In the first week or so after Terry Francona left as manager of the Boston Red Sox, after it became clear that Theo Epstein coming to the Chicago Cubs was a real possibility, there was a feverish eruption of interest in a Theo/Tito combination coming to Chicago.
Over time, whether it was because of the Red Sox clubhouse allegations, because of reflection on the September collapse, or simply because of the prolonged Epstein drama, that fever died down rather quickly. And, once the Cubs got in the market for a new manager, Epstein was quick to say that, while Tito was a great manager, he wasn’t sure whether it was a good fit either for the Cubs or for Francona.
So, Francona faded from our thoughts as a realistic candidate for the Cubs’ managerial opening.
Well, he’s back. From the Chicago Tribune:
“I’m comfortable letting Theo take care of this; he’s the boss,” Francona said Thursday by phone.
Epstein has admitted he and his former manager with the Red Sox have talked at length and that “I don’t think we’d have to” go through a formal interview if Francona indeed becomes the choice.
For his part, Francona says he is “trying to stay under the radar” with his unspoken candidacy, but a source very close to him says “deep down” he badly wants to manage the Cubs — for whom he played in 1986 while falling in love with Wrigley Field — and has told Epstein so.
What would seem to be a simple process actually comes with complications, not the least of which is the Red Sox meltdown in September that made Francona and Epstein available. Yes, the Red Sox won 90 games, 19 more than the Cubs, but they failed to make the playoffs and there was talk Francona had lost control of the clubhouse.
There were hints Francona had become burned out after eight grueling seasons in Boston and that he had burned bridges with his longtime buddy Epstein.
Francona says neither is true.
“I am interested (in managing again),” Francona said Thursday. “I just interviewed with the Cardinals. You also would like it to be the right situation.
“There are only 30 (managing) jobs and all in their own right are awesome. But some would better suit me.”
And, according to those close to Francona, “some” includes the Chicago Cubs. Because Francona wouldn’t require an interview, it’s now fair to say that he’s back in play as a legitimate candidate for the Cubs’ job (until/unless Theo says otherwise), and could be hired at any time.
If, in fact, Francona does very much want to manage the Cubs, and he doesn’t get the job, it suggests that Epstein was quite serious when he said the Cubs don’t need to become “the Boston show.” It suggests that Epstein is sensitive to many Cubs’ fans concerns that, while we very much want to win, we don’t necessarily want to win only by virtue of transplanting every major component from Boston to Chicago.
It could also suggest that, for whatever reason, Epstein simply does not believe Francona is the best man for the job. If nothing else, he would certainly be more expensive than the candidates the Cubs have been interviewing.
Whatever the case, it’s interesting to learn that Francona wants the job, but Theo is publicly shying away from Tito. It doesn’t mean that Francona might not end up the guy – indeed, the Cubs’ current interviews could be designed to rule guys out as “not better than Tito” – but, if Francona is the guy, Epstein is playing it very close to the vest.
For my part, I wouldn’t hate the idea of Francona getting the job, though the “Boston show” issue does concern me. And, if there’s any chance the Cubs can land a Maddux/Maddux combo? Well, I think my preferred option would be obvious.