Terry Francona woke up on Tuesday morning to something rare in baseball broadcasting circles: Glowing reviews from critics and viewers. TERRY FRANCONA HAS STAR TV POTENTIAL, proclaimed Newsday. Suggested New York Times sports media reporter Richard Sandomir: "Idea: keep Francona in booth when [Tim] McCarver returns for Game 3. Rare to have a mgr and a catcher in booth. "Yahoo! baseball writer Jeff Passan injected history. "Is Terry Francona Wally Pipping Tim McCarver?" The sentiment was the same from most viewers on social media sites. I asked Twitter readers to send me thoughts on Francona -- 47 of 50 respondents gave him positive reviews.
Of course, Francona wasn't aware of any of this. When reached Tuesday morning in Texas on his way to an airport, Francona said he had not read any notices on how his performance rated. He said he was just thankful that it was not an outright train wreck.
But the reaction and the reviews prompt a legitimate question: Would Francona take a broadcasting job if he didn't think he could land an attractive on-field job next season? "I don't know how to answer that," Francona said. "I filled in two games on the fly and it could have been a train wreck. I'm not deluding myself, and that's why I am trying to be careful here. I had some unbelievable people looking out for me every step of the way.
"I enjoy being on the field, and that's what I love. That's my passion. But I enjoyed this. These two days were very enlightening for me. Obviously, there's a lot of stuff I didn't know and I wasn't aware of. You are down in the dugout and you just think the game is played and guys will come out and talk. I don't kid myself for one minute: I would not have survived without Fox going so far out of their way to make me comfortable and to help me get through this. I know that and I appreciate it. They made it fun. [Play-by-play man] Joe [Buck] told me he thought I would leave the booth saying it was fun, and that was probably an understatement. I met some wonderful people, had a great time, and learned a lot. But I don't kid myself. They made it a lot easier for me."
Francona partnered with Buck on Fox's broadcasts for the first two games of the Rangers-Tigers ALCS series as a fill-in for McCarver, who underwent a successful minor heart procedure last Thursday. McCarver will be back in the booth on Tuesday night in Detroit for Game 3 of the series. "We expected Terry to be insightful and work well with Joe, or we wouldn't have asked him to pinch hit for Tim in the first place," said a Fox spokesperson. "Once we get to Detroit, the booth belongs to Joe and Tim. That was the plan going in, and we're sticking to it."
Forget about the mechanics and how smooth Francona was or was not coming in and out of breaks: He was insightful, and genuinely funny, both valuable commodities in broadcasting. On Tigers outfielder Delmon Young, Francona said, "He must be hurt. I've never seen him take a strike one. He's usually swinging in the on-deck circle." Francona laughed at his own cliches, needled the seven-year-old son of his former player, Victor Martinez, and was unafraid to question strategy of both managers. Francona said the game was faster in the booth than he imagined, and never realized the preparation that goes into a broadcast. "But I'm not trying to delude myself," he said. "If they had just handed me a microphone, I'd have flopped. I'd have sunk. But the game was fun. I love the game of baseball and I had to remind myself I was working. They were two good games, and two good, long games. I thought I felt more comfortable yesterday, which is an obvious statement because I had a day under my belt."
Buck prompted Francona to take the fill-in assignment. They have known each other for some time, and Francona said Buck called him after he left the Red Sox. "I wasn't answering any calls when I didn't immediately recognize the number," Francona said. "Then I read a text from Joe that said, "Pick up your voice mail." I listened to it and I nearly drove off the road."
Francona called Buck to tell him he thought he was insane. "I'm not a broadcaster," Francona told Buck. But Buck told Francona to think about it, and Buck followed up by writing Francona a letter to convince him to give broadcasting a try. "If it wasn't for Joe, I would not have done it," Francona said. "Joe went above and beyond the call of duty, and when I came in, he prepared me. He told me going in: 'Terry, you are not an announcer. Don't try to be an announcer. Just talk about baseball.' That's where Joe was so helpful. He kind of baby-sat me and led me through it. I just spoke when I felt it was appropriate. I thought he and [lead producer] Pete Macheska and Steve Horn [Fox's lead information person in the booth, who sits next to Buck] went out of their way to make it easy for me."Francona said he intentionally did not read the reviews of how he did after Game 1. "I did that on purpose because I knew I had to do another game and I didn't want it to affect it," Francona said. "It's hard when somebody criticizes you. It's hard not to let it affect you. I really tried to stay away from that."After a crazy week and a half,including parting ways as Red Sox manager, Francona's immediate plans this week are to help one of his daughters move into her new apartment. "I have to settle down here and kind of let things slow down," Francona said. "I haven't had a chance to do that. Doing this weekend was good for me because it gave me something to kind of get excited about. But I'll probably need to get the emotions out of what happened and think it through, and then see what I think I want to do and then also I have to see what is available, what is out there. In baseball, sometimes what you want to do is not really what is in other people's minds."
Asked how he would respond if Fox offered him some kind of role on its World Series coverage, Francona seemed genuinely stumped. "I mean, I guess," he said. "I really don't know how to answer that. First, I wasn't asked, and they have a wonderful setup there. This is what it is: Tim needed somebody to step in for him and I was happy to do it after they kind of convinced me that I would be able to do it. It was what it was. I came in and out and it was fun and I appreciate it. Now let them go about their business."