This week, the Cleveland Indians hired manager Terry Francona, formerly of ESPN, the Boston Red Sox, and the Philadelphia Phillies. Bill Livingston of the Cleveland Plain Dealer joins Bill to discuss Francona’s move.
Q: For Terry Francona, is the move to Cleveland something of a homecoming?
A: Yes, his father played for the Indians for six seasons. In 1959, when they almost won the pennant, they lost to the ‘Go Go Sox,’ the Chicago White Sox, and Terry also worked for I think one year in the front office in the early part of this century and has a very good relationship with Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti, who are the baseball men who run the organization with the Indians.
Q: The history and friendships with Cleveland’s front office guys aside, it looked as if Terry Francona could have had any number of managerial jobs. Why Cleveland?
A: Well, he says it’s because of those relationships. I myself thought that as badly as Ron Washington ran the Rangers games in the playoffs that they might blame their collapse on him and that would be the type of situation I would have expected Terry Francona to take over: a contending team with a big payroll and some big individual stars that were already productive. I’m not sure how good he’s going to be in a losing environment. He wasn’t very good in Philadelphia in that situation. But he’s a star! I mean, this is the first time the Indians have ever hired a manager with World Series rings to his credit. He broke the curse—his teams did—the Curse of the Bambino in Boston. And the Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948. So, at least they have one star, even though he’s not gonna be able to be on the field other than to change pitchers.
Q: Francona helped the Boston Red Sox win a World Series. Are fans in Cleveland thinking of a similar result?
A: Well that’s certainly the hope, but, you know, it was a $140 million payroll in Boston, and while he gets credit for—and I think probably to some extent it’s deserved—for the development of players like Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, I think those were good players anyway and they had great leadership and ‘Big Papi’. You know there’s not much here. I mean seriously, I’ve been in Cleveland since 1984 and there’s less interest in the Indians until Francona was hired than I can ever remember, even when crowds were rattling around like a BB in a boxcar at the big ‘ole 75,000-seat place on the lake, because there’s just not much in the farm system either.
Q: I wondered before this conversation why Francona had this job, and now I wonder even more…
A: That is one of the real questions. I find it hard to believe that ties with Antonetti and Shapiro mean all that much to him. I mean, Shapiro had a pretty good record as the Indians General Manager, got very good returns. But, it’s been a while since they had a deal that hit. They had two Cy Young winners in a row that they traded—in C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee–and what they got in return was basically like giving away Manhattan Island for beads and trinkets, so they haven’t hit too much to have a resume that would impress someone like Terry Francona, I would not think.