I got married this past weekend. While that in and of itself is a bit newsworthy, an even more important piece of news related to the Cleveland Indians broke during the middle of the festivities—that, of course, being the hiring of Terry Francona to be the next manager of the Cleveland Indians.
Don’t be fooled by what the Indians or even Francona are saying about how this is about doing the right thing and putting together the necessary pieces to build a winner. It means more than just that. This hiring signals a very different course of action for the Indians—and the fans know it.
I may have been surrounded by family all day on Saturday and the days following, but many of them also double as Indians fans. Knowing what I do, a lot of them made it a point to congratulate me on my nuptials and then immediately ask me about my thoughts on the hiring of Francona. Obviously, I had been a bit preoccupied so I didn’t know much about the news and couldn’t give an opinion other than, “That’s a bold move” or “I really like the move.” What I could gather, though, is that people are excited. Like, really excited.
That’s surprising given how horrifically this season ended. Most fans had had enough of the Tribe and their ways right around the July 31st trade deadline. The reaction I was hearing, however, told another story. It told me that there’s a chance that this ownership and front office hasn’t completely lost everyone. Not yet at least. Naturally, it’s going to take the right offseason moves and player acquisitions to turn this thing around, but the fans seem to understand that. They’re on board with what the Indians are doing right now because they trust the players are being put in the right hands.
When you get down to the bare bones or brass tacks or whatever slang you’d like to use, the hiring of Terry Fancona by the Cleveland Indians matters a whole hell of a lot. It matters because it is so out of character. It goes against everything we’ve come to know and in a lot of instances hate about the Indians, especially of late. This isn’t the same type of move we’ve seen from the Indians time and time again that leads to the same bland press conference that does very little to instill confidence and inspire the fanbase.
By hiring Francona, the Indians have hired a manager with a substantial amount of previous managerial experience. With the exception of Manny Acta (and really, his two-and-a-half seasons in Washington is a small sample size) that’s something they haven’t done since they hired John McNamara prior to the 1990 season. Since then it’s been trial by fire for managers such as Mike Hargrove, Charlie Manuel and Eric Wedge, who achieved a mixed bag of results but none could take us to the promised land.
Francona has been there before, though. He’s been through all the battles in some of the most stressful environments, not just in baseball, but in all of sports. Four years as a manager in Philadelphia trying to make those people happy followed by eight years in Boston in which he led his team back from an 0-3 hole, reversed the “Curse of the Bambino,” and won not one, but two World Series. Something tells me he’ll be more than adequately prepared to take on the fragile psyche of the city of Cleveland. And you know what, I think the fans know this. They trust that under Francona’s leadership this team can finally get to where we all want it to go.
So take note, Tribe fans. The Dolans might still own this team and the Mark Shapiro-Chris Antonetti team is still calling the shots, but these aren’t your same old Indians. Hopefully, this signals the start of a drastic change in the approach that has held this franchise down for the past decade. While this one move alone won’t solve all the problems, it’s a start. It’s a start to what hopefully becomes the new process of turning the Cleveland Indians from pretenders into contenders.
You don’t bring on a manager of Francona’s caliber with to supply him with cast-offs and players past their primes. And that is why hiring Terry Francona matters.