Boston Baseball: Rico, you were up in the Legends Suite in late July for another great start by Josh Beckett, this time against the Mariners. How did he look from up there?
Rico Petrocelli: He looked very good! One thing that’s really stood out to me in that start, and for most of this season, is his command of his pitches. He’s throwing a lot better to the corners, but he’s also got more movement.
When he gets hit, it always seems like it’s the four-seam fastball — it seems that way, anyway — and sometimes he leaves a changeup up in the strike zone. But he’s really added a whole different look, you can tell by the hitters. They look a little confused! He has that tailing fastball too, the two-seamer, that he’s getting inside on them. Their timing isn’t good. I don’t think they’re able to just wait on his fastball like they could in the past when Beckett struggled. He looks a lot better to me this season — more confident. I just hope he stays healthy.
BB: That 3-1 win over the Mariners followed the Red Sox’ usual recipe for a win this season, in that the offense wore down the opposing starter, put up a crooked number against the bullpen, and then Bard and Papelbon hung up zeroes in the eighth and ninth.
RP: Well, that’s it! That’s the plan, that’s the team that they developed. They went out and got the guys, brought others up from their system, and it’s working out pretty well. Going out and getting players like Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford; it’s amazing. But they did have the core of this team with Papi, Youkilis, Pedroia and Ellsbury the last few years. Professional hitters, having good at-bats, driving up the pitch counts, and they’re all capable of doing damage. Pedroia’s really come on this past month.
BB:There’s not much that this 2011 ballclub doesn’t do well. They run well — very well by Red Sox standards — and they are a good defensive team.
RP:They are. And I don’t want to leave out Jason Varitek, either. Even though he no longer gets the lion’s share of the at bats at catcher, he is a big part of this team. Saltalamacchia is improving, but he still has some trouble blocking balls. I’m so glad that the Sox hung onto Varitek and I am sure the pitching staff feels the same way.
BB: That game was also Terry Francona’s 1000th win as a manager.
RP: Yes. That was great, a terrific milestone.
Terry is such a modest guy, and he’s always been that way. It’s great to see things going so well for him, especially after his first managerial stint with Philadelphia, which at the time was just a terrible team. I don’t care who you are, you don’t have some players, especially pitchers, you’re not going to go anywhere!
BB: That’s a tough crowd down there, too.
RP: Oh, very tough, Philadelphia! Nowadays, of course, they have a new ballpark and they fill it every night. They’ve got a very good team.
But you look at Boston over the years, our fans were filling the park when our teams were not winning, in the 1990s. Down in Philly they’re tough on their teams, but when they have a good ballclub, the fans are going to be there.
BB: You’ve seen a dozen managers come and go since you signed with Boston in 1961. What makes Terry Francona successful, apart from being modest?
RP: His personality, his ability to handle players. Like in the past with Manny [Ramirez]. There have been people who have criticized him… but he never retaliates. He takes the high road. I think that shows that the guy has class. He’s mature.
He’s also a players’ manager. That’s not to say that he can’t do certain things when they have to be done. When a player is at the end of his career, you have to make decisions sometimes… and even though you like the guy, you have to do it. You have to make difficult decisions, but he’s able to do that, and do it in such a way that everyone understands where he’s coming from, even if they don’t necessarily agree with him.
Just about everyone likes him, too. I’m talking about the press and all that. He’s been accessible, and he has a good sense of humor. I know the team has had good players and good teams, but that doesn’t always mean you’re going to win! You gotta be a good manager on a good team, too.
BB: All that fans can really judge a manager by is the lineup card he makes out, the pitching changes he makes during the course of the game, or if he puts a play on — a steal, or a bunt or something like that. They don’t see the day-to-day managing of the personalities in the clubhouse, which is an enormous part of the job.
RP: Absolutely, great point. You don’t just start managing when you go out into the dugout, you start when you get to the ballpark. Beyond managing the game, you’ve got to handle personalities, deal with the media. Once you get to the park, you’ve got to be ON!
When a team is losing, that’s really the test of a manager. I thought Terry did a great job in 2005 and last year too, of holding things together during a season when guys were hurt and things just weren’t going Boston’s way.
BB: You won pennants with Dick Williams and Darrell Johnson. Who was your favorite manager to play for?
RP: Darrell Johnson. I didn’t play for [Don] Zimmer too much. Zimmer is a great baseball man, and he is very respected by players and other people in the game.
Darrell was fair, and a laid-back guy. He didn’t get too excited when things didn’t go well. He was a good baseball man; knowledgable. He made the good moves, I thought. In ‘75 we had a good ballclub, and he handled the pitchers well. But Dick Williams was, I would say, the best manager I played for.