If it was difficult for Phillies fans to fathom the first time, it's excruciating now, with Francona back in the Fall Classic for the second time. So, with the success that Francona has had in Boston, did the Phillies give up on him too early and were Phillies fans too harsh on him during his stint here?
In Francona's four seasons in Philadelphia, he managed just a 285-363 record for a .440 winning percentage. His best season came in 1999 when the Phillies won 75 games. In Boston, Francona has not been under the .500 mark in any of his four seasons and his worst season - 2006 - still brought 86 wins. So, did Francona instantly get smarter when he moved north? Did the Phillies just give up on him too early? Or, are the Red Sox just that much better?
Odds are that Francona didn't gain a great deal of wisdom between the time that he left Philadelphia after the 2000 season and the time that he took over in Boston in 2004. He has said in the past though that he did learn some things and that he may have done some things different in retrospect. After all, hindsight is 20/20. Still, the learning curve isn't the reason that Francona is suddenly winning.
Did the Phillies give up on him too early? Probably not. So, that leaves the Red Sox being a better team. It's true, especially when you look at the players.
In 1999, Francona's finest hour in Philadelphia, he had the likes of Rico Brogna, Alex Arias and an aging Ron Gant in the lineup. Chad Ogea, Robert Person and Carlton Loewer were in the starting rotation. In Boston, Francona's lineup is dotted with the likes of Kevin Youkalis, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek, not to mention the big guns of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. His starting rotation boasts Curt Schilling - who was also on the '99 Phillies team - Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield. Instead of closing out games with Wayne Gomes, he's got Jonathan Papelbon in his bullpen. Instead of bringing David Doster off the bench, Francona has Eric Hinske. There's not much of an argument about the quality differences between the two teams.
So, if Francona had Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, Aaron Rowand and Ryan Howard in his lineup and Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer in his rotation, would he have done better than Charlie Manuel did this past season in Philadelphia?
Actually, Francona and Manuel are very similar managers. Both are player's managers who put the egos of their players at the top of their priorities. Both are patient and willing to take a hit from fans and the media to keep it from landing squarely on their players. Both are also generally more suited to managing in the American League, where things like double-switches aren't as prevalent. You could well argue that Manuel might be more apt to stay with pitchers too long in the AL because he wouldn't have to pinch-hit for them. He's been accused - rightly so - of sticking with a pitcher past the time when he's run out of gas in the NL and it would likely only be worse if he didn't have to go to the bench for a pinch-hitter in spots.
The real difference between the two managers is a behind the scenes issue. You may never know it from watching him, but Charlie Manuel can have a mean streak with his players. It's always far away from the glare of TV cameras and tape recorders and generally even away from the range of other player's ears, but Manuel will let players know when they've screwed up. The secret is that he also lets them know that he respects them as players and as people and that there is never a need for the media to know about the issue. When the yelling ends, the issue is over. Francona is extremely slow to ever take a player to task, even in the privacy of his office or another out of the way locale. Instead, his pleasant, gentlemanly way of dealing with people is always the norm.
Francona is also more apt to have different sets of rules for different players. Manuel will only allow that to go so far and treats every player on the team the same, whether it's Ryan Howard or Michael Bourn. Francona allows superstars their perks and will treat players in different ways depending on their personality and ego. Neither way is wrong and arguments could go back and forth over which way gets more results. It's one of the great managerial arguments of all time, whether you're talking about baseball or a center city office with different levels of "players" on their staff.
It's worth noting that after Francona's exit, the Phillies went completely in the opposite direction with their manager, naming Larry Bowa to take over the club. While Bowa had more success in terms of wins, the clubhouse was in a constant state of upheaval as players adjusted - and in some cases, refused to adjust - to Bowa. Also worth noting is that after Bowa, the Phillies went with another version of Francona in Charlie Manuel and went to the post-season for the first time in 14 years.
Would Francona have had the same success as Charlie Manuel? Odds are that he would have had at least the same success and possibly better, but there was no way the Phillies were going to wait that long without blaming someone other than the front office. Eventually, when the front office took the blame, things started to change and Charlie Manuel has been the beneficiary of that change. Odds are that Francona would have been able to make the most of those changes and enjoy the same success as Manuel has at the helm of the Phillies.
Maybe Sparky Anderson was right when he summed up the impact of a manager. "The players make the manager, it's never the other way."