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Welcome back, Terry Francona

Terry Francona is making his managerial return to Fenway Park, and while it's a noteworthy occasion, we shouldn't overstate its significance.

Jim Rogash

Tonight, Terry Francona will manage his first game in Fenway Park since his unceremonious departure from the Red Sox after the collapse of 2011.

Much will be made over the possibility of a rivalry based on the Francona - Boston connection, particularly with both teams looking like 2013 contenders. Certainly we heard a lot about it when the Red Sox made their way to Cleveland. For all that Terry Francona would have every right to hold grudges and voice grievances with any number of people who made 2011 come to pass, though, the idea that he has reason to want to run the Red Sox off the field doesn't quite hold muster.

Sure, there are some of the supposed agitators left in the clubhouse. John Lackey, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz were all part of the infamous (and overplayed) beer and chicken club, for instance. But does anyone really think that Terry Francona holds ill wll for the man he's been described as having a father-son relationship with?

At the end of 2011, it would have been easy enough to distribute blame throughout the team. What we first heard of Terry Francona's role was not that his clubhouse was in open rebellion, but that he lost some control.That, after seven years, the team had perhaps gotten too comfortable with him and he with them, and in the end it simply didn't work. It's not necessarily a condemnation of the manager or his players, but just something that can happen over time, and probably a decent sign that it was time for a change. Were it not for the fact that Boston is the sort of city where every situation needs a dramatic reaction, the story that Francona and the Sox decided to part ways amicably probably wouldn't even draw many questions.

Photo credit: Jim Rogash

It didn't end there, though. The leaks came, Hohler raked the muck, and Francona's amicable departure turned into him being run out of town with stories of pills and incompetence chasing close behind.

If Francona holds grudges, chances are it's with the media. If Francona holds grudges, chances are it's with the organization that spawns smear campaigns of departing heroes with remarkable regularity. But the media is not the team--in fact, it's often at odds with the team--and as much as the organization is the Red Sox, it's in a way nicely isolated from the action on the field.

Who will he see in Fenway tonight? His cribbage partner, Dustin Pedroia. His old right-hand man and the one he would have wanted to follow in his footsteps: John Farrell. And, by and large, a whole bunch of new faces. Minor leaguers he only had brief interactions with or mercenaries (however fun) brought in for 2013.

There is history here, obviously. There are memories good and bad. Fans who booed him and cheered him, criticized him and adored him in turns. Many still love him, some undoubtedly do not, and others have a newfound appreciation for him in this post-Valentine world. There is no question that Terry Francona is not just any other manager taking his place in Fenway's visiting dugout.

But this is also not the same as a returning free agent who bolted for more money, or a player who was dealt away for a piece deemed more important. And at the end of the day, as we discovered in Cleveland, it will not be a story which overwhelms the product on the field.

Welcome back, Terry Francona. Now let's play ball.

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