Terry Francona: Sox image-conscious

NEW YORK -- The owners of the Boston Red Sox were preoccupied with sagging TV ratings and hired marketing consultants who urged the team to place a greater emphasis on "good-looking stars" and "sex symbols," according to an excerpt from a book co-authored by former Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

Francona described how he nearly walked out of a meeting he had in 2010 with majority owner John W. Henry, chairman Tom Werner and CEO Larry Lucchino after Werner complained about declining TV ratings on NESN, the team-owned regional network, and said, "We need to start winning in more exciting fashion."

Francona said he began to rise from his chair, but general manager Theo Epstein, also present at the meeting, grabbed his knee.

"A good move by Theo," Francona said in the excerpt released Tuesday by Sports Illustrated. "When Tom started talking about ratings, Theo knew I was getting ready to flare."

"Francona: The Red Sox Years" is co-written by the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy and is scheduled for publication by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on Jan. 22.

On Nov. 2, 2010, a group gathered at Fenway Park to review results of a $100,000 marketing research project the Red Sox had commissioned in response to the drop in TV ratings.

The book stated the marketing report said: "(W)omen are definitely more drawn to the 'soap opera' and 'reality-TV' aspects of the game ... They are interested in good-looking stars and sex symbols," parenthetically citing All-Star second baseman Dustin Pedroia as an example of the latter.

"They (the consultants) told us we didn't have any marketable players, that we needed some sizzle," Epstein is quoted as saying. "We need some sexy guys. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. This is like an absurdist comedy. We'd become too big. It was the farthest thing removed from what we set out to be."

Epstein told ESPNBoston.com on Wednesday that the quote should not be construed as a criticism of the Red Sox owners, as many have done.

"My quote about how 'they told us ... we needed sizzle' was in response to a
question about the meeting to discuss the consultants' study on NESN ratings," Epstein said. "It was specifically about the consultants' meeting; it was not about ownership."

The book makes a correlation between that meeting and the team's subsequent acquisitions of All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, who were signed for a total of 14 years and $296 million.

"In direct response to the pressure from his bosses and the sagging ratings,'' the excerpt says, "Epstein went to work to build a sexier team for 2011."

But Epstein told ESPNBoston.com that he takes exception to that assertion.

"There is no link direct link between that meeting and the Red Sox moves that winter," he said. "I take full responsibility for those moves. It was my job to handle the pressure of a big market and make good decisions."

Gonzalez and Crawford did not last two full seasons with Boston. They were traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last August along with Josh Beckett after the Red Sox fell out of contention.

Francona's contract was not renewed after the 2011 season, when the Red Sox lost 20 of their last 27 games, becoming the first team to lead by nine games in September and not make the postseason. He worked for ESPN in 2012. The Cleveland Indians hired him last October as their manager.

Francona said the Red Sox owners refused to let the team play day games on final days of homestands because of television.

"One thing the players were always asking for was getaway day games," he said. "The owners would never go for it. They couldn't have more day games because the ratings were already suffering, and that would have hurt worse."

The book charges that the owners were reluctant to tell Francona they were letting him go.

"If you don't know what you are doing about me, why am I here?" Francona is quoted as saying at a meeting with ownership following the 2011 season. "This is a silly meeting. If you don't want me, just tell me."

The team announced hours later that it was not exercising Francona's contract option, which would have tacked on two more years.

"It was at that meeting that he said that he had lost control of the clubhouse," Werner is quoted as saying, "that he was not the right person to continue as manager."

Francona recalled the session differently: "I never said I lost control of the clubhouse. I said I hadn't been able to reach some of the guys."

Francona questioned the depth of the owners' passion for baseball. Henry's sporting interests have expanded to include the Liverpool soccer team, the Roush Racing Team, and a marketing deal with basketball star LeBron James.

"They come in with all these ideas about baseball, but I don't think they love baseball," he said. "I think they like baseball. It's revenue, and I know that's their right and their interest because they're owners ... and they're good owners. But they don't love the game. It's still more of a toy or a hobby for them. It's not their blood. They're going to come in and out of baseball. It's different for me. Baseball is my life."

Francona told ESPN that Red Sox ownership won't come off in a bad light overall, but that the difficult conclusion to his tenure led to a similar tone toward the end of the book.

"The last chapter is hard because it was a hard ending," Francona said. "I'm sure there will be a thing or two that will piss somebody off that I didn't think would, but I've read it seven times and me and Dan made change after change because I wanted it to be good, I wanted it to be interesting and I also wanted it to preserve the clubhouse because I do believe in that so much."

Werner told ESPN via email, "Tito and we had unbelievable success together, and our focus is on 2013."

ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes and Joe McDonald contributed to this report.