Almost without fail, no matter how much fun they have, and regardless of how relaxing they find the job to be, when given the chance Major League baseball managers choose returning to the dugout over staying in the television booth. The other day, to little surprise, that’s exactly what Terry Francona elected to do when he agreed to try to salvage the Cleveland Indians.
Francona was lucky. He spent just one year out of the game working as an analyst for ESPN after his successful run at the helm of the Boston Red Sox. Why not? He should have been in demand. He has a terrific resume. How soon they forgot in Boston, but Francona was the man pushing the buttons in 2004 and 2007 when the Sox won their first World Series championships in nine decades.
Interesting that Francona signed on with the Indians. Cleveland hasn’t won the World Series since 1948. He has a chance to be a hero leader all over again. Of course, Francona may discover that it is more difficult to operate working for a team that doesn’t spend as big as the Red Sox. The Indians are trying to regroup, rebuild, and ascend to the American League Central Division title and the playoffs mostly by relying on players who have matured through the farm system.
The Indians showed promise in 2011 and for part of 2012 before taking two giant steps backward resulting in the end of the Manny Acta tenure. Cleveland needs a couple of big-gun free agents to reach the top of the division. If the team is not willing to spend, then Francona may soon learn the real difference between Boston and Cleveland.
Francona has a lifetime record of 1,029-915; he also managed the Phillies (and didn’t have a winning record in any season in Philadelphia). The two World Series rings glitter on his fingers, though, if there is any talk of recycling managers. In a fairer world he never would have been fired in Boston, so he definitely deserved another chance and quickly. He is still only 53. Not viewed as a screamer, Francona seems to possess the proper temperament and personality to run a young team like the Indians.
Francona, whose father Tito played for the Indians between 1959 and 1964, spent 10 years as a player in the majors. He also played one season for the Indians in 1988.
As far as being equipped to win right away, Francona’s situation is more comparable to what he faced when hired by the Phillies in 1997 than what he faced in Boston in 2004. The Indians finished 68-94 this season after showing more promise. The team’s dismal August, the worst single month in team history at 5-22, doomed Acta’s future.
Francona signed a four-year deal. As a guess it would seem the expectations would be at least a .500 season in 2013, a winning record in 2014, and the playoffs in 2015. That’s if Cleveland has that much patience. When you haven’t won the title in 64 years those wait-till-next-years sound a bit hollow.