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Francona Stepping Back For Rest Of 2021 Baseball Season For Health Reasons

Cleveland baseball team manager Terry Francona, center, waves to fans after getting a win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, June 20, 2021. [Gene J. Puskar / AP]
Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, center, waves to fans after getting a win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, June 20, 2021.

The latest in a series of medical issues has knocked Cleveland baseball manager Terry Francona out of the dugout for the remainder of the 2021 season.

The 62-year-old Francona told reporters Thursday he will undergo a hip replacement Monday and weeks later a rod will be placed in his right foot, the result of toe surgery and subsequent staph infection. Francona has been wearing a walking boot all season.

“I've got to get healthy or I can't do this job,” Francona said when asked about his future. “So one step at a time."

While the team has seen landmark moments under Francona, a variety of health problems have plagued the legendary MLB manager in recent years.

“Everything I do is hard,” Francona said, “whether it’s getting to the airport or getting to the clubhouse. You’ve seen me taking pitchers out, that’s not even easy. It doesn’t make it very enjoyable and I miss that. It’s not like during the season I have a whole lot of life anyway, because I love being at the ballpark, but all I do is go to the ballpark and then come home and get off my feet and lay in bed. And I gotta give myself a chance to have a little bit of a life.”

Francona missed all but 14 games of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season with a gastrointestinal issue that forced his hospitalization. While at the Cleveland Clinic, he suffered blood clots that landed him in the intensive care unit.

During the 2017 baseball season, Francona had a cardiac ablation after suffering fatigue, dizziness and a rapid heart rate. That September, the team hit its record 22-game winning streak.

“I actually really, desperately wanted to try to manage this year. And I just got as far as I could,” Francona said. “The organization has been so good to me. And it was important that I try. I honestly gave it my best shot. It's not a great feeling not being there for people. But I didn't feel like I was there as much as I needed to be anyway, and I didn't feel good about that, either.”

Francona has been Cleveland’s manager since 2013, coming from Boston, where he broke the Red Sox's 86-year championship drought to win two World Series titles. And Cleveland baseball is in his blood: Francona’s father, Tito, played for the team from 1959 to 1964. Since the younger Francona – also affectionately known at Tito – was hired, Cleveland has five playoff appearances and won the American League championship in 2016. Cleveland lost to the Chicago Cubs in the 2016 World Series in seven games.

Bench Coach DeMarlo Hale will take over for Francona and other coaches will shuffle roles to make up for his absence. Former Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar will remain a first base coach, though he replaced Francona on an interim basis in 2020.

The team’s front office on Thursday was supportive of Francona’s decision to put his health first.

“I am in awe of Tito's toughness and perseverance,” Chris Antonetti, the team's president of baseball operations, said. “I know if it was me, I wouldn't have been able to make it as far as Tito has with all the things he's been dealing with. So I care for him. I obviously see Tito every day and I know the pain and discomfort he's in. We talked about it a lot but in the end, I was going always leave that decision to Tito, and he would be the one to do it on his terms and on his time.”

Also on Thursday, Cleveland traded second basemen Cesar Hernandez Thursday to division rival Chicago White Sox for a minor league pitcher. Cleveland kicks off a weekend series with the White Sox eight games behind first place in the AL Central and five games out of a wild card playoff spot.

The Associated Press and Ideastream Public Media's Gayle S. Putrich contributed to this report.

Glenn Forbes is supervising producer of newscasts at Ideastream Public Media.