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Saying goodbye to 'the greatest manager in Cleveland baseball history'

Cleveland Guardians manager Terry Francona with a slight smile as he walks to the dugout.
Charlie Riedel
Cleveland Guardians manager Terry Francona walks to the dugout during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the against the Kansas City Royals Monday, Sept. 18, 2023, in Kansas City, Missouri. The Royals won 6-4.

After 11 seasons, beloved Guardians manager Terry Francona will spend what is likely to be his final game in Cleveland’s dugout Wednesday night.

Ideastream Public Media's sports commentator Terry Pluto reflected on Francona’s likely Hall-of-Fame career.

Francona became manager in Cleveland in 2012, a year after he was fired as manager of the Boson Red Sox, where he won two World Series titles.

“I'm like, why would he want it?” Pluto said.

Francona made an instant impact in Cleveland.

“They went from losing more than 90 games to winning 92 games in his first season. In the 11-year run, nine winning records, six trips to the playoffs, one trip to the World Series in low-budget Cleveland. Three times he’s Manager of the Year. It's just a remarkable accomplishment,” Pluto said.

So, why did Francona choose Cleveland?

“He kept saying Boston was really hard,” Pluto said. “I talked to him and he said something that was very telling. He said, ‘Sometimes as a manager, you have a meeting with people kind of above you, and as you walk out of the room, you know, they're rolling their eyes at you,’ a clear reference to Boston. And he goes, that never happened here,” Pluto said.

Francona was already quite familiar with Cleveland. He grew up watching his father, Tito, play for the Cleveland Indians from 1959 to 1964. Then, after Terry Francona was fired as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2000, he was hired as a special assistant to Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti in Cleveland's front office.

“He says, ‘I chose Cleveland because of the people. Because I like Cleveland,’” Pluto said.

Pluto said Francona viewed the chance to manage in a smaller market as a fresh start.

“I've been around great managers,” Pluto said. “I covered Earl Weaver in 1979, in Baltimore, he’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Mike Hargrove went to two World Series here. Excellent manager. Francona is the package of old and new baseball.”

Pluto said Francona is a baseball purist who also embraced the modern analytics side to baseball.

Profile of Cleveland Guardians manager Terry Francona as he pauses in the dugout.
Ross D. Franklin
Cleveland Guardians manager Terry Francona pauses in the dugout during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels Tuesday, March 14, 2023, in Goodyear, Ariz.

“Most of the time, the guys that have Francona’s type of old-line experience just don't want to hear about these numbers. Now, Francona is not a numbers geek, but he's very interested in them. I mean, he is a consensus builder and a people person along with the fact just, I mean, he really knows the game,” Pluto said.

Francona was embraced by Cleveland’s fan base both on and off the field. He’s said he prefers eating dinners at the ballpark instead of restaurants around town, and said that his wardrobe consists of two pairs of jeans and free shirts.

“Terry is from Western Pennsylvania, so even though he'd been managing in two big markets, Philly and Boston, it was a real comfort zone for him here. And boy, he made it work,” Pluto said.

Pluto said Francona knew this summer it was likely his last season managing in Cleveland.

“Because I think he found out he needed shoulder replacement surgery. You're looking at at least a six-month rehab or more. And he's starting to do the math, and that goes into the regular season. And he also needs two hernia (surgeries). He's had over 40 surgeries. He just felt like his body was just telling him, 'You need time off,'” Pluto said.

Pluto believes Francona is a Hall of Famer who will remain beloved in Cleveland.

“Because I believe it's going to be very difficult to have another run like this here. And that’s not to diminish whomever gets the job. But people should keep in mind just the type of baseball he brought here. They don't spend a lot of money. It's not the easy way. It just was a remarkable time in baseball,” Pluto said.

And Pluto said he’s felt the loss personally.

“Because I've been through a lot, you know, with different coaches, managers, GMs," Pluto said. "And I think just because I know I've been around that I won't see anything quite like this. He is the greatest manager in Cleveland baseball history."

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