Why Can't Obama Be Like Tito?
In a remarkable interview on sports talk radio in Boston this week, Terry Francona (Tito), the departing manager of the Boston Red Sox major league baseball team, admitted that he failed and discussed why he walked away. President Obama could learn a moral lesson or two from a man who took responsibility for a horrible situation not entirely of his own making. Francona refused to blame anyone else, even when the blame could have been shifted or at least shared.
The Boston Red Sox started the season in April riding on the hopes of a fearsome hitting line-up assembled through existing talent and off-season free agent acquisitions. Arguably, the Red Sox pitching staff were the best in baseball.
The month of April , when the Red Sox lost the first six games and eight out of the first ten, cast doubt on those pre-season expectations of Boston cruising to a World Series berth. But by the end of July the Red Sox had recovered, enjoying the best record in the major leagues.
In September, everything fell apart. The Red Sox coughed up a nine-game lead, losing 20 games. Lifeless, dispirited, and dreadful, the Red Sox looked and played like an aging, inept volunteer firemen league ball club. Their collapse was the worst ever in major league baseball history.
The Boston sports scene is not without melodrama, along with politics and revenge -- all staples for the Hub of the Universe. It was only seven years ago that the Red Sox, skippered by Tito Francona, won the World Series for the first time in 86 years. In baseball lore, the Red Sox finally cast off the curse of the Bambino, when in 1920 they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $100,000. The 2011 Red Sox train wreck had many conductors. Sports talk yakkers, writers, and broadcasters gorged themselves on speculating the fate of the protagonists and who would take the fall.
Who was to blame? Number-crunching owners more interested in branding a franchise than assembling a hungry team on the field? A spendthrift general manager, shoveling tons of free agent signing dollars to overrated ball players having zero chemistry with the rest of the team? Or the players themselves, squandering their immense talent through self-absorbed preoccupations with individual achievements and upcoming contract negotiations while abandoning their teammates?
Francona, the team manager, would have none of it. Here's what he said this past Wednesday in an interview on WEEI radio:
I have to own a lot of the responsibility for what happened... It was my responsibility to not let what happened happen. So regardless of how ownership feels or regardless of how [general manager] Theo [Epstein] feels or how the fans feel, I had a responsibility to get something done and it didn't get done.
Francona on personal goals of certain players outweighing some of the team goals:
That's my responsibility to change that. That falls on me. I was distraught that I wasn't able to change that all the time.
Finally on Tito's own view about his future with the Red Sox:
Theo and I had this conversation too about whether I was the right person for this team going forward. Because obviously there need to be some changes made here, and I don't think I was.
Accountability is a word frequently uttered yet rarely applied.
In 2009 president Obama said, "I will be accountable for the economy." Of course, that was before it was clear that his policies were making conditions worse, provoking crippling job losses, hindering any jobs recovery, and ushering in an age of perpetual economic anxiety.
What does accountability really mean to Obama? Taking the fall for his own disastrous presidency? Acting upon his own incompetence and destructive leadership?
Obama has blamed ATMs, the Japan earthquake, oil companies, bankers, insurance companies, Wall Street traders, greedy millionaires, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and right-wing radio, the Tea Party, and of course inveterate racism from ordinary Americans. Underlying all of these roadblocks to Obama's triumphant legacy are Republicans -- intransigent, do-nothing, unpatriotic hyper-partisans, interested only in acquiring power at the expense of the nation.
Terry Francona, neither statesman nor moral philosopher, knows how to act upon the meaning of the word accountability. Francona had every reason to wrap himself around the word entitlement, ducking responsibility, just like Obama.
Francona could have made the case that he was entitled to the support of the owners and general manager, entitled to the selfless team-first ambition from his players, and entitled to keep his job due to the devotion of loyal fans. But no -- Tito instead assigned accountability for a disaster to himself and acted upon it, honorably.
Any chance Obama could be like Tito?
Not a chance. Obama takes his cue from Red Sox die-hards: "Ya ruined my summah!"