September 30, 2011: Terry Francona, a man who seemed so yearning to let loose a massive verbal burden that evening, merely drawled a brief public farewell. Other than the brick wall behind him not a hint of Red Sox regalia. Not even the smallest letter “B” on his drab collared shirt.
An adoring Boston public called him “Tito”. Once the dual World Series winning manager of the Boston Red Sox, he’d just been sacked.
My jaw cramped. My heart sped. I shivered with a sense of void. And the players: what would it mean for the heroes who for a Herculean amount of time each year put on an unremitting show? This was lunacy.
But it was nothing new in business.
I came to the party called baseball late. It was only on learning the tagging-up rule that it opened up to me. Then came the intrinsic thrill: the decision making with the ball in the air, the sweat at choosing which base to throw, the double play, and when to bullet like the Acela Express for home.
Hence the urge to kick down the door at Yawkey Way and summon the ownership. To question whether it knew the Red Sox were more than assets on a balance sheet; that the word ownership implied the guardianship of a legacy more precious than any; that whilst its other baby, Liverpool FC, might play at the World’s sport—baseball was America’s; that to the MLB’s credit, each and every game, at each and every ballpark remained a time for introspection and joy?
Baseball was a pastime in which people from all backgrounds and all levels of affinity came together: knees rubbing, sending bucks along rows for concessions, and high fiving. Where complete strangers, screamed in unison, debated plays, donned rally caps, and otherwise, brought a feeling of community.
It was a game built on integrity; reputations borne by bravery; fascination borne by athletic skill; magnificence borne by a perfect distance between the bases, and a strike zone of elusive proportions. This was a legacy worth protecting with every pulsing vein. For with it came hope and respite.
Therefore the loss of Terry Francona had an impact on me. A man who seemingly ate himself through every game (a mixture of tobacco and bubble gum we’d soon learn), yet kept the weight of managerial burden from the fans. He exemplified good.
If you’ve been in business long enough, you’ll know that a clashing of heads with the powers above is inevitable: ego, pride, hubris, over-familiarity, the need for space, or a difference of opinion. These were facets of flesh and sinew.
As Tito hinted in his farewell address, in the absence of empowerment though, all a leader had to drive performance was his reflection. A “voice”, Tito called it.
Surprisingly, empowerment was an oft forgotten imperative in business. Its lacking, all the more noticeable when an empire coalesced around a few.
This was not to say that the Red Sox were otherwise, managerially bereft. Their concept of Nation spoke marketing brilliance; charity touched everything with their name. These feats did not come without foresight.
But you’ve got to trust the guy on the ground. Be it delegation in its simplest form or outright enablement, interactions between the tactical (managers) and the strategic (executives) are correctly handled behind closed doors. Mixed messages cannot hit the shop floor.
In 2011 they did.
For reconciliation with Tito, the ensuing nightmare season of 2012 would have been a fantasy. But it was concrete-real: a new manager was appointed—he was a disaster and the team came last.
By that year’s end, an executive panic infected Yawkey Way. The Red Sox brand was at risk.
Happily, nature abhors a vacuum.
Business-focus returned in 2013. Another, this time empowered, manager came aboard. Press leaks stopped. Ownership displayed textbook restraint.
It was an example of executive humility and from it was born the most satisfying return on investment of all: a World Series championship.
For a while there, it looked as if the Red Sox’s adversary for that championship would be a team from Cleveland, and they had a new empowered manager too. Some fans knew him as “Tito”. On the line-up card his name showed simply: Terry Francona.
© 2014 Adam Parker. You’ve just read a Parkerpinion.
Video still © 2011 New England Sports Network via Blip Networks inc.