We should all be excited about Terry Francona, right? A two-time World Series winning manager is now in control of the Cleveland Indians. Everyone in Cleveland should be buying stock in the squad that just finished the season 68-94, right? Right?
Baseball is an interesting game. You can’t sign the best player in baseball and automatically win the championship. Albert Pujols was not even the best offensive player on his team when he landed in Anaheim for the last time this season, that honor belonged to rookie Mike Trout.
In basketball, the New York Knicks can sign huge deals with Amare Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony and become relevant again. The Miami Heat can have a 12-man roster with nine of the players earning the league minimum by stealing away LeBron James from Cleveland and Chris Bosh from the Toronto Raptors to win a championship in the NBA. Signing a superstar quarterback like Drew Brees made the Saints relevant in the NFL, and star recruits, like Robert Griffin III, can even make Baylor a top team in college football.
Football and basketball can be changed by a gameplan and superstars. The manipulation of a specific weakness, such as the Oregon Ducks using a read-option offense against a slower, spread out defense, makes a team totally unstoppable. In basketball, possessing three star players makes the triangle offense a manipulation that led Phil Jackson and his teams to 11 NBA Championships.
It is the stars in football, like Eli and Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and Brees who win titles, and they win titles because they execute their gameplans better than anyone else. It is the stars, like Kobe Bryant and Shaq in Los Angeles, Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman in Chicago, and Wade, LeBron, and Bosh in Miami, who come together to dominate, executing their offense and using their abilities to dominate.
In baseball, there aren’t many players who can change a game every single night. Getting on base four out of ten times is phenomenal, getting a hit in three out of ten at bats is very good, and averaging getting halfway to first base in each at-bat is a solid slugging percentage.
You have your Stephen Strasburgs and Justin Verlander’ who can dominate from the mound 34 times out of 162 games, and you need only two to four runs to give you a great shot at winning each of those 34 starts. But the five-man rotation and innings limits make their winning 30 games about as likely as R.A. Dickey winning 300 games in a career that seemingly started at age 37.
The execution of a suicide squeeze or sacrifice bunt is only as perfect as the man holding the bat is capable of completing such a task. The hit and run is not going to work on a pitchout. Playing the numbers to bring in a left-handed pitcher to face Josh Hamilton in the seventh inning of a close game could backfire when he rips Tony Sipp’s fastball into the bleachers.
Terry Francona won titles with a Red Sox team that had Manny Ramirez in his prime, David Ortiz at his best, a deep pitching staff, and dominant bullpens. He did not have to pull many strings because he had two of the top five players in baseball in his lineup. His team was averaged nearly 93 wins per season because of his two monsters in the middle of the order.
Francona didn’t do anything. He filled out a lineup and let the players play. Baseball managers do nothing special except fill out a lineup card. The tactics that each brings to the game is nothing different from the guy in the other dugout.
Francona hasn’t done anything to make anyone in Cleveland think that he is going to change the culture of Cleveland sports. He needs players to win 90 games in Cleveland, and the players who won 68 games in 2012 are barely worthy of a roster spot on the teams across baseball who did win 90 games in 2012. He can’t mutate into three different players who hit .330/.420/.530 and dominate opposing pitchers—as his 285-363 record in Philadelphia from 1997-2000 can attest.
Hiring Francona was meant to excite fans, but no one should get excited considering he isn’t on the field hitting home runs and pitching shut outs. Unless the Indians get a few players who can do that, the best manager in the world couldn’t get this team to have a winning record.