Thursday, October 16, 2008

Memories of Philly less than fond for Francona

Make no mistake: Terry Francona would like nothing more than to spend the last weekend of October in Philadelphia. It’s not, though, because he misses the fans who booed him out of town in 2000 after four seasons as Phillies manager.

It’s because it would mean his team was playing in its second straight World Series.

“I went through some really tough times there,” he said a few hours before his Red Sox faced elimination in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday. “It’s hard for me to be all warm and fuzzy about the city. That’s just the way it is.

“But there are some people there I care a lot about. You can’t go through four years there and not care about them. … There’s a lot of people I’m really thrilled for.”

Francona took over the reins after the Phillies won 67 games and finished last in the National League East in 1996; his teams finished last, third twice and last again in 2000 before he was fired and replaced by Larry Bowa.

“In Boston, they’re very vocal, but there’s more love for their players here,” he said. “They want them to do good so bad that when they don’t, it just kills them.

“In Philadelphia, it turned to hatred in a hurry – like ball one.”

His roster was not sensational, either.

He had some talent, certainly; Bobby Abreu, Scott Rolen and Mike Lieberthal all were in their prime, and Curt Schilling (then 33 years old) and Paul Byrd (then 29 years old) made a combined 33 starts as part of a rotation that also included Randy Wolf and a chock-full-of-potential Bruce Chen.

But shortstop Jimmy Rollins played in just 14 games as a rookie in 2000, and Pat Burrell likewise got his first taste of the big leagues in 111 games split between first base and the outfield. Chase Utley spent the 2000 season in Single-A Batavia, while Ryan Howard wouldn’t even be drafted until the following June.

Bowa’s Phillies would win 86 games and finish second in the division in 2001. They would finish under .500 just once more on their climb to back-to-back division titles under Charlie Manuel last season and this season.

“Our thing was to try to help some young players get better and survive,” he said. “That’s now what they’re doing now. They’re trying to win a World Series. It’s vastly different.”

Philadelphia, though, became a place Francona suddenly wanted to visit when the Phillies polished off the Dodgers in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. Left-handed ace Cole Hamels tossed seven impressive innings, surrendering five hits and one run, and earned NLCS Most Valuable Player honors.

No matter how much the city might still hate him, there’s nowhere else Francona would rather be next week.

“They can throw stuff at me -- I don’t care,” he said. “That would be great.”

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