In booth, Francona mixes strategy with wit
Former manager impresses media critics under bright lights
ARLINGTON -- Terry Francona's introduction alongside Joe Buck went off without a hitch on Saturday night, the opening moments of the American League Championship Series setting a blueprint that the two-man FOX broadcast team carried out to an effect reserved for veteran tandems.
First, the quick joke: "Two weeks ago, I was stressing about baseball," Francona said. "Now, I've got two pretty women putting makeup on me. Tough life."
Then a dive into the analysis of the matchup between the Rangers and Tigers in Game 1 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, a game Texas won, 3-2, after a pair of fifth-inning rain delays and a tight score tested Francona's ability to translate his dugout acumen for millions of viewers.
Time after time, Francona was sharp, swiftly moving between the funny and the intricate -- not too unlike the news conferences he used to hold as the skipper of the Red Sox.
Just with a little less stress.
"This is where C.J. Wilson uses that cutter; in fastball counts, he'll just take a little bit off," said Francona, who had broadcast just one game previously, in the Arizona Fall League more than a decade ago. "Get a little movement on the cutter -- some late action -- and get it off the barrell."
The following pitch was, of course, a cutter, and the prediction was only partially luck. Francona had a view of Wilson from the opposing dugout in late August.
Still the manager of the Red Sox less than two weeks ago, Francona is filling in for Tim McCarver, Buck's usual color man who underwent a minor heart procedure this past week. Filling in is all Francona's broadcasting career will be, he re-affirmed after the game.
"I enjoyed this, and I'm going to enjoy it tomorrow," said Francona, who will also call Sunday's Game 2. "But that's not my goal in life."
Half of the battle for any broadcast duo is developing a flow, which Buck and Tito accomplished. But Francona was sure he wasn't the one largely responsible for that.
"He baby-sat me; he took care of me," Francona said of Buck. "I wouldn't have done it without him. Heck yeah, I'm nervous to the end. It's foreign to me. I'd never done that before."
Francona's presence provided its share of worlds-collide moments, the fourth wall at least partially broken. When he was talking to Rangers manager Ron Washington in-game, Buck asked if Washington knew all along that Francona was destined to be in front of a microphone, to their own amusement. Francona let Tigers manager Jim Leyland go back to his job instead of asking an additional question, because he knows Leyland doesn't like in-game interviews.
And during one of the rain delays, there was Ken Rosenthal interviewing Joe Torre, Major League Baseball's executive vice president for baseball operations, whose managerial career with the Yankees featured countless intense matchups with Francona. Now, they're both out of uniform and in suits.
Torre, a former broadcaster himself, had some advice.
"You can stay in bed a little bit longer, Terry," Torre said. "You don't have to worry about your hair."
Francona -- who is bald -- rarely has a problem keeping his composure, but being on the air required a certain refinement of his vocabulary.
"I want to chew and I want to be able to curse at will, and I can't do either," Francona said during the telecast.
"We would highly advise against that, and plead with you not to do that," Buck responded. "But I'm adept at handling that kind of stuff."
The reception Francona received was overwhelmingly positive, despite some skepticism beforehand that he was too green to broadcast on this big of a stage.
"FOX took a big risk throwing the inexperienced Terry Francona into analyst chair tonight, but he seems up to the task," said Newsday media commentator Neil Best on Twitter.
"Seven more responses; seven more strong for Francona," wrote Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch.
Sirius-XM's Chris Russo went as far as to suggest FOX try a three-man booth. Buck touched on the question that Francona will continue to receive until his next gig, but Francona playfully dodged it: What's next?
"In another couple of innings, I might be moving you over," Francona said on air. "Or Troy Aikman."
After the game, Francona kept the same public stance about his future that he's had since leaving the Red Sox following their great September shortfall. He wants to be back in a coaching capacity -- he hasn't specified whether he'd take a non-managing job -- but that's all he knows.
"I want to be on the field," Francona said. "I'm a week into this."