Today, the Cleveland Indians will officially announce that they have named Terry Francona their new manager, replacing the recently dismissed Manny Acta and beating out bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. for the job. Reaction to the Francona hiring has been almost unanimously positive. Many of us at Wahoo’s on First were rooting for him to win the job last week, and our own Steve Kinsella, who had been an Alomar supporter, penned a passionate piece in favor of Francona after news broke that he was interested in the position.
It’s easy to see the appeal of Francona. In his last managerial gig, an eight-year tenure at the helm of the Red Sox, he broke the Curse of the Bambino with two World Series wins and generally established himself as one of the best managers in the game. The only blemish on his recent résumé was Boston’s collapse in September 2011, which the media blamed on a lack of focus in the clubhouse and blew out of proportion; Francona was made a scapegoat and dismissed after the season. Despite that fried-chicken-grease stain on his résumé, Francona’s leadership and gravitas are not in question, and his presence could give the Indians a greater sense of credibility heading into the offseason.
But I suspect there’s another reason that the Indians found Francona to be such an attractive candidate that they passed over an in-house option who is a fan favorite and a well-regarded managerial prospect: His relationship with the front office.
It’s well known that Francona has strong ties to both team President Mark Shapiro and GM Chris Antonetti after Francona spent a year in the Indians front office in 2001. The personal connections are why Francona was interested in the job—it’s not every day that a high-profile former manager declares that the only team he wants to run is one that just finished 26 games under .500. But while Cleveland would presumably have loved to hire him anyway, that strong relationship probably means a lot to Antonetti & Co. too.
This is pure speculation, but it seemed like there was some tension between the front office and Manny Acta throughout the 2011 season. For example, look back to June when the Indians called a red-hot Matt LaPorta up from Triple-A Columbus to help out a lineup that wasn’t getting much production from incumbent first baseman Casey Kotchman. Acta wrote LaPorta’s name into the lineup three times, then benched him for a week, declining to use him even as a pinch-hitter in a swing through National League parks.
We don’t know what happened within the organization regarding LaPorta’s handling. We don’t know who wanted what or how that was communicated between the coaching staff and the front office. What we do know is that it wouldn’t make any sense for the Indians to have called LaPorta up unless they’d wanted him to at least get some semi-regular at-bats. But that’s not how Acta used him, and that suggests that the manager and the front office were not the on the same page.
Francona is a different story. There’s no question that he can have a strong working relationship with Shapiro and Antonetti because he’s already had a strong working relationship with Shapiro and Antonetti, and that he agreed to take the job is in itself a sign of good faith—not to mention the fact that Francona was himself a member of the front office. The relationship between the two halves of team management won’t be one of butting heads but of collaboration.
Francona is a great manager and he’d have been an excellent hire for any team outside Massachusetts, but it’s his relationship with the front office that truly makes him a perfect fit in Cleveland. Whatever tension there might have been between Acta and Antonetti should be gone with Francona in the clubhouse.