After several health issues, Francona ready to be back in '22
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- When Cleveland manager Terry Francona announced that he had to take a leave of absence that led to him missing the final two months of the 2021 season, he appeared defeated.
Francona had just gone through a year of stomach problems and dangerous blood clots. Then, as the new year arrived, he underwent a surgery on his left foot to try to keep a staph infection at bay until he could get another procedure at the end of the season.
Francona was determined to try to grind his way through the year without leaving his team for the second consecutive season, but he couldn’t make it through the end of July -- frankly, much farther than his doctor expected him to make it.
“He laughed and said, ‘I didn’t think you’d get through Spring Training,’” Francona said. “I was like, 'Thanks for telling me.’ He said, ‘I was just waiting for you to pull the plug.’”
Francona had no other option but to do just that. He struggled to get to the mound to make pitching changes. He couldn’t get out to the dugout during pregame activities because of the number of steps it would take to get there from his office. His boot (and the pain in his foot in general) caused him to limp, which prompted more hip pain than he already had, as well as back discomfort. And his stomach problem from 2020 returned -- he just chose not to tell anyone.
“Everything was hard from like waking up in the morning,” Francona said. “You've got to put a baggie over your foot to take a shower. You’ve got to sit on a stool besides all the other things, the blow drying and all the other stuff I have to do. It takes time. Nothing was easy. When the game was over, I would look at the stool and I was like, 'I've got to go get a plastic garbage bag and I’ve got to tape it.' Everything was hard and it kind of wore on me.”
Like in 2020, Francona realized things were starting to get out of hand when his mood and attitude would take dramatic shifts. And it was then that he realized he needed to step away.
“You know one of the biggest things I’ve found was I was getting short with people,” Francona said. “In this job, you’ve got to be patient, and I was losing my patience.”
Francona announced his leave of absence and immediately went in for hip surgery. The procedure went smoothly, and within a week or two, he already started to feel better. But the staph infection in his foot was a completely different animal.
After having that procedure, Francona was required to go without putting weight on his leg for weeks before slowly working his way into everyday activities. Even if the progression was slow, it was still positive, meaning the opportunity to return to his beloved position was on the table for 2022. And by the time Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled around, he decided to commit to being Cleveland's manager again.
“When you miss a couple years in a row, and you start to get to a certain age, you start to question maybe a little bit,” Francona said. “I don’t want to let people down, either. It’s not just about me, and I was feeling like, ‘Hey, I need to be able to answer the bell here.’ ... So I worked pretty hard. There’s only so much you can do though with a toe. It’s not like you can do pushups. You can’t go jogging. So it’s kind of hard.”
Francona focused on his physical therapy and got himself in a position to report to camp around the same time that the Minor Leaguers did earlier this month, with two shoes on his feet rather than a boot. He’s more mobile than he was last year at this time -- although he’ll be the first to joke that he’s still slow -- but he knows his situation is constantly fluid.
The only thing that Francona is focused on now is remaining healthy to best lead his team in his 10th season in Cleveland. When he manages his first game in 2022, he’ll do so as the winningest skipper in franchise history, as the victories the team had last year under interim manager DeMarlo Hale get credited to Francona’s record.
“I’m not very comfortable with that,” Francona said of how he’ll be collecting his wins. “I swear to you, I didn’t do this for that. I love what I do. ... I just want us to play well and play the game right and have our guys act right. That’s what I get a big kick out of."