The personality and intrinsically entertaining human being that is Ozzie Guillen tweeted an interesting photo Sunday.  The Miami Marlins manager posted the pic (above) of he and his wife having dinner in Madrid with some friends.  The caption reads, “dinner in madrid yes we having good time, stanton, ricky and petey. cenando en madrid que bueno.”

Ozzie’s three pals are Giancarlo Stanton, Ricky Nolasco and Bryan Petersen, who just happen to be players on the Marlins’ roster.  How many times have you seen a coach or manager either vacationing with his or her players, or meeting up with them for dinner while abroad?

After I saw this tweet, the story below seemed less shocking. 

One of the several issues plaguing the Marlins concerned pitcher Heath Bell, who was none to pleased with a lot of things in Miami.  The Marlins unloaded Bell, shipping him off to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and seemingly with barely both feet out the door, the Miami Herald published these secrets from the inside:

"Unhappy with his diminished role, the bitter Bell was openly critical of pitching coach Randy St. Claire, the training staff, Marlins catchers, sportswriters, and even the Showtime production crew that filmed The Franchise. Bell said he was portrayed too negatively during the reality series.

"For the Marlins, the final straw might have come the final week of the season when Bell, in a live radio interview, said it was "hard to respect" manager Ozzie Guillen.

"The following day, Bell’s teammates, in a show of support for Guillen, turned on the manager’s weekly radio show inside the clubhouse, raised the volume, and made Bell listen to Guillen state that he no longer respected Bell "as a person."

Upon reading this anecdote, I was immediately transported back to the 8th grade where stuff like this happened all of the time.  Picking sides, bullying, humiliating your peers, etc.

I’m not saying Bell is a nice guy who got the shaft in this situation, but that sure seemed like a catty move for a group of adult men.  Then again, pro athletes as a whole, aren’t necessarily considered the most mature population segment of adult society. 

But this begs an important question.  Should a manager or coach be that close to his or her players? Can you properly discipline your employees and garner respect while on or close to their “level?” 

In Ozzie’s first season as manager, the Marlins finished dead last in the NL East with a 69-93 record and 19 games back of the division-winning Nationals. 

Yikes.

In my few stints as a manager, I found the line between friend and boss incredibly difficult to draw since I really liked most of my employees and considered them friends.  Depending on each individual, some listen to you and do what you ask as their boss because they respect you as a friend, while others do the opposite, undermining your authority because they consider you an equal. 

Terry Francona did the impossible, breaking the curse and bringing multiple World Championships to Boston.    Once his tenure as Red Sox skipper came to an end, various reports revealed that he had allegedly become so close with his players that he rarely disciplined the group when necessary and because of that, he “lost” the team.

Could Ozzie’s close-knit relationship with his players be one of the many reasons why the Marlins absolutely sucked last season?  I don’t know the answer, but I think it is a topic worth exploring. 

Breaking up after 10 years together would be tough, regardless of the circumstances, and Theo Epstein’s split with the Red Sox was just the icing on a cake which had already melted into a big, ugly mess in previous weeks.  Despite a disastrous situation by sports standards, the former Red Sox general manager and executive vice president  left Boston with a classy, parting gift as he heads to Chicago.  Take a look at this full-page ad the native son took out in Sunday’s Boston Globe, thanking the fans, players, coaches and front office staff of the team he dreamed of working for as a kid.



After assembling two World Series Championship teams and ending an 86-year drought, any competitive, driven, perfectionist would jump at the chance to take on the Cubs’ North American sports team-record 103-year drought; especially given the way things unraveled with the Red Sox.

But Epstein isn’t just any competitive, driven, perfectionist.  He is a graduate of Brookline High School, just a few miles away from Fenway Park.  Epstein’s family roots run deep in the Boston community and his son was born in the city that haled him a hero and miracle worker for what he helped accomplish within the confines of the Green Monster and famous red clay. 

I can only imagine that for him to leave his hometown and life as he knows it, Epstein must have thought there was no way he could repair his Red Sox, and that perhaps, they weren’t even his anymore.

There will be no more five minute cab rides to FuGaKyu Restaurant on Beacon Street.  No more sitting in the seats of an empty Fenway Park, the same seats in which he sat as a child rooting for his home team, soaking up the summer sun while watching the guys practice in the afternoons before night games. 

Chicago is a wonderful city, and the Cubbies have their own fantastic traditions and folklore.  But as friendly and iconic as the ivy may be at Wrigley, it will never be like home. 

(For a less-fuzzy look at the ad, click here: http://www.boston.com/sports/baseball/redsox/extras/extra_bases/assets_c/2011/10/609Theo_thank_you-thumb-609x1100-53948.jpg )

                    

I was scared s**tless the first time I met Terry Francona. 

The day was Thursday, January 14, 2010.  I had just moved to Boston that past November and this was my first Red Sox event; several players and coaches held a media session in the conference room at the Westin Waterfront Hotel a few hours before the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers Association Of America held its annual awards dinner.  It was the first legitimate media availability of the off season, a few weeks before spring training was to begin in Fort Myers, Florida.

Since arriving in New England, all I had heard about the Sox from my new media buddies was how difficult the team was to cover as a reporter.  How volatile particular personalities were in the clubhouse. 

Another theme remained consistent.  I had been fairly warned by many; do NOT piss off Tito.   Ask Francona a dumb question, and he’ll make you pay.  When he smells new blood, he’ll test the waters to see how tough you are. 

There I was, a few months on the job, and terrified of what should have been a cushy, hobnobbing, handshaking, fun and lighthearted assignment.  But damn, was I nervous. 

The day before the event, I was talking to someone at my office about my Francona fear.  At some point in the conversation, I mentioned that Tito and I are both University of Arizona alumni.  He said, “Use that!  That’s you’re in.  You’ll be fine.”  I thought, it can’t be that easy, but hey, it’s worth a shot. 

It couldn’t have been more than 40 degrees the next day as the wind coming off the water hit me right in the face when I stepped out of the news van at the hotel.  Wearing a dress didn’t help my cause either.  I wore a red dress.  Red for the Sox, red for Arizona (I know, that is such a girly thing to do). 

The room was filled with media from every outlet in Boston and everyone was working the room, catching up with old pals.  Casey Kelly, a pitcher in the farm system fielded questions, as did new acquisitions Jeremy Hermida and John Lackey, both grinning from ear to ear, excited to call Fenway Park their new home (my my, how things have changed, right?). 

As guys gave interviews in different spots around the room, in walked Terry Francona donning a full length tan coat, probably wool (it  was quite sheik, I must admit) and wearing his signature round spectacles.  He had a Don Corleone vibe working in full force.

I walked over and joined the large group of reporters huddled around him with microphones, cameras, tape recorders and iphones.  I stuck my little arm in between necks and shoulders to get my mic as close to the Red Sox manager as possible.

In a great mood, Tito answered every question thrown his way, sprinkling in some fun anecdotes, joking around with different reporters and talking baseball.  That’s where I would stay for the next hour; looking, listening, taking notes and keeping my mouth shut.  I went from covering the KC Royals’ rookie ball team, the Idaho Falls Chukars, to the freakin’ Boston Red Sox in one fell swoop, therefor, my confidence was shaky.  I wouldn’t be made an example of on day one.  I wasn’t going to ask any questions of the man who led the Sox to two World Series titles after an 86 year drought until I was properly informed and knew exactly what the heck I was talking about. 

After a while, my videographer took my mic and the camera and went elsewhere.  I stayed put, making eye contact and scribbling info in my notepad, getting an impromptu lesson on the Red Sox from the best professor in school and hoping that he noticed my effort.  Eventually, as everyone had their questions answered, it was just the two of us standing there.  Me and Tito. 

Anxious and shaky, I stuck out my hand, and spat out, “Hi Terry, I’m Jackie Pepper, I’m new.  I work for Comcast Sports Net.  I went to the University of Arizona.  So did you.”  So smooth, so smooth. 

He shook my hand, introduced himself and told me that he heard there was a new Wildcat in town and that he was glad we got to meet.  We chatted, but of course, it’s all a blur now.  I know we discussed sports, Tucson, where we used to live, but that’s about all I remembered after the fact.  You know how that goes, when your mind turns to mush after being in such a neurotic state.  Vague topics, devoid of details.


We wrapped up our conversation after a few minutes and Tito said he was happy that I introduced myself.  So was I.  Walking away with a s***-eating grin on my face,  a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.  In an instant I went from a scared rookie reporter to knowing that I belonged in the big leagues.