For my leadership class toward my MA in Government, our assignment was to compare two current leaders. I chose Red Sox skippers Terry Francona and John Farrell. It really doesn't tie to this blog on running unless you could the running players have to do around bases.
“Swing and a ground ball stabbed by Foulke. He has it. He underhands to first. And the Boston Red Sox are the World Champions. For the first time in eighty-six years, the Red Sox have won baseball’s world championship. Can you believe it (Castiglione 2004)?”
“It hasn’t happened at Fenway Park for ninety-five years! The Red Sox are World Champions! (Buck 2013)”
The Boston Red Sox have been crowned champions three times (2004, 2007, 2013) in the last decade after a notorious drought that lasted eighty-six years. This success was made possible due to solid leadership, a shared vision, and the right fits at manager who could communicate the blueprint from ownership to the players. In 2002, John Henry led an ownership group, including Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino, that purchased the franchise from the Yawkey Trust, and the new ownership changed the culture immediately. Recognizing the importance of instituting a manager who shared their vision and commitment to winning, Terry Francona was brought in to manage the team in 2004. Francona won twice but departed after eight years and Bobby Valentine succeeded him. Valentine was fired after one season in which the team didn’t win seventy games in part due to his deficiencies as a leader and inability to communicate. To replace him, the ownership recognized the club needed a manager with similar qualities to Francona and brought in John Farrell.
In baseball circles, many often wonder what impact a manager can have on his team. Some believe that a strong manager can make the difference between winning a title and missing the playoffs. Others believe that managers would do best to get out of their players’ way to let them just do their thing. Since these two Red Sox skippers brought these nine (baseball-speak indicting the ball club) to the top of the sport, it is appropriate to compare Terry Francona and John Farrell by examining their leadership styles according to Kouzes and Posner’s Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership: Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart (2006, 13).
Model the way: Titles are granted, but exemplary leaders know they must be models of the behavior they expect of others because leaders model the way (Kouzes and Posner 2006, 14).
Being named manager bestows a title, but it is up to the leader to earn respect and influence to wield power gained. Both Francona and Farrell set the examples for their charges, and players wanted to play for them and would go the extra mile. Francona had a reputation as a player’s manager who would protect his guys and never embarrass them. While Francona was being considered for the job, Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein was pursuing Curt Schilling, a Cy Young winner who formerly played for Francona during his first MLB managerial stint in Philadelphia. Originally, Schilling wasn’t considering joining Boston until “word leaked out that the Red Sox were interviewing Terry Francona as Grady Little’s possible replacement, Schilling decided he might be willing to go to Boston after all (Mnookin 2007, 243).” Schilling became a clubhouse leader and courageous follower of Francona’s. He shared Francona’s goal of bringing a title to Boston, taking on the challenge and inspiring his teammates, most famously by pitching and winning in the playoffs with a surgically secured ankle.
The Sox ownership wanted a manager who would be a partner and not a middle manager. The right fit would, according to Epstein, “Embrace the exhaustive preparation that the organization demands, and Francona quickly emerged from the applicant pool. His experiences gave him a remarkable understanding of our vision. His preparation, energy, integrity, and communication skills are exceptional (Shaughnessy 2005, 39).” Schilling was also known for thoroughly studying opposing hitters, and because Francona modeled the way, players prepared seriously and that contributed to on-field success.
After the collapse of the 2011 team, which squandered a nine-game lead in September failing to make the postseason, ownership elected to part ways with Terry Francona. They replaced him with Bobby Valentine, whose style was very different. Where Francona would go out of his way to protect his players, Valentine would publicly call out players, embarrassing them and calling attention to internal discord. Valentine verbally sparred with fan-favorite Kevin Youkilis, calling him out for poor play at the beginning of the season causing a rift that he never mended.
Recognizing their mistake that resulted in a contentious 2012 season under volatile skipper, Bobby Valentine, and seeking to restore the kind of leadership displayed by Francona, new Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington hired John Farrell. “The Farrell regime represented a return to Francona’s style. It’s only natural. John Farrell and Terry Francona were big league teammates with the Indians. They were great friends. Their wives and kids were friends. Francona brought Farrell to the Red Sox as pitching coach for four seasons (Shaughnessy November 2013).”
Farrell understood the importance of laying out clear personal values and setting the tone. During a spring training interview with the New England Sports Network (NESN), Farrell explained his views on leadership: “I think the thing that stands out about a leader is how he goes about his work. It’s not so much what he says. It’s the example that he provides for a starting pitcher. For instance, what he does in-between starts to prepare for that fifth day. What is the daily routine for a Shane Victorino, a David Ross, or a Stephen Drew at shortstop – guys that have been added to this roster? It’s more about keeping that game the focal point and every preparation step along the way that’s needed to put them in a position for success tonight (Farrell 2013).” Farrell understood that the players would take their cue from him. He needed to display his dedication to putting the team in a position to win, and the players would follow.
Inspire a Shared Vision: To enlist people in a vision, leaders must know their constituents and speak their language (Kouzes and Posner 2006, 15).
Terry Francona had to display that he could communicate in an appropriate manner with his players early on in his tenure. At the beginning of his first spring training in Boston, there was the annual big meeting to kick off the season where ownership, the general manager, manager, traveling secretary, public relations director, equipment manager, and a representative from the Red Sox Foundation addressed the entire ball club. This provides the organization with a shared vision for the year while plotting out strategy and mission. The meeting was to begin at 9:00 AM, but as time approached, Francona noticed Manny Ramirez wasn’t there. Ramirez was known for being absent-minded and acting out at times, giving birth to the phrase, “Manny being Manny.” If Ramirez missed this meeting, it had the potential to create a press firestorm and torpedo the new manager. Francona recruited the affable and popular designated hitter, David Ortiz, who is affectionately called Big Papi by teammates and fans and is a friend of Ramirez’s, to go get him. Ortiz recognized the situation and respected the way Francona wished to handle this, opting to let a player bring another player to the meeting to avoid making a scene. The next day, Ramirez approached the manager during spring training drills, draped his arm around him, and said, “I’ll hit third, I’ll hit fourth, I don’t care. I’ll do whatever you want. (Francona and Shaughnessy 2013, 77).” This reaction showed that Ramirez valued the way the new manager’s style.
Francona avoided a pitfall by appealing to Ortiz’s shared aspirations. He let a friend bring Ramirez rather than potentially embarrass the temperamental All-Star. Farrell also believes in this approach and has had the chance to display it. A few players lost focus during Francona’s final season with Boston, creating a press storm when they were rumored to be eating chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse during games. Their performances suffered, but they were still talented pitchers. Farrell was able to inspire them to return to a solid workout regimen that produced wins and a low staff ERA. He earned their trust and respect by appealing to shared aspirations of greatness.
Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner: “John has demonstrated extraordinary leadership ever since he became our manager last winter. John has the team focused on winning, the clubhouse is happy, and the players grind out at-bats. His skills range from his calm nature to his in-game strategy. Whether communicating with our core group of stars or the role players coming up and down from Pawtucket, he has everyone’s trust (Shaughnessy July 2013).”
Challenge the Process: Leaders venture out and are learners. They learn from mistakes and seek ways to change, grow, and improve (Kouzes and Posner 2006, 17).
The Red Sox ownership rely on a type of data-driven statistics known as Sabermetrics, a methodology popularized by Bill James and expanded upon by the publication Baseball Prospectus. Not all managers subscribe to this forward-thinking approach; some rely on old-fashioned trusting one’s instincts, eschewing data. The Red Sox needed to make sure their managers shared and conveyed their approach to the players. “Francona seemed to intuit the need to combine a deft interpersonal approach with the utilization of as much information as he could possibly get his hands on. It was clear that Francona would never eschew the detailed reports the team put together (Mnookin 2007, 247).” Francona and Farrell bought into this innovative approach and succeeded by playing the percentages, which is the heart of what Sabermetrics is.
Both Francona and Farrell had previous managerial jobs in the majors, and both struggled initially. Francona had four mediocre seasons managing the Phillies in the late 1990s. But, he learned from his mistakes and was able to use that to his advantage in Boston. “Francona’s pliability, a flaw in Philadelphia, would be an asset in Boston, where it was reframed as a willingness to learn and grow (Goldman 2005, 29).”
In his first season Philadelphia in 1997, Francona sought to change the direction of his club which he did midseason in a closed door meeting: “He blasted his team – and they promptly won thirty-eight of their last fifty games. Francona was applauded for his handling of the situation and his ability to motivate a team that had little viable pitching after Schilling and a mismatched roster (Goldman 2005, 27).”
Farrell also failed in his first managerial stint in Toronto. The Blue Jays were dismayed with his performance after two years and willing to let him go to the Red Sox. But, he learned from those seasons and applied the lessons to his leadership approach in Boston. Red Sox second basemen Dustin Pedroia, a former Rookie of the Year and American League Most Valuable Player: “The thing with John is he’s so smart. I think it seems like he learns from every single person he’s around in baseball. John has been unbelievable with all of us, just the communication (Ulman 2013).”
Also, Farrell showed strong leadership during the World Series by admitting he made a crucial mistake during Game 3 that possibly cost the Red Sox the game. In the top of the ninth with the game tied at four runs apiece, Farrell failed to initiate a double-switch at first base and pitcher electing to allow the pitcher to hit. The Cardinals won 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth on an obstruction play. After the game, he conceded, “In retrospect, sure, I would have liked to use a pinch hitter (Ulman 2013).” Down two games to one after the loss, the Red Sox won three straight to win the World Series.
Enable others to act: Excellent leaders foster collaboration because they know that trusting others pays off. They understand that those under them are expected to produce results and that they must feel a sense of personal power and ownership (Kouzes and Posner 2006, 18).
Francona established a trust system by empowering his players and promoting cooperative goals. He treated the players as men, yet made clear what he expected of them: “I put the rules out there each year to protect myself. I wasn’t going to check curfew. No manager does. But if somebody did something stupid at night, I could say, ‘This is the rule.’ It was all just basic commonsense stuff: be on time, be respectful, play your ass off (Francona and Shaughnessy 2013, 76).”
An example of how Francona built trust was how he handled his first game as skipper. In the 2004 Red Sox season opener, ace pitcher and part-time prima donna, Pedro Martinez, did not have his best stuff and took the loss in Baltimore. In a huff, he left the ballpark before the game was over, infuriating Francona. However, it is not his style to call out players publicly, especially on his first night on the job. Yet, he managed the situation deftly by telling the press, “In all fairness to [Martinez], and everybody else, that [rule about leaving early] wasn’t conveyed correctly on my part, and I take responsibility for that (Francona and Shaughnessy 2013, 83).”
“Francona made it a point never to criticize any of his players in public. If harsh words were uttered behind closed doors, no one heard about it (Shaughnessy 2005, 81).” That was Francona’s modus operandi: when Sox players misbehaved, he addressed it inside the clubhouse and then diminished the indiscretion to the media. This style has earned him the perception as a player’s manager because they trusted he would make them look good; the team appreciated his fostering of collaboration by taking the blame.
Farrell operates in a similar manner and that has helped him build a strong relationship with his coaches. Like Francona, he does not seek attention by criticizing his players or coaches outside of the clubhouse. An example of how he shared power is on display with his pitching coach, Juan Nieves. While Farrell served as pitching coach for Francona, he hired Nieves for the role and stays out of his way to let him do his job. Some leaders can have a tough time relinquishing a role they served prior to their promotion, creating a difficult situation when supervising the new incumbent. Yet, Farrell respects Nieves and lets him handle the pitchers: his faith of placing his trust in Nieves has been rewarded through a 3.79 staff earned run average, nearly a run less than the 2012 Sox and Boston’s best in eleven years (Ulman 2013).
Encourage the heart: The climb to the top is often arduous and long so people can become exhausted, frustrated, and disenchanted. Leaders recognize the temptation to give up yet encourage the heart of their team and celebrate success through a spirit of community (Kouzes and Posner 2006, 19).
In the 2004 American League Championship Series, the Boston Red Sox found themselves down three games to none to their hated rivals, the New York Yankees. No team in baseball history had ever won a best-of-seven series when trailing by such a deficit; in fact, no team had ever rallied to force a Game 7. Francona kept the team in a positive frame of mind and only thinking about having to win one game at a time rather than focusing on the daunting task of taking four straight. He avoided the appearance of panic by ensuring his players saw that he wasn’t doing anything differently. Although his stomach was churning, he knew that when things are getting out of control, players take their cue from the manager. It was important that he appeared calm and focused: he wasn’t going to give them an excuse to quit. He told the press after dropping Game 3, “We’re going to show up tomorrow and try to play one pitch at a time, one inning at a time (Francona and Shaughnessy 2013, 112).”
And the players responded with optimism. First baseman Kevin Millar told everyone, “Don’t let us win tonight. If we win, we’ve got Pedro going tomorrow, then Schilling, and then anything can happen in Game 7 (Francona and Shaughnessy 2013, 113).” Schilling handed out shirts that read, “Why Not Us?” referring to their chance to make history. And the Red Sox did make history by winning the next two at Fenway in extra innings, winning Game 6 in New York with Schilling pitching on his bad ankle, and blowing away the Yankees in the clincher in Yankees Stadium en route to the title.
John Farrell was brought in to change the direction from the disastrous Valentine era. “Farrell has brought leadership and dignity back to the corner office at Fenway and the Red Sox at the All-Star break have more wins than any team in baseball. He has brought back the Tito style of putting the feelings of the players ahead of everything else. And it is working magically (Shaughnessy July 2013).”
Farrell was able to encourage the team in the way the veterans still on the team were treated by Francona. Red Sox pitcher Clay Bucholz recalled, “It’s almost exactly the way it was back then [under Francona]. This is the way our clubhouse used to be. Players get treated with respect, like a professional. That’s the way it should be (Shaughnessy July 2013).” Farrell showed his appreciation for individual excellence and that recreated a spirit of community that Francona had built. He acknowledged the role Francona played, “He taught me a lot. He has a keen intuitive feel for the game (Shaughnessy November 2013).” Once restoring that blueprint, Farrell was able to guide the team from worst to first.
Conclusion: Terry Francona and John Farrell are very similar in their leadership styles and personalities, and both accomplished the ultimate goal of a Major League Baseball manager: to guide their ball club to a World Series triumph – and they did it in their first seasons in Boston. Professional baseball is a multimillion-dollar enterprise; so employing the right manager to direct a clubhouse of twenty-five talented and competitive men is crucial. This season, Francona returned to the dugout as manager of the Cleveland Indians, his first year back as skipper after his Red Sox days ended. He guided a club back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and the Baseball Writers of America selected him as American League Manager of the Year. He beat out John Farrell, who came in second; but the Red Sox and Farrell can console themselves with their eighth title in franchise history and the comfort of knowing solid leadership has been restored.
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Ulman, Howard. “Manager John Farrell’s steady leadership brings Red Sox from last place to World Series.” The Associated Press. October 30, 2013.