Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti has confirmed that the Indians will interview Sandy Alomar Jr. on Thursday and Terry Francona on Friday to kick off the search for the organizations next manager. There are several similarities between the two as both boast fathers who played in the major leagues (Tito Francona and Sandy Alomar Sr.), each played for the Indians as a player, and each have worked for the Indians in other capacities, Alomar as a coach and Francona as an assistant in the front office.
Indians fans are very familiar with Sandy Alomar and most of us are familiar with Terry Francona as the man who led the Boston Red Sox to their first World Championship in 86 years and guided them to a second World Series win in 2007. He is a well-credentialed manager who may once again lead a team to a World Series victory, but I do not believe that team will be the Cleveland Indians.
Many people have theories on managers and what makes one good or a bad but no matter what criteria we attempt to put on to define the best manager candidate we never have to look too far to find notable exceptions. For myself, the best managerial candidate will be someone who shares the same vision as the front office, will work with the front office in both roster creation and management, and will have the patience to withstand the growing pains of developing a young inexperienced roster and the frustration of watching top talent leave the organization via free agency or trades due to projected salary increase. It is the last part of my definition that will most likely be discussed during Francona’s interview, as his credentials as a managerial candidate can not be questioned.
With that said, if Francona were to agree to manage a younger roster and accept the harsh reality that as his players come within a year or two of free agency he will be traded, then he is the perfect candidate. He has experience as a player, won a championship as a minor league manager, managed and won a championship in the Dominican Winter League, and has managed two franchises with polar opposite objectives and won two World Championships with the Red Sox. Along the way to the glory that comes with winning the two World Championships Francona experienced the highs and lows of coaching on some good teams and one very bad team.
Francona was a nondescript major leaguer who played parts of 10 seasons (1981-1990) in the major leagues, including five years with the Montreal Expos, a year each with the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, and the Cleveland Indians, and parts of two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. He played in 708 big league games and hit .274/.300/.351 while playing mostly first base and the outfield. After his playing days were over he was hired by the Chicago White Sox, with whom he began his journey in major league baseball as a manager.
His first step in his transformation from a big league ball player to eventual World Series manager came in 1991, when he was named hitting instructor for the Chicago White Sox’ rookie league affiliate. In 1992 the White Sox promoted him to manage their Class-A affiliate South Bend White Sox in the Midwest League. Francona showed that he was up to the task of managing as his South Bend squad finished with a record of 73-64.
His strong performance with the South Bend squad landed him another promotion this time to the AA Birmingham Barons of the Southern League. In his first year in Birmingham, Francona guided the Barons to a 78-64 record and first place in the Western Division on the way to an eventual Southern League Championship. Following the season he was named Baseball America’s Manager of the Year.
In 1994 Francona showed his ability to be acquiesce to the needs of an organization and its owner as NBA superstar Michael Jordan was assigned to the club. Jordan had stunned the sports world by walking away from the NBA at the pinnacle of his career. Jordan’s father had been murdered in July of 1993 and according to Jordan his father always wanted him to pursue baseball. Jerry Reinsdorf, who owned both the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago White Sox, gave Jordan the opportunity to chase his baseball dreams by signing him to a minor league contract and assigning him to the Barons. Although it was obvious early on that Jordan didn’t have the tools to compete in baseball Francona still played him more than anyone else despite his .202/.289/.266 slash line. Despite the poor record on the field he was named as Baseball America‘s Minor League Top Major League Manager Candidate.
The Barons finished the 1995 season with a record of 80-65 in what would be his last season as a minor league manager. Following the 1995 season Francona headed to the Dominican League to manage the Aguilas Cibaenas. The team was a high powered group of players including Julio Franco, Raul Mondesi, Pedro Martinez, Jose Mesa, Juan Guzman, Mel Rojas, Luis Polonia, and Jose Vizcaino and they won the Domincan League championship earning a birth in the 1996 Carribean Series (Serie del Caribe) where they were heavily favored. Unfortunately, his team fell flat finishing with a record of 2-5 and a disappointing third-place finish.
When he returned stateside he left the life as a minor league manager to be Buddy Bell’s third-base coach with the Detroit Tigers. It was in Detroit that Francona may have learned exactly how long a major league season can be. He witnessed a lot of bad baseball as the Tigers finished the year with a dismal record of 53-109.
The Philadelphia Phillies finished the 1996 season with a record of 67-95 and had a vacancy at manager after firing Jim Fregosi. Francona was summoned to Philly for an interview and was named manager, beating out Larry Bowa and Hal McRae. Unfortunately for Francona, the Phillies organization was committed to getting out of old Veterans Stadium and ownership seemed more concerned with that than putting a winning product on the field.
This became apparent when they drafted J.D. Drew with the second overall pick in 1997 but failed to sign him. Drew, who was represented by Scott Boras, wanted to receive close to what No. 1 overall pick Travis Lee had received ($11 million) but instead was offered $2.05 million. Drew eventually signed to play in the Northern League and was drafted with the fifth overall pick by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998.
Francona’s years in Philly were spent watching an organization crumble and begin to resemble the old stadium they played in. In his first year the Phillies finished 68-94 and ranked dead last in attendance, in 1998 they finished 75-87 (14th out of 16th in attendance), in 1999 they finished 77-85 (12th out of 16th), and in 2000 they finished 65-97 (13th out of 16th in attendance). Francona and four of his coaches were fired on the last day of the season after finishing with the second-worst record in the majors.
After leaving the Phillies Francona joined the Indians as a special assistant to Mark Shapiro. He left the Indians following the 2001 season but reflected on the job as a valuable experience telling ESPNBoston.com‘s Joe McDonald:
“It’s the best thing I ever did,” Francona said. “It gave me a chance to step away from the emotion of being a manager, which is hard. You look at things from a different perspective, where you don’t have emotion involved.”
Following the 2001 season Francona managed Team USA to a Silver Medal in the Baseball World Cup falling 5-3 to Cuba in the championship game. He spent 2002 as Jerry Narron‘s bench coach with the Texas Rangers, who finished 72-90, and in 2003 he moved on to the Oakland Athletics, where he served as Ken Macha‘s bench coach while the A’s finished first in the AL West with a 96-66 record.
The 2003 Red Sox finished the season with an impressive 95-67 record and Francona had seen them up close and personal as they dispatched his Oakland A’s squad in the ALDS before losing to the New York Yankees in the ALCS. After Grady Little failed to remove Pedro Martinez in the crucial seventh game of the ALCS, the calls to fire him were heard loud and clear by the Red Sox front office. The Red Sox fired Little on October 27th and began their search for the manager that would take them over the top. Enter Terry Francona.
Francona was taking over an organization that was the exact opposite of what he had experienced when taking over the Phillies. Not only were the records exact opposite but ownership was determined to win a World Series and were willing to invest as much as they needed to make that dream a reality. The fans in Philly were apathetic and had stopped showing up to the old Vet while the fans in Boston were rabid and packing the house on a nightly basis. The only similarity between the two organizations was Francona would once again lean on Curt Schilling to be his ace.
Guided by Francona, the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years in 2004 and won another World Series in 2007. He won 90-plus games in six out of his eight seasons in Boston and finished with a record of 744-552 (.574 winning percentage) before being fired after a tumultuous end to the 2011 season.
Two weeks after Francona’s dismissal the Boston Globe’s Bob Hohler wrote Inside the Collapse, which included stories of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and John Lackey drinking beer, eating fried chicken, and playing video games in the clubhouse during games. It painted Terry Francona as a manager without a contract for 2012 which contributed to losing control of the clubhouse but also that Francona was battling personal issues including his separation from his wife of 30 years and that his use of pain medication.
Many choose to believe the stories laid out Inside the Collapse as an indictment against Terry Francona’s ability to manager a team, some people will point to his two World Championships as validation that he is a good manager, and others will diminish his job as Sox manager based on the high payroll and amount of all-stars on his rosters and suggest anyone could have won. But the truth may be that Terry Francona’s personality and managing style may have been a perfect match for the Red Sox when he took over in 2004.
Everyone points to the September collapse that doomed the Red Sox’ 2011 season without noting that the team still won 90 games. I choose not to put to much stock in the Globe‘s story; rather I believe that Francona has the ability to guide a team through the rigors of 162 games, knows how to keep veteran star players focused on the task at hand, and knows how to merge young talent onto the roster.
Terry Francona is the perfect managerial candidate for the Cleveland Indians, but are the Cleveland Indians the right match for Francona? If we step back and look at the Indians job we see more parallels to Francona’s first job as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies (1997-2000), and I have to wonder if the 53-year old Francona has the patience to deal with managing a young roster, an organization that will not fill holes on the roster through the signing of free agents, and the inevitable trading of talented players as they approach free agency. If he is willing to manage under these conditions then I couldn’t think of a better man for the job.