which had gotten bigger than any of us could handle."

"Theo was good about shielding me from that," said Francona. "I don't think he liked that s--- about ratings at all."

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