It is the end of 2021, the middle of baseball winter, and all of our Hot Stoves are Ice Cold.
So here’s a little baseball for you. Here’s what’s going on with Terry Francona — the best manager in Red Sox history — who was fired by the Sox exactly 10 years ago.
Francona averaged 93 wins in his eight seasons at Fenway, winning two World Series, taking the Sox to the playoffs five times, and playing in front of a full house every night. After the 2011 chicken-and-beer collapse, Francona gave way to Bobby Valentine, who gave way to John Farrell, who gave way to Alex Cora.
Cora was one of Francona’s Red Sox players. So were future managers Dave Roberts (Dodgers), Kevin Cash (Rays), Gabe Kapler (Giants), Rocco Baldelli (Twins), David Ross (Cubs), and Mark Kotsay (A’s). You can say that Francona’s managing tree has borne more fruit than Bill Belichick’s coaching tree. Cora, Cash, Roberts, and Kapler all managed in the playoffs in 2021.
“You can’t really take credit for guys that played for you, but I’m proud as heck,” Francona said from his home in Arizona. “They’re great guys and I love them. It’s great to see them stay in the game.
“When Cash played for me, there were plenty of times when I wished he was already a coach — like whenever he was in the batter’s box.
“You can tell certain guys are smart, like Cora, and Cash, and [Jason] Varitek, but you don’t know if they’re going to want to stay in the game. Players make so much money now they don’t need to stay in the game, and sometimes they just don’t want the aggravation. I’m thinking [Dustin] Pedroia someday might be one of them.”
Francona has already managed more seasons in Cleveland (nine) than he did in Boston (eight). Add his four seasons as skipper of the Phillies and you have a Hall of Fame-bound manager who already ranks in the all-time top 20 in games won. Despite his dugout seniority, the 62-year-old Francona is not even one of the five oldest active managers in the majors. Tony La Russa, Dusty Baker, Joe Maddon, Buck Showalter, and Brian Snitker are all over 65.
Like everyone in baseball management, Francona is forbidden to talk about the lockout, his team, or the state of the game. He can’t even say much about the Cleveland name change from Indians to Guardians.
“I feel like I’m in high school,” he said. “I think it’s a little silly.”
But he is allowed to tell you about his health, which has been no small story in recent years. Francona had to step away from his managing duties in both 2020 (gastrointestinal issues) and 2021 (staph infection in his left big toe). There was no more riding to the Cleveland ballpark from his downtown apartment on a motor scooter. In the summer of 2020, Francona moved into the Cleveland Clinic for his gastro issues. Last season there was talk of amputating his foot.
He is finally off crutches and plans to be back in the dugout whenever the lockout is over. He is grateful to Cleveland baseball boss Chris Antonetti for sticking with him.
“I told Chris in August, ‘Hey look, the minute you feel you need to move on, you will never once hear a peep out of me,’ ” said Francona. “ ‘I get it. Don’t let our relationship get in the way, because it’s not fair to you.’ He said, ‘As long as you are OK, we want you to come back.’
“Well, I appreciate that, because I know that it’s not good when you don’t finish a season.
“I had my hip replaced in August. That was a piece of cake. Four weeks later, they went in and redid my toe. They put a rod in, two pieces of bone and eight screws. Technically, I’m still on crutches, but I haven’t been using my crutches for a while. I’m in a boot.
“I’m so tired of limping, I can’t stand it. I haven’t worn two shoes in a year. All my shoes, the right one looks worn out and the left one looks brand new.”
Francona’s long trail of surgeries and hospitalizations started in his rookie season in the majors when his right knee exploded on the warning track in St. Louis’s Busch Stadium when he was chasing down a fly ball hit by Julio Gonzalez.
“I was 22 years old that day,” Francona recalled. “I had hair and everything. It’s been downhill ever since.”
He was able to play 10 big league seasons, hitting .274 in 707 games for the Expos, Cubs, Reds, Indians, and Brewers, but his body was never right again.
He estimates he’s had more than 40 surgeries over 40 years.
“Twelve on each knee. That’s the majority,” he said. “I’ve had my toe done twice. Both hips. Both shoulders twice. Left elbow. Hernia. Neck. Back. Disk surgery. I’ve had four or five surgeries on my wrist and fingers, but they are just little ones. I don’t count those.
“Then I had the blood clot procedures. The last surgery, they put two stents in my legs and one in my stomach and I have better circulation now than I have in a long time.”
He’s able to swim every day.
“I’ve got to be really careful,” he said. “I look like Shamu getting in and out of the pool — that’s the really hard part — but swimming kind of saves the day.”
He could not say goodbye without mentioning Jerry Remy.
“I had just texted with Jerry a week or 10 days before he died,” Francona said. “I saw him on TV when he threw out the first pitch and thought he looked great. He just told me that it was pretty tough.
“I know he had a tough time and I know the cancer came back. But he was everybody’s friend. It’s hard to find somebody that’s got anything bad to say about him. Fans just loved him.”
On Don Orsillo?
“Every time I see him in spring training, I go grab him and mess his hair up,” Francona said. “He’s doing good and I’m glad for him because he was crushed by what happened in Boston.”
What about the fact that you have now managed more seasons in Cleveland than in Boston?
“Isn’t that unbelievable?” he asked. “I don’t feel like it, though. Boston is awesome, but it will wear you out. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just the way it is.
“Cleveland’s been good. I mean, can you imagine me riding a scooter to the ballpark when I was managing at Fenway? Somebody would have assassinated me.”