If I could choose a team of only players I liked (and inspired by Dave in Brighton's fantasy baseball team, I'm working on one), the manager would be Terry Francona. In spite of myself, he has become my favorite manager in the game.
When it comes to managing Major League Baseball teams, one of the most difficult jobs is manager of the Boston Red Sox. All Francona has done in his 4 years with the team is win, and make the job look easy.
He started behind the eight ball in my eyes. I did not like the fact that Grady Little took the fall for the 2003 ALCS loss by the Red Sox. But then the Red Sox introduced Terry Francona, and he said all of the right things. He didn't let the Boston media run away with stories. When he'd lose his temper with the media he sounded like a dad who was disappointed in his kid.
Francona doesn't lose his temper much. You see it every so often - and that's how you know an umpire has made a bad call. That's when you see Francona come out to argue. He handles the players and their eccentricities (read: Manny Ramirez) in a classy way. It always plays out behind closed doors. He'll never air dirty laundry, and even when a player starts a potentially controversial situation (like Curt Schilling or CoCo Crisp this spring), you get the idea he took these guys aside and told them things will work out - but to keep everything in-house.
Francona is just flat-out likeable. You want him to kick the chewing tobacco habit (he lost a bet to one of the Red Sox owners last year because he couldn't quit during the season...not for lack of effort - but even finding out about that through the media was like pulling teeth - he doesn't talk about himself). You want him to quit so that it doesn't negatively impact his health.
He also said all the right things when it came time to extend his contract, which should have happened immediately after his second world championship in four years, upon the completion of his eighth straight World Series win (against 0 losses). He didn't want it to be a distraction as the Sox began spring training.
On Sunday, February 24th, the Red Sox gave Francona a three-year contract extension. If I were them, that would have happened a lot sooner, and for a lot longer than three years. But they made the right decision, and they'll be a team to worry about for as long as Francona is at the helm.
SPRING TRAINING ON SNY: I lucked out today and was able to catch most of the Mets-Braves spring training game on SNY. A few observations:
1) Mike Pelfrey has looked great this spring, and he looked great today. Part of me keeps reminding the other part of me that it's still spring training, and we're still at a point where the pitchers are ahead of the hitters. Also, I needed to remind myself that he did the same thing to these Braves last September, so maybe Pelfrey just has the Braves' number. But the other part of me was very excited - Pelfrey threw strikes, he got groundouts, and he broke a lot of bats during his three scoreless innings. It was very encouraging - and part of the talk was about how Orlando Hernandez's situation isn't improving (he has various ailments), so it could be realistic that Pelfrey breaks camp with the team. (One caveat - the Mets won't need a fifth starter until mid-to-late April, so maybe Hernandez isn't behind schedule...and he'll be ready when the Mets need him.) Nevertheless, I would be confident in Mike Pelfrey if he is the Mets' fifth starter this year. More than confident, based on what I saw today.
2) One area where I won't be confident is first base. Carlos Delgado has had a recurrence of the hip injury that kept him out most of last September. So he's not playing right now, but the Mets aren't making a big deal out of it. The problem is, they're thin at first base. And on Monday afternoon, Michel Abreu started at first. He's not good. Abreu has been in the Mets' system for a few years - I always saw his name and thought it was Michael. But it's Michel. Pronounced like "Michelle". But he dropped a pickoff throw from Pelfrey, and he looks like he's working too hard to catch throws from the infield on routine grounders. Not a good sign for a first baseman. Hopefully Delgado's not too hurt, but if he is, the Mets need first base help.
3) Spring training games must be frustrating for broadcasters. This game featured Kevin Burkhart and Keith Hernandez (no Gary Cohen, in other words), and it's spring training, so there's a lot of feature-y stuff to talk about. Not to mention Burkhart's primary role is the sideline reporter, so he's got plenty of stuff to talk about during a slow spring training game. But the players keep swinging at the first pitch. Almost to a tee. Maybe the game slows down when there's all bench players/youngsters trying to prove themselves in the game late, but I didn't stick around to find out. Anyway, Burkhart and Hernandez kept starting stories, and they kept having to go to commercial in the middle of them. Frustrating, I would imagine.