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Here's hoping Francona has a quick recovery

Indians' manager among the most well-liked and respected men in MLB
MLB.com @RichardJustice

Two seasons ago, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona's ride was pulling into Tropicana Field when something in the players' parking lot caught his eye.

"That's Cash's car," he announced.

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Two seasons ago, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona's ride was pulling into Tropicana Field when something in the players' parking lot caught his eye.

"That's Cash's car," he announced.

View Full Game Coverage

So?

Kevin Cash manages the Tampa Bay Rays. Didn't it make sense for his car to be parked there?

"Let me out here," Francona told his driver.

An hour later, a Tropicana Field security person walked into Cash's office and delivered some news.

"Someone has covered your car in soap," he said. "It's all over the windshield, the windows, the doors, everywhere."

Cash said something that will not be repeated here.

"Hey, wait," he asked. "Do you know if we have security cameras in that parking lot?"

Yes, in fact, we do.

Video: Francona writes on Cash's car as prank

Here's what happened before the Indians and Rays played that night: On the giant video board inside Tropicana Field, footage of a bald man soaping the manager's car was shown.

And at that, everything stopped. Players, coaches, team personnel and both managers laughed until they cried at the sight of one of baseball's most successful managers and one of its most respected men doing something he probably hadn't done since high school.

:: Complete All-Star Game coverage ::

I thought of that story on Friday, when it was announced that Francona's continuing medical tests and recovery will prevent him from managing the American League in the 88th All-Star Game presented by Mastercard on Tuesday night in Miami.

Rather, it will be two of Francona's closest friends managing the AL: his bench coach with the Indians, Brad Mills, and Cash, one of his former players and coaches, and one of the people to whom he's closest.

Theirs is an unbreakable bond, one built on loyalty, trust, admiration and affection. That Mills and Cash will step in for their buddy is way more than appropriate, and it is a reminder that few men in baseball engender more loyalty than Francona.

The Indians say they're confident that Francona will be back in the saddle managing the Tribe after the All-Star break, and that's the hope throughout the sport as well.

From the moment Terry's dad, Tito, played his first big league game in 1956, the Francona family has been part of baseball, enriching it on every imaginable level.

Terry Francona will be forever remembered as the man who ended the Curse of the Bambino by leading the Red Sox to a World Series championship in 2004. Throughout baseball, though, it's years of service as a player, coach and manager -- along with his decency and sense of humor -- that engenders such affection.

This was true long before he assembled a Hall of Fame resume with two championships in Boston and 1,426 regular-season victories -- 26th most in history -- during stints with the Phillies, Red Sox and Indians.

Video: CLE@BOS: Francona honored by video tribute at Fenway

Francona and Mills played together with the Expos and in Montreal's Minor League system. They have been the closest of friends since, with Mills serving as Francona's bench coach except for the three seasons that Mills managed the Astros from 2010-12.

Theirs is a relationship in which each man can finish the other's sentences. As for Cash and Francona, they speak and text almost daily. Even when Cash was a player struggling to make a career for himself, Francona told anyone who'd listen: "That guy is going to be a great manager."

That's why Francona added him to his Cleveland coaching staff and pushed teams to hire him whenever there was an opening. That the Rays became the team to do that after Joe Maddon left following the 2014 season seemed to make Francona happier for Cash than Cash was for himself.

Francona, as a manager, has the uncanny ability to balance being both a friend and a boss. His players do not just respect him and admire him, they genuinely like him. They play cards with Francona before games. They bust their tails for him during games. They laugh with him afterwards.

Video: SD@CLE: Tribe eager for Francona's return to dugout

Terry Francona is the boss every last one of us wishes we had. He's the one who emphasizes the positive, who does his best to put you in position to succeed.

And then when you do succeed, Francona is the guy who shuffles his feet and clears his throat and deflects every last bit of praise. He did that while winning two World Series in Boston, and he has done that during five seasons with the Indians and four with the Phillies.

One of the first things Francona did at Progressive Field was to knock down the physical wall between his office and the home clubhouse and install a window.

Francona's message was not subtle: My door is open. I will listen. It's not my team. It's our team.

Sometimes with Francona, we get caught up in the things he says and does that make us laugh. But there's a brilliant psychology behind everything he does. To know him is to like him. Players want to please him, and that's hugely important.

Francona's players also know he has their backs and that every thing he does is what he feels is in the best interest of the Cleveland Indians. His management of Cleveland's bullpen during the postseason in 2016 is the new blueprint.

Right after the Indians acquired reliever Andrew Miller at the non-waiver Trade Deadline last summer, it wasn't clear where he'd fit amid a group that was already strong at the end of games.

Video: MIN@CLE: Miller induces grounder in Indians' debut

In Miller's second appearance for the Indians, he was summoned to pitch in the sixth inning. As Miller trotted in from the bullpen, second baseman Jason Kipnis asked his manager the following:

"So we gave up our farm system to get a guy to pitch the sixth inning?" Kipnis asked.

"I've got a plan," Francona said.

Indeed, Francona had a plan that helped carry the Indians all the way to Game 7 of one of the greatest World Series ever played. Along the way, baseball was reborn in Cleveland, and the Tribe hopes to build on that momentum with another October to remember.

Francona absolutely must be part of that. Not just because of his strategic genius or his laughter. For reasons more basic than that. Because baseball is better when he's in the middle of everything. Including the occasional parking lot hijinks. Hurry back, Tito.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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