10/08/12 9:21 AM ET
Francona returns to a place he can trust
Cleveland's new skipper drawn by potential to be part of culture of respect
By Peter Gammons / MLB.com
Terry Francona spent a year being really good at television, but now he is back where he wants to be, in the clubhouse and the dugout. Is he bound to lead the Indians to their first World Series championship since 1948? Maybe, but that is not why it took him less time than it took him to go through security at Hopkins Airport to accept the job.
He knows Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti. Back in 2003, when he was going to Boston for an interview to replace Grady Little, they played David Axelrod, coaching him for the grilling that he would face with Red Sox management and ownership.
Francona knows how Shapiro and Antonetti view managers. When Shapiro made the decision in 2003 to make Eric Wedge the Indians' manager, he described the relationship between general manager and manager as "partners" who are equally responsible and accountable. Antonetti views the relationship the same way, so not only is there comfort in this managerial job, there is little that is unknown.
There is a wont to win in Cleveland. It has been 64 years since the Tribe won the World Series, 11 years before Francona was born in 1959, the season in which his father, Tito, batted .363 for the Indians. So there is some sense of home. For someone who grew up in western Pennsylvania watching his father referee college basketball games, he has come to a city that while struggling to rebuild its fiscal and population bases is a very good place to live. He can go out to dinner and not have it reported in a newspaper gossip column, he is not going to manage in a fishbowl and have to hold pregame and postgame press conferences explaining everything he or his players did.
Manny Ramirez may walk through the door again, but only for old-timers' games, and he is going to be managing young players with relatively modest paychecks who will look at his resume and appreciate that he has more World Series rings as a manager than any other currently in the Major Leagues.
Tony La Russa constructed a remarkable culture in St. Louis that carried through to the last game he managed, which was the seventh game of last year's World Series. He felt that culture -- which extended from the players to the coaches to the manager to the front office -- was built on three elements: trust, respect and caring. Antonetti and Shapiro are seeking a similar culture.
La Russa and Jim Leyland built their legacies on their personal relationships with their players, finding time every day to reach out and converse with each one. Francona will do the same. He will make them laugh at times, he will be self-effacing, he and his coaches will take care of what has to be faced. He is a manager players trust because he will never sell them out for his own media benefit, and trust is the foundation on which respect and caring are built.
Francona has been a media guy for 11 months. He knows the Indians were 5-24 in August and that there is a lot of work to be done, a lot of pitching decisions that have to be made.
But he's back managing -- not being a celebrity, not wearing $1,000 suits to work, not getting makeup. Hey, he's already done something no other manager had done since World War I, and still he remembers what it was like to ride the buses in the Southern League or manage Michael Jordan in the Arizona Fall League. He knows that's who he is, what he is, and that in taking the job with the Cleveland Indians, he knows going in that he'll be working with and for people whom he trusts, respects and cares about.
At this point in his life, that's a job, a really good job, that Terry Francona deserves.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.