Guardians manager Terry Francona has indicated he will step away from the dugout at the end of this season, bringing to an end a managerial career spanning 25 years in which he won two World Series rings and three Manager of the Year honors.
The ever-popular Francona, 64, has been slowed by significant health issues over the last few years.
It’ll be the end of a run for a man likely bound for Cooperstown. As Francona’s career draws to a close, let’s take a look back.
Aug. 19, 1981: Before his much more notable stint in management, Francona made his major league debut as a player for the Montreal Expos in 1981, the start of a 10-year career spent mostly as a journeyman before he retired in 1990.
Nov. 20, 1992: The White Sox named Francona manager of the Double A Birmingham Barons; he went 223-203 in three seasons. Baseball America named him Minor League Manager of the Year in 1993 and tapped him as a top managerial candidate in 1994, the season in which he managed former (and future) basketball star Michael Jordan.
Oct. 30, 1996: With a ringing endorsement from Jordan, Francona got his first major league gig, managing the Phillies for the 1997 season.
Francona struggled through four years in Philadelphia, as the Phillies posted a 285-363 record and never won more than 77 games. He was fired in October 2000 after Philadelphia lost 97 games and claimed the joint-worst record in baseball.
He made his second stop in Cleveland (having played for the Indians in 1988) as a special assistant to general manager John Hart, then spent two years as a bench coach for two teams before he got a call from Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein.
Dec. 4, 2003: Francona was introduced as the 44th manager of the Red Sox, replacing Grady Little, whose contract wasn’t renewed after a crushing ALCS Game 7 loss to the Yankees.
Axing Little after a 95-win season was a bold move from Epstein; even bolder was bringing in Francona, whose reputation took a hit in Philadelphia.
‘All Francona lacks is a track record, and in the ever-escalating rivalry with the [Yankees], the Sox may feel they have found their [Joe] Torre, and it is in the dugout they suspect they lost October’s ALCS in the Bronx.’
Gordon Edes, The Boston Globe, Dec. 5, 2003
Expectations were high for a man who had struggled in his only major league managerial job, taking over a team with championship aspirations. As the Globe’s Gordon Edes wrote the day after Francona was introduced: “For other teams, in other cities, it is enough to win. Terry Francona, who has never won before, must do more than win here.
“Just ask Grady Little.”
July 24, 2004: Maybe it was the turning point, maybe it wasn’t. But the famous 2004 brawl between the Red Sox and Yankees at Fenway Park sure felt like the moment Francona’s team found itself.
You know the story: Bronson Arroyo plunked Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees star took exception, Sox catcher Jason Varitek got involved, and the rest is history.
“I hope we look back a while from now and we’re saying that this brought us together,” Francona said after a dramatic 11-10 walkoff win. “I hope a long time from now, we look back and say this is what did it.”
The Sox were 52-44 after a loss to New York the night before, trailing their rivals by 9½ games, with Francona receiving plenty of criticism. They went 46-20 the rest of the way, closing that gap to just three games.
Epstein made a huge move at the trade deadline, dealing away longtime star and franchise cornerstone Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs. Francona was the one to break the news to his shortstop in Minnesota.
Francona won 98 games in his first season and the Sox claimed the wild-card spot, sweeping the Angels in the ALDS to set up a rematch with the Yankees.
Oct. 17, 2004: Francona was skewered after a Game 3 blowout, a 19-8 defeat that gave New York a 3-0 ALCS lead and put the Sox on the brink of being swept.
Then came that famous ninth inning with Mariano Rivera on the mound staked to a 4-3 lead, when Kevin Millar worked a walk and was immediately replaced by Dave Roberts. Francona put on a bunt sign for Bill Mueller at the plate, withdrew it, and gave Roberts a wink.
Roberts’s legendary steal, followed by Mueller’s game-tying single and David Ortiz’s walkoff homer in the early morning of Oct. 18, remains one of the most memorable sequences in franchise history.
Oct. 20, 2004: Three days later, the Sox had done the impossible, winning four straight games to flip a 3-0 series deficit on its head and vanquish their biggest rivals to punch a ticket to the World Series.
‘Mark it down. Oct. 20. It will always be the day that Sox citizens were liberated from 8 1/2 decades of torment and torture at the hands of the New York Yankees and their fans ... On the very same soil where the Sox were so cruelly foiled in this same game a year ago, the Sons of Tito Francona completed the greatest postseason comeback in baseball history.’
Dan Shaughnessy, The Boston Globe, Oct. 21, 2004
“It’s amazing,” Francona said. “To do what we did, you have to have people chip in and do some special things ... When we were down, 0-3, there’s just no room for error, and we didn’t make any errors.”
Oct. 27, 2004: The World Series wasn’t quite the same spectacle as the ALCS, as Francona’s Red Sox swept the Cardinals to win their first championship in 86 years.
“I’m sure there are a lot of people in New England who are dancing in the streets,” Francona said after becoming the 16th manager to win a title in his first season with a club. “For that, I’m thrilled.”
July 12, 2005: Francona managed his first All-Star Game.
October 2005: The Sox finished 95-67, tied with the Yankees, but lost the tiebreaker and settled for second in the AL East and a wild-card spot. They were swept by the eventual champion White Sox in the ALDS.
Sept. 28, 2007: After a disappointing 2006, Francona led the Red Sox to a bounce-back year, going 96-66. With a win over the Athletics, the Sox claimed their first AL East title since 1995.
Oct. 28, 2007: Francona’s title-winning teams had a familiar formula: an ALDS sweep over the Angels, a dramatic comeback in the ALCS (this time from a 3-1 deficit to the Indians), and another sweep in the World Series.
The Sox put away the Rockies in four games, and Francona had turned 86 years of suffering into two rings in four seasons. He was a perfect 8-0 in the World Series with the Red Sox, and had earned the popularity afforded him by both his players and the fans.
‘A minute that used to recur like a comet, once [every] 86 years or so and missed by generations of Sox fans, is now beginning to feel like a birthright. For the second time in four seasons, the Red Sox are World Series champions, Francona and the rest of the Sox dugout borne onto the field last night in Coors Field by the same wave of euphoria that struck in 2004.’
Gordon Edes, The Boston Globe, Oct. 29, 2007
June 2, 2009: Francona won his 500th game for the Red Sox, the third manager to do so.
May 6, 2010: Francona managed his 1,000th game with the Red Sox, the fourth person to hit that mark.
Sept. 30, 2011: After a historic September collapse, in which the Red Sox went 7-20 and blew a nine-game lead atop the AL East — a disappointment made worse by the chicken-and-beer scandal that followed — Francona was gone, with his contract option either turned down by the team or mutually declined, depending on whom you ask.
Francona finished with a 744-552 record with the Red Sox, the second-most wins in franchise history, and a 28-17 mark in the playoffs with those two titles.
Oct. 6, 2012: A year out of the game was enough for Francona, who returned to Cleveland for a third and final stop, this time as manager. Cleveland went 92-70 in 2013, a 24-win improvement over the previous season, and Francona was named AL Manager of the Year for the first time.
Oct. 10, 2016: Francona’s Indians swept the Red Sox in the ALDS, closing out the series at Fenway Park.
Nov. 2, 2016: Francona and Epstein are inextricably linked to two things: lengthy World Series droughts and each other.
After teaming up to end 86 years of Sox suffering, Francona and Epstein went their separate ways and came back together again — this time on opposite sides with respective streaks to break in the 2016 World Series. Francona was managing a Cleveland team without a championship since 1948, and Epstein was the Cubs baseball ops boss trying to end 108 years of suffering on Chicago’s North Side.
Francona’s Indians took a 3-1 lead, but Epstein’s Cubs clawed back to force a Game 7 in Cleveland, a game few in baseball history can match in tension and drama.
Rajai Davis’s two-run game-tying homer in the eighth inning seemed like the latest and greatest heartbreak for Cubs fans, and a rain delay after the nine innings did those fans’ hearts no favors, but the Cubs pulled it out in 10 innings.
The triumphant Epstein paid a downtrodden Francona a visit in his office after the game, a gesture Francona relayed his appreciation for in January when he won his second AL Manager of the Year award.
“It’s probably not an easy thing to pull off,” Francona. “He’s in a suit and he smells like champagne, yet he was comfortable enough to come over. I thought that was really, really nice of him to do that.”
‘He knows he’s one of the old guys in the profession now. His passion is still off the charts. Since he was a kid, accompanying his father, Tito, to major league clubhouses around baseball, it’s been in his blood. He’s had some health issues, but he seems to be in a good place.’
Nick Cafardo, The Boston Globe, Aug. 20, 2018
July 7, 2017: Francona undergoes a catheter ablation to correct an irregular heartbeat, which kept him out of the dugout for weeks.
Sept. 15, 2017: Francona’s Indians won their 22nd consecutive game, an MLB record.
2020 season: Francona missed the entire season and postseason dealing with a blood clotting issue.
July 29, 2021: Francona announced that he would step away from the team for the rest of the year, citing health issues.
Nov. 15, 2022: Francona was named AL Manager of the Year for a third time.
Amin Touri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.