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Red Sox' meltdown doesn't detract from Terry Francona's record

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 07: Manager Terry Francona #47 of the Boston Red Sox watches his team during the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday April 7, 2011. (Photo by John Grieshop/MLB Photos via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Terry Francona

If I understand this correctly, the Cubs shouldn’t hire Terry Francona because of the way the Boston Red Sox collapsed in the last month of the recently completed season.

Too messy. Too incriminating for a manager.

Hiring him, a few media types have said, would subject Francona and the Cubs to pointed questions about his failure to lead while some of his Red Sox pitchers drank beer during games.

Here’s the way to handle that: When the first question about the September meltdown is asked during his introductory news conference at Wrigley Field, Francona can put his hands on the table. Each of those hands will have a World Series ring on it. One will be from the Red Sox’ 2004 title, the other from their 2007 title. How’s that for leadership?

If it weren’t for the 2005 White Sox, most of us in Chicago wouldn’t know what a World Series championship ring looks like. The Cubs’ last World Series ring looks like something from the Persian Empire, only with more age spots.

I’ll take the eight years of Francona’s success in Boston over the one month of ugliness. And if he should suggest that some in-game drinking might help Alfonso Soriano, who could argue?

Theo knows best

I’ll assume Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, knows intimately why the Red Sox fell apart and what role Francona played in it. Epstein is the kind of guy who knows why it’s better to use black ink, rather than blue, to fill out a lineup card. I’ll assume he isn’t going to hire Bluto from ‘‘Animal House” to manage the Cubs.

Is that naïve? Could be. But it’s hard to believe Epstein would do anything that might sabotage his efforts to turn the Cubs into a winner. Or are we to believe he knowingly would hire a manager whose use of pain-killers to deal with a knee injury is out of control, as some have hinted? What new executive in his right mind would do that?

We don’t know where Epstein stands on Francona in terms of the managerial opening, but we do know the two talk often.

‘‘Tito and I have spoken regularly since the end of the season,” Epstein said Thursday. ‘‘We actually spoke today. We are going to sit down together and see if it’s a fit.

‘‘Clearly, he would be at the top of anyone’s list of available managers. That’s probably true of any organization looking for a manager with experience and who is a proven winner. I think he has to figure out if this is right for him, and then, as we continue our process and figure out where we are headed, we have to figure out the right fit in this organization, too.”

If there indeed is a ‘‘culture change” going on at Wrigley, it should mean the Cubs can hire whomever they want without worrying about public opinion. The first step in that direction was the decision not to interview Ryne Sandberg for the manager’s job. Cubs fans love Sandberg for all he did during his playing career, and nothing would have given many of them more pleasure than to see him in the dugout again. But Epstein quickly and decisively quashed that dream. No courtesy interview. No needlessly leading Sandberg on. Smart.

Consistent success

Francona’s reputation is that of a player’s manager who offers plenty lot of rope. He’s Ozzie Guillen with a more family-friendly vocabulary. It worked in Boston for a long time. It didn’t work last season, when some players took advantage of his leniency.

But let’s try to put things in perspective. The Red Sox had pitchers drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games last season. The Cubs stood by while Sammy Sosa put ‘‘Flintstones vitamins” in his body.

Oh, that’s right. Sosa’s actions were for the good of the team.

The Red Sox had a winning record every season Francona was there. You have to go back to the 1930s to find the last time the Cubs had at least eight consecutive above-.500 seasons. Is it necessary to point out they didn’t win a World Series during that era? I didn’t think so. I don’t want to depress you any further, but the last time the Cubs had more than three winning seasons in a row was from 1967 to 1972.

And we’re worried Francona might have to answer some difficult questions about a team that went 7-20 in September and still finished 90-72?

Where do we sign this guy up?