Just two years ago Terry Francona had reached rock bottom in his baseball career. What a difference two years can make.
Francona's masterful managerial performance this past season was recognized today when he was named the 2013 American League Manager of the Year, according to MLB:
Francona led the Cleveland Indians to their first playoff appearance since 2007 this year as they improved markedly. The Tribe finished a disappointing 68-94 in 2012, but thanks to some shrewd personnel maneuvers as well as the hiring of Francona, the Indians improved to 92-70 and earned an AL Wild Card berth.
Although Cleveland fell to the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Wild Card Game, there is no question that the Indians' 2013 season was a success. Many expected Cleveland to make strides, but few thought that the turnaround would happen so quickly. It wasn't a team without flaws, which made Francona's accomplishment even greater.
In order to understand how meaningful this award is for Francona, it's important to look back at his time in Boston. Francona was hailed as a hero in 2004 when he helped lead the Red Sox to their first World Series title since 1918. Francona did what so few before him failed to as he broke the "Curse of the Bambino."
Francona followed that up with another World Series title in 2007, and it seemed as though he was entrenched as Boston's manager until retirement. Things started to change in the following years, though, when the Red Sox couldn't seem to get back over the hump.
They missed the playoffs in both 2010 and 2011, but the manner in which they faltered in 2011 was the stuff of legend. Boston led either the AL East or the wild-card race for much of the season, but they experienced one of the worst collapses in baseball history. A 7-20 record in the month of September allowed the Rays to beat them out for a playoff spot.
Whether it was fair or not, Francona took the brunt of the criticism and he was essentially pushed out the door after the season. He took a year to decompress and did some work as an analyst, but it didn't take him long to find another managerial job, as the Indians welcomed him with open arms.
Francona was maligned for Boston's late-season shortcomings, but he erased those doubts this season by leading the Indians to a 21-6 mark in September.
The Indians are a talented team, but there were plenty of issues that Francona had to work through. He didn't have a single .300 hitter. His leading home run hitter was Nick Swisher, who clubbed just 22. He didn't have a 15-game winner on the team. Chris Perez, who served as his closer for much of the season, had an ERA of 4.33.
Any of those things could have caused a team to crumble under lesser leadership, but Francona clearly brought an intangible factor to the Indians that allowed them to perform well beyond their means.
Red Sox manager John Farrell deserves credit for leading the Red Sox to the best record in the AL as well as a World Series win, but he had so much more to work with than Francona did.
This Manager of the Year Award marks the first of Francona's MLB career despite the fact that he has managed so many good teams in the past. The 2013 Indians were far from Francona's best team, but it's tough to argue against the notion that he had a bigger positive impact on his team this past season than any other manager.
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