High fiving Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (left) when both of his shoulders worked fine. Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

Curse of Terry Francona

Just what Red Sox fans needed–The Curse of Terry Francona.

Things are falling apart in Boston. The big celebrations of the 100th birthday of Fenway Park are on the horizon and at the rate the 2012 team is going it could be more of a wake than a party. The latest issue is Jacoby Ellsbury‘s shoulder. His minor dislocation of his right shoulder means he will be sidelined six to eight weeks. Not good. He is the team’s most valuable player and he was probably the American League’s real Most Valuable Player in 2011 even if he was officially runner-up.

The Red Sox are calling up Che-Hsuan Lin from AAA Pawtucket to replace Ellsbury, but of course this doesn’t really replace Ellsbury. The Taiwanese Terror is only filling roster space as a back-up until Ellsbury gets well. I thought the Red Sox were going to struggle this season and they looked like a third-place ballclub in the AL East before things started going haywire. Now I suspect they are looking at a possible fourth-place finish in the division and their worst record in a long time.

The Great Collapse of last September began the splintering of a franchise that had been a power for a decade. Theo Epstein, the architect of the 2004 and 2007 World Series champs, split for the Chicago Cubs presidency. Francona, the only manager in a century to shepherd home Sox World Series title teams, was asked to clean out his office–and he is properly bitter about that. Closer Jonathan Papelbon took big bucks to flee to the Phillies and his freshly hired replacement Andrew Bailey got hurt and is out for months. Carl Crawford, the team’s big free agent signing of 2011 is injured and hasn’t played a moment in left field yet this season. The starting pitching is thin and the risky move of Daniel Bard into the rotation hasn’t paid off yet. And now the Ellsbury situation.

Ellsbury hurt his shoulder sliding into second base and colliding with Tampa Bay fielder Reid Brignac. The result was not pretty and as Ellsbury was hauled out of the clubhouse and taken to the hospital teammates’ non-medical evaluations were grim. “It looked bad, man,” said Sox outfielder Darnell McDonald, who will probably be the center fielder for the next couple of months. Designated hitter David Ortiz said Ellsbury “could not even take his shirt off.” As we know, getting dressed by yourself is a far more benign activity than playing Major League baseball.

So this is the way it stands for the BoSox: Two of three starting outfielders are on the disabled list. They’re using Mike Aviles, the guy who was their third-string shortstop last year, as the starter. The rotation goes three deep with any kind of faith. The bullpen is a daily question mark. Manager Bobby Valentine was thankful to return to the majors after years in Japan and broadcasting, but one might think he was cursed by how things have unfolded.

And we’re not talking The Curse of the Bambino here. Babe Ruth’s curse is so last century. Now it’s The Curse of Terry Francona.

Francona was the toast of the town as the first Boston manager to lead the Red Sox to a World Series championship since 1918. Then he was the roast of the town when the Sox unbelievably fell apart down the stretch in September to blow a sure playoff berth. He took the heat when second-guessers began picking at the carcass to analyze what went wrong. Plenty did, though the Sox still won 90 games.

Francona thought he had built up enough good will and enough good results to earn another crack at it in 2012. So did I. But the Red Sox jettisoned him and the last I heard he harbors a sufficient amount of anger to blow off invitations to the Fenway anniversary events. Seven games into the season the Red Sox are 2-5. That’s hardly so much of a deficit that it can’t be overcome. But the outlook is bleak unless key players can get healthy fast and counted on players can earn their millions.

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Tags: Babe Ruth Bobby Valentine Boston Red Sox Carl Crawford Che-Hsuan Lin Curse Of Terry Francona Curse Of The Bambino Daniel Bard Darnell McDonald David Ortiz Fenway Park Jacoby Ellsbury Jonathan Papelbon Mike Aviles Reid Brignac Tampa Bay Rays Terry Francona Theo Epstein World Series

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