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Ailing Manager Terry Francona's Uncertain Future In Cleveland

Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona watches during the first inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla. in this Sept. 1, 2019, file photo.
Chris O'Meara
Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona watches during the first inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla. in this Sept. 1, 2019, file photo.

For the second year in a row, Cleveland’s baseball team will finish the season without manager Terry Francona. The 62-year-old had hip surgery Monday, the latest in a series of lingering health issues.

WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto says it made sense for Francona to take the time away to heal, but the situation is concerning for the future of the ball club.

More than 20 surgeries

Major medical issues are nothing new for Francona, who has endured the struggles of a physically demanding sport for over 30 years. In fact, his injuries can be traced back to his playing days.

Francona was a college baseball star at the University of Arizona and was drafted 22nd overall by the Montreal Expos in 1980. Just 46 games into his major league career, he caught a spike while running into the wall in the outfield, injuring his knee. Two years later he tore up his other knee sliding into second base.

He became a journeyman, playing for five different teams, including Cleveland for one season in 1988 before retiring in 1989.

As a manager, Francona has been one of the best, leading the Boson Red Sox to two World Series titles in 2004 and 2007. He was hired in Cleveland in 2013, and led the team to the 2016 World Series.

But his health has deteriorated over the years.

“He told me in an interview that he’s had over 30 surgeries, and that’s before the latest go-around,” Pluto said. “This guy’s been in a lot of pain for decades.”

Among those medical scares was acardiac ablation (heart surgery) during the 2017 season. Francona recovered enough to lead Cleveland on a record-breaking 22-game winning streak and another playoff appearance.

Last year Francona dealt with blood clots and some issues with his prostate. He ended up managing just 14 of 60 games.

Then he contracted a staph infection in one of his toes after having foot surgery this past January. He has been wearing a walking boot ever since.

Pluto says it's questionable whether Francona will be able to manage next season.

“Francona said, ‘All I can do is get to the park and back. I’m exhausted all the time,'" Pluto said.

DeMarlo Hale takes over

Cleveland has made bench coach DeMarlo Hale the interim manager, which came as a surprise. Last year, former Cleveland catcher and current first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. filled in.

Hale has worked on the pro level for nearly 40 years. He and Francona worked together as coaches on the Texas Rangers staff in 2000, and he was Francona’s bench coach in Boston in 2010 and 2011. Francona brought him to Cleveland in 2020.

"I wonder, frankly, they auditioned Sandy last year. Are they auditioning DeMarlo for this year?" Pluto said.

Francona's legacy

As of Wednesday, Cleveland has a 55-56 record and is all but certain to lose the division to the Chicago White Sox. The team has been battered by injuries to a number of key players.

But Francona has led the team to eight winning records in his eight full seasons. That also includes five trips to the playoffs and leading the team to the 2016 World Series.

“We forget how bad the Indians were when he came here,” Pluto said. “In fact, around baseball, the shock was (that) he took the job!”

“He’s really the whole package as a manager. He is the best Indians manager I have ever seen,” he said.

And Pluto said Francona's love for Cleveland is one of the key reasons he's wanted to keep managing here as long as he can.

Francona always reflects back on coming to the ballpark to watch his dad play first base for Cleveland. Later in 2001, Francona got a job as a special assistant under then-GM Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti.

“He doesn’t want to finish this way,” Pluto said. “That’s from his heart, pouring out towards Cleveland.”

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