The season has not been what the Red Sox and manager Terry Francona had hoped for, but his sense of humor remains intact.
When asked about the pressure of the season that has been filled with injuries, he referred back to his days playing and managing in winter ball.
“That was tough. I remember pinch hitting for Tony Pena when he had gotten a little long in the tooth. This was Pena’s home and one of the guys in the dugout came up to me and said, ‘You better hope he (the pinch hitter) gets a hit.’”
“He got a sac fly,” said Francona, “so everything was OK.”
“I remember times when beer bottles would be flying around your head for not winning,” he went on. “They took the games seriously down there and we had some pretty good teams.”
He recalled how the early days of winter ball could be long ones.
“Sometimes early in winter ball not all the MLB players would be there, but towards the end of it, those were major league-caliber clubs,” said Francona. “They were good games.”
Francona was then asked about how the fans in New England were treating him and whether the early years had been harder.
“The fans who write,” Francona said, smiling, “usually do so when you lose. There’s not a lot of fan mail to tell you how great you are when you win.”
In what had to be one of the great “gotcha” lines of the year, Sox announcer Don Orsillo had the perfect timing of a Johnny Carson in getting one in on Francona.
As Francona talked about fan mail, he mentioned one Sox fan who for years drove him nuts. “He just got under my skin. I don’t know who it was, but those letters just drove me crazy.”
Without missing a beat, from the side of the press room came the words from Orsillo, “I didn’t know you got those.”
Beautiful. Francona just smiled.
Said a smiling Orsillo afterward, “It’s about time. He’s been all over me all year.”
The offseason is bound to bring a few more of the fan letters that drive him crazy. Losing brings out the genius in every fan who “just knew” this was going to happen.
Francona has that well under control. In this day and age of endless experts who write unsigned comments to every sports page online, Francona looks for the serious letters and emails and discards the rest.
That doesn’t mean all the selected are favorable, but it does mean they have substance beyond some four-letter word.
Anyway, Orsillo’s not writing any more.