CLEVELAND -- Every time Terry Francona has hopped on a Zoom call with local media over the past eight months, the first question he’s always asked is, "How do you feel?"
The Tribe’s skipper has undergone over a dozen procedures in the past year and a half, and he missed nearly all of the 2020 season due to blood clots and stomach problems. But after he provided an encouraging update last December, the answer to the routine question wasn’t as positive as expected.
“Why is that always a loaded question?” Francona joked.
On Friday, Francona revealed that he started to get treated for gout last November. He received medication and the doctors told him to be patient in order to see results. But when mid-January rolled around and he was still in severe pain, Francona decided to leave his home in Arizona and fly back to the Cleveland Clinic to get checked.
Little did he know he was about to endure yet another procedure.
The Clinic discovered that Francona had a staph infection in the big toe of his left foot. When left untreated, staph infections can become severe. At that stage, patients can experience a fever or other symptoms along with joint pain. But Francona said he never reached that level.
“That’s the weird thing,” Francona said. “They kept asking me that. They said if I had a staph infection, I would know it. Shoot, I was playing golf a couple times. But it did hurt. I kept trying to tell the doctors in Arizona. I said, ‘This really hurts.’ But the doctors in Cleveland put their heads together and sat down and explained it to me so I would understand the severity and that it needed to be done and then we went ahead and did it.”
The doctors removed part of the bone in Francona’s toe and replaced it with bone cement. He had to spend 10 days in the hospital so that doctors could monitor him on his medication after he reacted poorly to blood thinners in August.
Now, Francona is at the Tribe’s Spring Training complex in Goodyear, Ariz., with a boot on his foot and crutches under his arms. The skipper also said that he has a PICC line in his arm to receive IV medication three times a day. None of this stopped him from reporting to camp.
“I wasn’t all that mobile to begin with, so it’s not necessarily really killing my mobility,” Francona said. “It’s more a pain in the neck. I am so fortunate that we have the Cleveland Clinic. I feel really lucky. When you’re in their hands, you feel pretty good.”
Francona thinks he should be done taking the antibiotics around March 7. Around that time, he should be able to try to lose the crutches and have a follow-up appointment to check if the staph infection has gone away.
All of this comes after a year-long battle with gastrointestinal issues. Francona started to have problems toward the end of the 2019 season, and they carried through Summer Camp last July. He started getting treated for those when doctors at the Cleveland Clinic discovered blood clots, which caused him to spend a few days in the ICU. He missed nearly all of the '20 season, and he was finally able to watch a few games in person over the final few weeks in September.
Francona was determined to be back in the dugout in 2021, and he lost about 20 pounds to get himself in better shape before the staph infection caused him to slow down around Christmas.
“I was really feeling -- I don’t ever want to say good about myself, but I was feeling average about myself,” Francona said, “and I probably put a couple [pounds] back on because I’ve just been lying around. But I’m OK. I’m better than I was.”
The 61-year-old has endured a lot over the past year, and at times, he admitted, he needed to dig deeper to have a positive outlook.
“There have been nights when I’ve been lying around and I’ve had to give myself a little kick in the pants,” Francona said. “But I always come back to, I have some people who are pretty close to me, even several guys in the game of baseball that are dealing with things that are really serious. This is more of a pain in the neck. I need to realize that. That’s what I always get to. There are some mornings -- in the shower -- it’s hard. I have to put a big bag over my leg. I have to cover this arm. It’s aggravating, but that’s all it is, is aggravating. I think I have to remind myself that sometimes.”
And no matter what Francona has gone through, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti has never doubted that Francona would be back at the helm this season.
“The thing that's always and will continue to be most important for me is Tito's overall health and well-being, physically and mentally,” Antonetti said. “And to the extent [that] him performing his job got in the way of that, it would warrant a conversation. But I think we have tried to work with Tito to understand where he is physically and how do we help him do what he loves doing, and that's manage this baseball team.
“Both mentally and physically, he's in a good frame of mind. … He's raring to go.”