Francona excited about chance to manage Indians
FILE - This May 26, 2011 file photo shows Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona during a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers in Detroit. Former Boston manager Francona will interview with the Cleveland Indians on Friday, Oct. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File) Purchase photo reprints »
CLEVELAND — A year away from managing has been enough for Terry Francona, who craves a chance to get back on the field and back inside a major league clubhouse.
The Cleveland Indians just might put him there.
The former Phillies and Red Sox manager, who has spent the past season working as a TV broadcaster, interviewed Friday to be the Indians’ next manager. Francona spent most of the day in meetings with Indians owner Paul Dolan, general manager Chris Antonetti and other members of Cleveland’s front office.
It was a homecoming of sorts for Francona, who worked as an adviser for the Indians in 2001 and has remained close to Antonetti and team president Mark Shapiro. Francona’s father, Tito, played six seasons for the Indians from 1959-64.
“The fact that my dad played here — it’s a good story,” Francona said. “It’s almost a family feeling. I don’t think you can take a job because of that but it still means a lot to me. But because of Chris and Mark and my relationship, I am excited to tackle or attempt to tackle every challenge that comes our way and do it together.”
Francona’s interview came one day after the Indians met with Sandy Alomar Jr. about their managerial opening. Alomar began the season as the club’s bench coach but served as interim manager after Manny Acta was fired with six games left in a disappointing season.
Alomar and Francona are the only candidates expected to meet with the Indians, who will likely make their choice over the weekend and could make an announcement as early as Monday.
Antonetti said he would like his new manager to participate in organizational meetings next week in Goodyear, Ariz.
“If the timing works out where he can participate in some of those great,” he said. “But we’re not going to artificially rush it.”
Francona, who managed Boston to World Series titles in 2004 and 2007, arrived at Progressive Field at 8:15 a.m. to begin the daylong interview process. Francona spent time in the Indians’ dugout watching team employees play in a softball tournament before heading upstairs for the first of several meetings.
The 53-year-old Francona has spent this season working for ESPN, the first time in nine years that he wasn’t leading a major league ballclub. Francona was not brought back by the Red Sox last season following an historic September collapse during which he admitted losing control of his clubhouse.
Francona said getting away from the game has been therapeutic.
“To be perfectly honest, and it’s not easy to say, I probably needed to take a step back for a while,” he said. “I think I had lost a little bit of perspective. I wanted to get back to the things that were important to me.”
But as this season has worn on, Francona has felt a longing to manage again.
“I think getting off the field for a year was really good,” he said. “I got to stay in the game and I got to view it from something that was completely different than I had before. I got to watch all the teams instead of just the team we were playing next. It’s a wonderful experience, but I did miss being on the field.”
Francona said it was while preparing for TV broadcasts when he felt the game’s pull most.
“We would go in on Saturdays and we would go down the clubhouse and see the players and that’s when it would hit me,” he said. “Every Saturday.”
Francona spent four seasons in Philadelphia before he was fired after the 2000 season. That’s when he was hired by Shapiro and Francona spent the next year seeing baseball in a different light.
“I came here and I was trying to find my way back,” he said. “That was a good year for me. It allowed me to watch the interaction between management and field people without having the emotion of a game hanging over your head. It was a good learning year for me.”
Francona’s record in 12 seasons as a manager is 1,029-915. But beyond any winning percentage, Antonetti is looking for someone to mold young players, and pointed to Francona’s track record of developing minor league talent into major league stars.
“If you look at some of the young players that emerged from the Boston minor league system and became stars or were very good players — Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Clay Bucholz, Jon Lester, there are a number of guys when he was the manager there he helped transition to the major league level. In addition to that, he’s a great communicator and an accomplished leader.”
If Francona is hired, it’s possible Alomar could stay on as one of his coaches. But Alomar could also be a candidate for Boston’s opening. He previously interviewed with the Red Sox, who fired Bobby Valentine on Thursday.