Francona bravely battles through health scares

June 29th, 2017
Francona: "The problem is my blood pressure has been going down, and that makes my heart rate go too fast." (Getty)

CLEVELAND -- Terry Francona went back to work Wednesday, and, 48 hours after a medical scare that required an overnight stay at the Cleveland Clinic, he was right back to the wise-cracking, gum-munching Tito we know and love.

He repeated a joke about his health issues possibly being related to an allergy to bench coach Brad Mills, made a crack about a reporter's tie being so ugly that it was what caused the light-headedness that forced an early exit from Monday's incredible comeback against the Rangers and was relieved when the pregame topics turned to baseball and away from the heart monitor newly strapped to his chest.

"The problem is my blood pressure has been going down," Francona explained, "and that makes my heart rate go too fast."

If that sounds serious, it's because it is. Francona's position is stressful enough without having these occasional episodes in which he feels like "the lights are going to go out," and so there is obviously concern in the Indians' organization about his condition, especially with a demanding All-Star schedule approaching. After traveling to Miami to head up the American League squad, Francona will have to travel across the country for a road trip in Oakland and San Francisco.

Thankfully, the 58-year-old Francona has undergone a battery of tests that have ruled out, in his words, "some really serious things," and he only missed Tuesday's loss upon an order from team president Chris Antonetti to stay home and rest.

The Tribe beat Texas, 5-3, in Tito's return to duty. Despite an overall struggle to find consistency, they are in first place in the AL Central in a win-now year, and there is little question that, in a two-time-World-Series-winning, possibly Cooperstown-bound skipper who last October guided them to the doorstep of the franchise's first title since 1948, they've got the right man in the dugout.

But Francona's many medical maladies do create questions about his future.

Earlier this year, this is what Francona, who is under contract with the Tribe through 2020, told's Bill Ladson:

"When there comes a day when [health] gets in the way, I'm going to have to pull back, and it's not because I don't love managing. You have to have a certain amount of energy to do this job right."

Francona has had to prematurely vacate the dugout twice this month. This, in addition to leaving a game in Washington last August because of chest pains.

"We're always so worried about him," catcher said. "People hurt themselves and things happen. But man, this is his heart. He's actually got some different issues going on that we've got to pray about. You figure we've got all these other things to deal with and not our manager's health. I know they're taking care of it, and you hope the best for him."

When the Indians take batting practice, it is often Mills, Francona's former University of Arizona teammate and roommate and longtime dugout right-hand man, overseeing the action. Francona, after various knee and hip surgeries and other medical concerns, unorthodoxly but wisely uses that time to stay off his feet.

The Indians are fortunate to have Mills, who didn't get a fair shake in his first and only managerial opportunity in Houston earlier this decade. He and Francona are so closely aligned in thought and experience that they've even begun to resemble each other, like a dog and his owner.

"You look over and it's like, 'Oh, that bald head is Millsy's," second baseman joked. "It's like we have two managers. One can step right in for the other… As much as we love having Tito around, we'd rather have him alive and kicking than at BP. We want him around for the long haul."

The season itself is a long haul, and Francona, with his daily swim sessions to energize his ailing body, has learned over the years how to prepare himself for that grind.

But these recent episodes are something else entirely, because, as he said, "For me to leave a game, it's got to be pretty intense."

Such intensity has arrived twice this month. Francona has been frustrated by the process, embarrassed by the attention. He certainly hasn't lost his sense of humor, but he's lost time with a team and a job he loves and is in absolutely no rush to leave.

"This is the most comfortable place in my life, where I am. And I miss that when I'm gone," he said. "So, I'll just try to continue to keep track of what's going on, and the doctors are so good and conscientious that we'll figure it out. It just might take a little while to get a handle on exactly what's been going on."