Terry Francona hasn’t come right out and said he will retire after the season because that’s not his way. He wants the attention to remain on the field.
But Francona has acknowledged this will be his final season after 23 years on the bench. The Guardians will honor him Wednesday before they play their final home game.
At 64, the physical grind of the season has become too much. Francona’s plan is to go back to Arizona, attend to his health, and decide then what comes next.
“I’m actually happy for him, to be honest with you,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Tuesday before his team played the Rays. “I know a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, we’re going to miss him on the field.’ I think it’s time. Physically, mentally, enjoy life, man.
“Go out, travel, enjoy your family. Do that. It’s a short window. He’s been grinding through it the last few years.”
“I hope people know how much I love and respect this game. I hope that’s come shining through,” @CleGuardians manager Terry Francona said Tuesday. The game with the Reds Wednesday will be the last he manages at Progressive Field. pic.twitter.com/dlqahIJ0d1— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) September 26, 2023
Across the field, Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash recalled his days as a backup catcher with the Sox and all he learned from Francona, which later led to his being hired as a coach in Cleveland.
“I bet [Wednesday] will be a pretty special moment for him and all those fans,” Cash said. “As much as he’s beloved [in Boston], he’s just as beloved there now. I’m sure he’s having a wide range of emotions right now.”
Francona will leave the Guardians with the most victories in franchise history and six playoff appearances in his 11 seasons.
Joe Cronin holds the Red Sox record with 1,071 victories, but Francona has to be considered the greatest manager in franchise history for his role in the historic 2004 championship and how adeptly he managed such outsized personalities as David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, and Curt Schilling during his eight seasons.
“We had certain days that it was tough and Tito did a good job,” said Cora, a member of the 2007 championship team.
Managing is far more about building relationships and trust than it is strategy. Cora, who knew then he wanted to stay in baseball after he was done playing, watched how adept Francona was at handling the pressure that came with playing in Boston and getting the best out of the players while shielding them from distractions.
“He kept us in the moment,” Cora said. “It was more about the message. He gave you confidence . . . The door was always open. He’d talk about the game; he’d talk about life. He’s really good at what he does.”
Some of the lessons didn’t resonate until years later.
Francona once told Cora he should designate plenty of responsibility to his coaching staff once he became a manager. When Cora took over with the Sox in 2018, he realized the importance of that advice.
“And here I am,” Cora said.
Worn out by unending drama that culminated in a September collapse, Francona left the Red Sox after the 2011 season. He took over at Cleveland in 2013 and had the team in the World Series in 2016.
Once he officially retires, Francona will become eligible for the Hall of Fame class of 2027. The committee that reviews executives, managers, and umpires will meet in December 2026 to vote on an eight-person ballot.
It’s hard to imagine Francona not being elected right away. He’s 13th all time in victories, and every manager with more is already in the Hall outside of Dusty Baker and Bruce Bochy, who are still active.
It goes beyond wins and losses. Francona was one of the first managers to incorporate analytics into his decision making and is at the root of a flourishing coaching tree that includes Cash, Cora, Dave Roberts, and five other current managers who either played or coached under him.
That will be some party in upstate New York when the time comes. The laughs will go deep into the night.
“I’ll ask for the day off that day and then go to Cooperstown,” Cora said.
Cash will be there, too.
“I won’t ask. I’ll tell them,” he said.