Francona deserves more credit

BOSTON -- It's not just that Terry Francona has never been voted the American League's Manager of the Year. In his first seven seasons as Red Sox manager, he has not received so much as a single first-place vote.

This despite two World Series titles, five postseason appearances and five seasons of 95 or more wins.

The last Sox manager to win manager of the year was Jimy Williams in 1999, when the Sox won the wild card. John McNamara won in '86 when the Sox took the pennant. Shoot, Kevin Kennedy got more first-place votes (11) than winner Lou Piniella (9) in 1995, when the Sox won the division.

These are the men who have been elected manager of the year since Francona was hired in Boston: Ron Gardenhire, Mike Scioscia, Joe Maddon, Eric Wedge, Jim Leyland, Ozzie Guillen and Buck Showalter. What do they have in common? Their teams were perceived to have overachieved in some way.

That can never happen for Francona. He arrives in spring training every year with his suitcase, sunscreen and the widely held supposition that the Sox will still be playing in October. The manager's role? Judging by the voters, evidently, not to screw things up.

The buzz this season would suggest that some things haven't changed. There has been lots of debate about which Sox player has the best chance at winning the MVP award: king of the leadoff men Jacoby Ellsbury, heart and soul Dustin Pedroia or sweet-swinging Adrian Gonzalez. Francona? Seems the only time you hear his name come up is when someone calls Felger and Mazz to complain that he left Tim Wakefield in too long.

If you didn't know any better, you'd think Francona was just part of the scenery on Yawkey Way, like the Monster or Pesky Pole.

When is the last time you've heard Francona described as a great tactician or motivator, like Bill Belichick, or inspirational, like Doc Rivers? Thought so. What is the best thing you've ever said about Francona? That he spells the names right on his lineup card?

Never mind that he has the second-best winning percentage of any Red Sox manager-- ever. Or that he has lasted longer in the job than all but one of his predecessors, Joe Cronin. Because the Sox have one of baseball's highest payrolls, and the roster has been littered with All-Stars from the time he got here, Francona's success apparently has been ascribed to an accident of good timing -- at least when compared to his peers.

Funny thing is, even that doesn't entirely explain why Francona has never been elected manager of the year. Joe Torre, when managing the Yankees, had the same advantages Francona had and won the award twice, in 1996, when he was co-winner, and again in 1998.

Can't be the nickname, Tito. Past winners include a Sparky, a Dusty and two Bucks (Showalter and Rodgers).

Whatever the reason, Francona has gotten a bum deal. Yes, the voting is held before the postseason, but he should have won in '04 or '07. You could have made a great case for him last season, when he kept the Sox in contention until the season's last month despite a roster wiped out by injuries.

He should be the favorite this season, even though people were openly talking about the Sox winning 100 games before a pitch was even thrown. The Sox are on pace for that 100, despite a terrible 2-10 start, despite losing two-fifths of the starting rotation to injury, despite the absence of a dependable lefty in the pen, despite the inexplicable season-long slump by newcomer Carl Crawford.

Yes, Francona has been dealt a winning card every season he has been here, but he deserves some credit for how he has played that card. This is not an easy place to manage. The rewards are wonderful, but the scrutiny is relentless and overbearing, the pressure unceasing. Francona has been blessed with wonderful talent in his time here, but it is no mean feat to keep personal agendas from overwhelming shared goals, and managing to persuade huge personalities with easily bruised sensibilities to make sacrifices for the common good.

The Idiots. Manny. Pedro. Big Schill. Boomer. Papi during his slumps. Placing his faith in a kid named Pedroia when he was barely keeping his head above water. Sticking with other players when everyone else in the world was clamoring to cut them loose. The unseen hours of preparation that go into every game. Tolerating the questions that come before and after every game.

There are five weeks to be played in the season, and the Red Sox hold just a slim lead over the Yankees despite being on their 100-win track. The manager has done his job, again. Will he finally get the recognition he deserves? Dicey, at best. Ron Washington will get votes if the Rangers repeat as division winners. Manny Acta, for the Indians making an unexpected run. Leyland, because the Tigers are winning in the Central and he's Leyland. Scioscia, if the Angels overtake the Rangers. Joe Girardi, because of the shaky nature of his rotation.

All have a case. Francona has the best one.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.