Tito victim of latest Sox smear campaign

BOSTON -- Terry Francona is paying a dear price for deviating, however briefly, from the script.

He was supposed to say the decision to end his eight-year run as Red Sox manager was all his, and leave it at that. Instead, he said that he wasn't sure ownership had his back, suggesting that the reason he walked out the door was because it was held wide open for him.

Well, that obviously didn't sit well with some people in the highest reaches of Sox management, for now we are told in Wednesday's editions of the Boston Globe that not only did the Red Sox collapse in September, but that Francona's troubled marriage and his use of pain medication may have been contributing factors.

This is how it's done, Tito, Boston-style. No one ever escapes clean, regardless of what you might have accomplished here. (See Garciaparra, Nomar, 2004.)

On Sept. 2, when the Red Sox held a nine-game lead in the wild card over the Tampa Bay Rays, no one was talking about Francona's alleged issues with his wife. That was considered his private business. What a concept.

But "team sources" somehow were able to link Red Sox starters' ERA of 7.08 in September -- almost a full run higher than the next worst starters' ERA in the league (6.09, Orioles) -- to the fact that Francona spent some nights in a Brookline hotel instead of in his home. This, even though the Sox went 81-42 over a four-month stretch during which Francona was ordering room service.

Never mind that if job performance was measured by healthy marriages, this country would be in huge trouble, given the high divorce rate. Or that if baseball teams were required only to use players free from marital discord, many would be hard-pressed to fill their lineup cards.

Funny, but when owner John W. Henry filed for divorce from his second wife, no one raised the issue of whether he was distracted from his money management business or his ballclub. And wouldn't you know, the year he filed, 2007, the Red Sox won their second World Series on his watch.

Could Francona's personal issues have contributed to his decision not to fight to stay in Boston? He said as much, without going into detail. Would we have heard about them in anywhere but the gossip pages if the Sox were in the playoffs now? Of course not.

Perhaps even more harmful to Francona, and his future job prospects, were "team sources" expressing concerns to the Globe about his use of pain medication, the implication that the manager may have been abusing that medication.

Such information could only have been known by a very few -- Francona's employers, and his doctors and trainers. That either party would share such sensitive material certainly smells like a breach of patient confidentiality; Francona's lawyer might one day argue as much.

The Globe contacted Francona about the team's alleged concerns. Francona, according to the story, reacted strongly, noting that he has used pain medication for years due to knee and back issues stemming from the double-digit knee surgeries he has had, including knee replacements.

"I went and saw the proper people and it was not an issue,'' Francona said of his use of pain medication. "It never became an issue, and anybody who knew what was going on knows that.''

Makes you wonder how much trust Sox players will have in their medical staff going forward, knowing that any issues they might have could be fair game for public consumption.

It evidently was not enough for Francona to acknowledge that he was unable to impact the clubhouse culture the way he once had, to take responsibility for a breakdown of accountability and an absence of leadership that transformed a dream season into a nightmare he was unable to prevent. All legitimate reasons for Sox ownership to be disinclined to exercise the two-year option they held on his contract.

And Francona, in his farewell press conference, acknowledged there were "personal" issues that also made him feel like coming back might not have been the best course for either side.

But the slime bucket is never far from reach on Yawkey Way, as Francona is learning first-hand. Reached by Joe McDonald of ESPNBoston.com Wednesday morning, Francona declined comment.

He is through with Boston, even if "team sources" may not be through skewering him. Francona in the end took it from all sides -- from the players who violated his trust, from the players who did not intervene like they do on winning teams and call the miscreants to account, to the highest levels of management whose sense of decency apparently went on hiatus at the end.

"I think people are starting to recognize there's a pattern here. All of a sudden it becomes personal, especially with guys who have had so much success in that uniform," Garciaparra said on "SportsCenter" Wednesday.

"If we want to go down the list ... now we're hearing about Terry Francona, before Terry ... it was Johnny Damon, before him you had Derek Lowe, you had Pedro Martinez, you had Manny Ramirez, you had myself, then you had Mo Vaughn, then you had Roger Clemens, then you had Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski, and oh, by the way, one Ted Williams.

"So the list is pretty good, pretty prestigious, but it seems to happen. So there's a pattern. Is it all these guys that are bad or is there something more here?"

Gordon Edes covered the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.