Word broke yesterday that Terry Francona had officially interviewed for the open manager position with the Cardinals. We knew this was coming — he was one of the favorites from the very beginning. Now, we already told you who our AMF dream choice to replace Tony La Russa would be, but I left out a few details there. Namely the one about how I don’t want Tito in St. Louis.
Yes, I know. He’s the best of the choices based on experience (something I generally value highly, mind you!) And while I see all those points, I guess I’m just not buying it. Instead, I’m discovering a new rule: the Tito Rule. Every positive notion has an equal and opposite negative notion.
Here, let me show you.
He’s experienced — a real winner. Francona is the second winingest manager in Red Sox history. In 2004, he led them to their first World title since 1918, and followed that with a championship in 2007. Eight years, two rings. Could be worse!
But, what would he do without the Boston Budget? And what would he do coming into a place that expects to win? This isn’t a team trying to break a curse; this is a team hoping to one-up themselves in 2012 (better than a 2011 that ended with a World title!) Those expectations are big. He’s won before, but not with that kind of pressure. In fact, under the pressure of being the best team in baseball, being the favorite for the World Series, and being nine games in first in the division, he watched the greatest collapse in history. When the going got tough in St. Louis, they played tough and battled back. In Boston? They drank beer and ate fried chicken.
He understands managing stars. Similarly, many people have said Tito is a manager capable of handling big stars. David Ortiz, Johnathon Papelbon, Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury. He knows big names.
But, um, remember how he lost control of said stars and couldn’t inspire them to win with the playoffs on the line? Yeah, me too. Baseball seasons get long. One hundred sixty-two is a lot of games. What good does it do to “handle” star athletes through the first 140 games, only to let it all slip away in the last 20+?
He respects the Cardinal way. Francona was “honored” to have interviewed with the Cardinals, he said. The history is evident, the 2011 World Series win undeniable. Who wouldn’t want to interview with the Redbirds?
But, does he really — I mean, really — “get it” when it comes to being a Cardinal? Does he truly understand what the Birds on the Bat means to players, coaches, staffers, fans … everyone that makes up Cardinal Nation? Can anyone who doesn’t come from within?
Call me crazy, but I don’t want someone who simply respects the Cardinal way, I want someone who knows it, understands it, and lives it. I want Lance-Berkman-the-Cardinals-killer turned Lance-Berkman-the-team’s-heart kind of understanding. Is that too much to ask?
One writer put it this way: “He’s Ozzie Guillen with a more family-friendly vocabulary.” Now does that sound like a Cardinal?
He knows the game, but stays back. Albert Pujols (should he return) calls his own hit and runs. The Cardinals don’t need a manager who has to have a finger in everything all the time — these guys are pros, they can handle keeping it casual.
But, even a group of stars that plays like family needs some game planning going on, both before and during every game.
Okay, yes. I admit it. I got tired of Tony La Russa’s meddling some times. He stuck his finger into too many things some days and couldn’t just leave well enough alone. It was infuriating. However, the players bought into Tony’s system. And that system earned them the franchise’s 11th ring. With as many guys capable of “leading” as this 2012 club could have, there’s nothing more valuable than a manager who can speak through any high and any low to create the inspiration Tony La Russa built during the run through the post season.
It’s not all about experience. Cutting your teeth on this job could be brutal, but there’s nothing like baptism by fire. Plus, John Mozeliak has made clear, while experience is nice, it’s not the top priority in searching for TLR’s successor.
The Cardinals have given indications they may be willing to bypass experience in exchange for leadership and presence …
Maybe my gut feeling about the former Boston skipper is wrong. He’s obviously done impressive things. But something about him brings on the same feelings “Prince Fielder to the Cardinals” rumors do: he’s not a Cardinal.
I don’t know … maybe this has something to do with it.
Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.