ESPN began pursuing Terry Francona as an analyst shortly after the Boston Red Sox announced he would not be returning as manager. At the time, the network wasn’t sure of the exact role.
Then the Red Sox announced Bobby Valentine, an ESPN analyst, was going to be the team’s next manager.
Fast forward less than a week later and ESPN hired Francona to replace Valentine in the Sunday Night Baseball booth, among other responsibilities.
Jed Drake, ESPN senior vice president and executive producer, production, was one of the core executives responsible for Terry’s hire. Following is Jed’s perspective on the addition.
FR: When did you first identify Francona as a potential TV analyst?
JD: We identified Terry as a potential analyst the day the Red Sox announced they were not going to pick up his option, which was the formal way the two parties severed. We felt he would be an asset to our announce team, regardless of any other personnel. We were going to work to bring him to our team even with the existing roster that we had.
FR: What qualities did he demonstrate which showed his ability to transition to television?
JD: He’s an excellent communicator. Anybody that has ever heard him in a press conference or has interviewed him can see he speaks with great authority and has great communication skills. He doesn’t measure his words. He tells you what he’s thinking and he does so cleanly and clearly. It was one of those occasions when you listen to somebody and you just know they are going to be a good broadcaster.
FR: What do you think led Francona to ESPN?
JD: We spent considerable time speaking with Terry, discussing the unique role we could offer him, and we developed a comfort level during the process. He was looking at a lot of opportunities outside of baseball and realized broadcasting would be a good avenue to pursue. In the end, it worked out quite well. We also had great support from Norby Williamson, executive vice president, production, to get this accomplished.
FR: How will the production team help him ease into broadcasting?
JD: We don’t want him to become a professional broadcaster in the pure sense. What we want him to do is be himself and we want to make sure he’s every bit as outspoken as he was when he was managing the Red Sox. To get him acclimated is not going to be too difficult. We want to make sure he has the benefits of our research department, which he’s already engaged with, and we know he’ll be working very closely with two of the best in the business in Mike McQuade, vice president, production, and Tom Archer, coordinating producer of Sunday Night Baseball. He’ll also have great teammates on Sunday Night Baseball with Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser.
As I’ve said to Terry, one of the great things broadcasters do is they see the game differently than we do. It’s not a three-dimensional chess board; it’s six-dimensional. The art of being a great broadcaster is being able to see all of those nuances and then explain them to us in a way we the viewer can understand. We then become enlightened and understand the game better as a result of what that announcer brings to it.
FR: How important is it to have analysts which are recently removed from the game?
JD: Norby has encouraged us to continue to find people who have a high degree of relevance. If you look at our roster, there are a number of individuals who have recently been removed from the field of play or from managerial positions. I think it is invaluable. Terry’s going to be able to provide insights that are as fresh as anybody because he knows the strengths and weaknesses of players and the tendencies of teams. He’s just lived it and he has two championship rings to show he’s pretty darn good at it.
FR: Are you ever concerned with hiring someone who could return to the game?
JD: No, not at all. What we have to recognize is, in order to be the most relevant to our viewers, we have to hire people — at least with managers and coaches — that may go back to their former trade. If Terry decides to go back and manage, that’s going to be his prerogative, but we’re certainly thrilled to have him for as long as we can.
FR: How important is it to have a manager’s perspective in the SNB booth?
JD: I think it’s invaluable. It’s great to have a pitcher who can speak to the most important aspects of the game, but to have somebody who sees the entire landscape and who has a first-hand knowledge of all aspects of the game is absolutely essential. The good news is we’ve got one of the very best.
With Bobby Valentine leaving to manage the Red Sox and Terry replacing him at ESPN, it’s once in a generation you could have a situation where somebody who leaves the dugout is replaced by the guy who he’s now replacing in the booth. In the end, to add somebody so closely removed from the game, coming off of eight seasons in Boston, we feel we hired somebody who is really going to be a delight for our viewers.
FR: In conversations with Terry, what was one of the topics which most impressed you?
JD: He made it very clear to us that he wants to work. Needless to say, in addition to Sunday Night Baseball, we’re going to have him as a regular member of our Baseball Tonight crew. He’s also going to do Little League World Series. He’s made it very clear he wants to get at it and we talked about the possibility of getting this deal done so he could work from the Winter Meetings. Here we are.
FR: Did having major media market experience help?
JD: I think so, sort of tangentially. He understands the importance of the media. He really understood that part of being a manager and I think that comes from being in a major market and the pressures you face being the manager of the Red Sox. I think that will inherently help someone in the broadcast booth. He gets it and he has no qualms about broadcasting, that is for certain.