Schilling accuses Sox owners of 'character assassination'

BOSTON -- Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who played a behind-the-scenes role in the hiring of Terry Francona as Red Sox manager after starring for him in Philadelphia, came to the defense of his former manager Wednesday night, calling reports of Francona’s marital problems and use of pain medication “character assassination of the worst kind.’’

Schilling also said that the team’s dysfunction at the end of the season, the unseemly details of the team’s behavior, and the handling of Francona’s departure means that the Red Sox “have lost any goodwill they had.’’

He said, “I don’t think John Lackey can ever put that uniform on again” and predicted “there will be some guys who will walk on that field on Opening Day next year and get booed louder than any New York Yankee who ever set foot [on the field].’’

Schilling, an ESPN contributor, said Wednesday night on “Baseball Tonight” that the allegations in a Boston Globe story implying Francona may have been abusing his pain medication could “only come from a couple of people in the organization: the trainer, the team doctor or the executive team there.

“That’s the distressing part. There are a lot of things to think about now. If I’m a free agent, why would I go to that organization. At the end of the day, I think they betrayed a lot of people in Red Sox Nation.’’

Schilling charged that the unnamed team sources in the Globe article detailing the team’s issues, especially Francona’s, were the team’s owners -- John W. Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino -- though he did not single them out by name.

“It starts at the top," Schilling said. "These are some bad people. This guy (Francona) gives everything he could give. They spent nine or 10 years building this into a model franchise, so to speak, and I think they destroyed it in a matter of …"

Later in the interview conducted by Baseball Tonight’s Steve Berthiaume, Schilling said: “Again, the information coming out in this article couldn’t have come from other people. It could have been sourced through other people, but it had to start at the top.

“You remember Tito’s press conference, when Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner were talking to Theo about the [Carl] Crawford signing and said all our free agents are a collective effort. Then the comments in this article were that Theo did his own thing here and had to convince the owners. This was them preparing the road for the exits. A very low-class, horrible thing to do.’’

Schilling did not dispute the team’s right to make a managerial change or that a change might have been in order.

“The fans were ready for a change,’’ he said. “As hard as it is to say, I’m a big Terry Francona fan, [but] he’s made mistakes. Some of the biggest fights in my career were with Terry. He’s not a perfect manager. There are better managers on the field, tacticians, in the clubhouse. The whole-packagewise, I think he was one of the best.

“But this guy gave everything. He walked away and took the high road. He had multiple opportunities on multiple outlets to throw people under the bus and never did. In my mind, it was over. He’s gone. They took this opportunity to character-assassinate this guy, and I think that’s just, I don’t think the fans in Red Sox Nation want the game played that way.’’

Regarding some of the details of player conduct in the clubhouse, Schilling said he didn’t “disbelieve” the reports. “I’ve been in a big-league clubhouse for 20 years. That’s the kind of stuff that happens,’’ he said.

When asked if the manager bears responsibility, he said: “I think he made it very clear he tried to make it right. Multiple times he tried to get to his players. You try to do that first through your players. There certainly was not a presence in that clubhouse to take control of the situation. It wasn’t David Ortiz. It wasn’t Jason Varitek. It wasn’t Tim Wakefield. It’s not Dustin Pedroia; the guy’s on the field, playing. And I don’t think that personally existed in that clubhouse.

“I think the guys were complementary guys around a Mike Lowell-type of a leader, but that leadership guy didn’t exist here. That kind of stuff, it happens all the time. I don’t want to say the beer, chicken and video games, but guys would be in the clubhouse. They’d have a bite to eat, whatever their schedule is. But for it to have become a centerpiece of attention means it was happening far more often and by far more people than anybody witnessing was used to or comfortable with.’’

Schilling said he believes the collapse contributed to Epstein’s reported decision to leave for the Chicago Cubs.

“Why would he want to go back there?’’ he said. “I think we all know now what Terry was saying when he said I don’t feel like I had the front office’s backing. I think it was very clear why. And for the ownership to follow up that interview by saying I was kind of caught off-guard by the fact that he said that was disingenuous at best.’’

Schilling said he was disappointed that none of the players singled out in the reports -- Josh Beckett, Lackey, Jon Lester -- have responded publicly to any of the allegations.

“I think Josh, if he doesn’t find a way to make things right, I think fans are going to be pretty upset with everything that’s come out in this article. And that’s the biggest thing for me.

"If my name is in that article, my press conference starts five seconds after that’s over. 'That’s a lie,' and I’m calling everybody out that said something.

“I’ve heard nothing from the players. Nobody saying 'That never happened, I never did that'. That to me is horrifying, because I saw Jon Lester go through a lot as a young player and battle his butt off to get to where he is and I want to attribute that September to he struggled. He just struggled. I hope that is the reason. But this article leads you to believe very differently.’’