When the Cleveland Indians announced they had hired Terry Francona, a lot of people in Cleveland let out a cheer. You really can’t blame them. Francona’s track record speaks for itself. He was able to deliver not one, but two World Series Championships to the Boston Red Sox who previously went on an 86-year drought.
Think about that for a second. The team that was cursed by the Bambino and would not win another World Series suddenly became the best team in baseball and began bringing home the hardware.
Take a wild guess what other team has been starving for a chance to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy above their heads.
No, not the Chicago Cubs. The other team.
Could Terry Francona be the answer to the collective prayers of the Tribe faithful? No one can answer that for sure. However, just a few weeks into the season, it appears pretty clear that Francona was the perfect choice to manage the Cleveland Indians.
It usually goes without saying, but a locker room divided is not part of the formula for a successful season. While Terry Francona may have had a hard time on his way out of Boston because his locker room was turned into a fraternity house, things are looking up in Cleveland.
No one can say for sure what the locker room environment is like in Cleveland, but after seeing Terry Francona dressed as a baby and starring in the Indians “Harlem Shake” video, one can make an assessment.
Francona has learned from the mistakes he made with some of the players in Boston and has figured out just how much slack he needs to leave on the leash with his new team. There appears to be a great chemistry in Cleveland where the players are happy to play for Francona and Francona is happy to be their manager.
The Indians—and their fans—are big on family. In 2011, you could see it on display when the Indians acquired Jim Thome from the Minnesota Twins. The same goes for when the Indians announced that now bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. would be the new Indians first base coach in 2009. The storyline that surrounded the players wasn’t just about the acquisitions; they were about family coming home.
Nowhere was that feeling more prevalent than when the Indians announced the signing of Terry Francona as the new manager.
Terry was coming home.
Terry’s father, Tito—the origin of Terry’s nickname—played six seasons with the Tribe from 1959-1964. Because of that, Terry would tag along to the ballpark with his father as much as he could. His father’s stint in Cleveland proved to provide a special bond between the family and the city.
During Opening Day festivities, Terry and his father were involved in the first pitch ceremonies along with Nick Swisher, Zach McAllister, Sandy Alomar Jr., Michael Brantley and their fathers.
In sports, a lot of players and coaches tend to choose a suburb outside of the city to call home during the long season. For instance, LeBron James called Bath, Ohio home during his tenure with the Cavaliers. Although he had a sprawling estate, he also had a half-hour commute to the arena.
Terry Francona has to walk two blocks.
While he may have a special place in his heart for the city of Cleveland, his sense of direction mimics much of the male population in the country. During his walk to the stadium on Opening Day, Terry got turned around and had to have someone from the Indians organization pick him up in a golf cart.
"I like being close to the ballpark, always have," he said. "If I had my druthers on the road, I would rather stay in a motel next to the ballpark than have to drive a half-hour."
Throughout the season, he plans to ride a motorized scooter to and from Progressive Field.
That is, unless the Indians are playing really bad.
Terry Francona spent eight seasons with the Boston Red Sox from 2004-2011. During that time he won 744 games and delivered the starved city two coveted World Series titles.
That wasn’t luck.
Francona is known for developing a ballclub's young talent into stars. Look at Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia as examples. Ellsbury came in third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2008 and was an All-Star, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger by 2011. Not to mention coming in second in the MVP voting that year.
Dustin Pedroia won the Rookie of the Year in 2007 and is a three-time All-Star. Also, he is a two-time Gold Glove winner and the 2008 MVP.
In addition to cultivating the young talent on the Indians roster, Terry Francona also respects and thrives on the veteran leadership. When referring to their skipper, players like Jason Giambi and Nick Swisher express just as much excitement as they do respect for Francona.
They aren’t alone either.
Francona’s masher David Ortiz spoke highly of him after his departure from Boston after their tumultuous 7-20 September in 2011. In fact, early speculation brought thoughts of David Ortiz heading to Cleveland for a reunion. Kevin Youkilis and Terry Francona came into Boston in 2004 and laid waste to the Curse of the Bambino. That relationship blossomed during Francona’s years with the Red Sox and even fueled speculation that the Indians might scoop up Youkilis during the offseason.
Francona leans on his veterans to help the young guys out and the veterans are more than happy to do it because of the mutual respect. Terry Francona has built his reputation the right way and here’s hoping the results on the field this season reflect that.