The time was right for Francona to go

The fallout from the Boston Red Sox's stunning September collapse has begun.

Manager Terry Francona will not return to the team next season after the sides agreed on a mutual parting of ways on Friday.

While the Red Sox said they wouldn't pick up Francona's contract options for the next two seasons, the former manager won't be shedding any tears. He was just as ready to move on as owner John Henry was ready to get rid of him.

Whatever the case, this much was clear: It was time for Francona to go. His legacy will live on, however, as the team's most successful manager after he led them to their only two World Series titles since 1918, winning in 2004 and '07.

"We have enormous respect, admiration and appreciation for Tito and the job that he did for eight years, including two World Series championship seasons and five playoff appearances," said a statement from Red Sox owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and president Larry Lucchino.

"His poise during the 2004 postseason was a key factor in the greatest comeback in baseball history, and his place in Red Sox history will never be forgotten. We wish him only the best going forward."

Francona managed the Red Sox for eight years -- a long time considering the pressure cooker atmosphere of Boston. His situation is reminiscent of the Joe Torre-New York Yankees divorce.

And just like that messy ending, whether it was right or wrong, it was time for the two sides to part company.

"I always said when I came here that if I thought it was time to go, I would go," Francona said Friday. "I think it's time."

There were reports that Francona had perhaps lost the locker room. Apparently there were pitchers drinking beer in the clubhouse on their days off. I'm sure there are some in the Boston area who thought John Lackey was imbibing on days he actually pitched, but that's a different story.

"There were some things that did concern me," Francona said. "Normally as the season progresses, there are events that make you care about each other, and this club, it didn't always happen as much as I wanted it to. And I was frustrated by that."

Francona, though, isn't to blame for his team's record-setting collapse.

It wasn't his fault that Carl Crawford turned out to be a bust. Crawford complained that he never felt comfortable after Francona dropped him in the order. What exactly was he supposed to do? Crawford was hitting under .200 at the beginning of May.

It's not Francona's fault that Lackey turned out to be the ultimate dog. Forget how awful he was on the mound. How about the ridiculous histrionics every time something didn't go his way, or his childish behavior when Francona would lift him following yet another awful outing?

Lackey shouldn't forget that he's not Pedro Martinez. The folks at Fenway sure won't.

Did anyone happen to hear Adrian Gonzalez's comments following Wednesday's loss in Baltimore? He said the Red Sox are tired because they play so many ESPN Sunday Night Games. Really? Maybe you should have stayed in San Diego for one-third of the money you are getting from the Red Sox. You would never have had to worry about playing Sunday Night Baseball.

The 2011 Red Sox weren't lovable, self-described "idiots" Francona inherited when he took the Boston job in 2004. There were too few players willing to "cowboy up" and it showed.

Injuries crushed the team, but everyone has that burden to bear. It was clearly more than just Crawford and Lackey, too. The Red Sox turned out not to be a fundamentally sound baseball team down the stretch and it showed. How many runners were thrown out on the basepaths in that last series against Baltimore alone?

So where do the Red Sox go from here?

My guess is Theo Epstein scours the bench coach market and tries to unearth a diamond in the rough to show how much smarter he is than everyone else. Think Los Angeles Dodgers bench coach and former Kansas City Royals skipper Trey Hillman. Or Philadelphia's Pete Mackanin.

Francona, meanwhile, will be fine. He will be out of work for about a minute. Don't bet against him taking over for Ozzie Guillen in Chicago, where his laid-back approach would be a welcome change of pace.

Then again, how about the Cubs? What would Francona's legacy be if he not only ended the Red Sox's curse, but also the Cubs' as well. That alone would punch Tito's ticket to the Hall of Fame.