Francona wins AL Manager of the Year Award
Skipper guides Indians to 92 wins in first year with club, edges Farrell
CLEVELAND -- This was a classic comeback story. Following a rough season, the Indians needed a dramatic change to turn things around both in the clubhouse and on the field. After stepping away from the game for a year, Terry Francona needed the perfect situation to be convinced to manage again.
Pairing Francona with Cleveland provided the solution.
Francona surprised the baseball world when he accepted the managerial job with the Tribe last offseason, then he stunned everyone again by helping lead the Indians to the postseason. Francona was rewarded Tuesday night for his incredible turnaround by earning the American League Manager of the Year Award, voted on by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
"This is an organizational award," Francona said from his home in Tucson, Ariz. "I'm honored to have my name on it and I take it as an honor, but it is such a huge organizational award. That's what makes me so happy."
Francona's good friend, manager John Farrell, was thought to be the favorite for the accolade after leading the Red Sox from last place in the AL East a year ago to the division title and, ultimately, the World Series crown this season. Balloting for the award took place prior to the playoffs, however, and the one-year reversal of fortunes in Cleveland swayed more voters in Francona's direction.
Francona received 16 first-place votes and ended with 112 overall points to edge out Farrell. Boston's manager earned 12 first-place votes and finished with 96 points, while A's manager Bob Melvin finished third with two first-place votes.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle took home Manager of the Year honors in the National League, joining Francona as a first-time winner.
Francona won the World Series twice (2004 and '07) during his eight-year run at the helm in Boston and led the Red Sox to five postseason appearances.
"I'm sure John Farrell isn't sitting there thinking, 'Well, I'd trade what I did for that,'" Francona said. "Winning is the ultimate award."
Francona did not plan on celebrating his personal victory.
"The way I celebrated it was the whole year," he said. "I got to live it. That means a lot more to me than a trophy or a plaque."
Francona has piled up 1,121 wins, which ranks seventh among active managers, across 13 seasons between managerial stints with the Phillies, Red Sox and Indians. Francona's streak of nine consecutive winning seasons ranks first among active managers. Francona joins Eric Wedge (2007) as the only Indians managers to win the honor.
While operating with a ledger roughly half the size (approximately $78 million) of Farrell's payroll with the Red Sox (around $150 million), Francona helped guide the Tribe to 92 victories and the AL's top Wild Card seed this season. The Indians won 24 more games in 2013 than in '12, tying the franchise's single-season record for win improvement, excluding strike-shortened campaigns.
Since 1969, Francona is one of just nine managers to lead a team to a win improvement of at least 24 games in his first season. Also on that list is Farrell -- Francona's pitching coach in Boston from 2007-10 -- who led the Red Sox to a win jump of 27 games this season.
"I don't really think you can put it in words, what he meant to the organization," Indians veteran Jason Giambi said. "Coming in there, he brought stability and a starting block for the organization to make the turn. It was off the charts. You can't really put it into words. As soon as he walked in that clubhouse, you all of a sudden looked at the Cleveland Indians as a team that was heading in the right direction."
For the Indians, Francona's hiring marked the beginning of a new era.
After Francona was brought into the fold in October 2012, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti was able to convince top free-agents Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to sign with Cleveland as part of a drastic roster makeover. Francona took on the role of scout and recruiter, helping identify players for potential trades and talking up Cleveland to free agents.
The result was more than a dozen new players on Cleveland's Opening Day roster only one offseason removed from a 94-loss showing. The Indians weathered five losing streaks of at least five games, overcame a 4-15 record against the AL Central-champion Tigers, fought through down years from a handful of key players and pushed toward the team's first playoff berth since 2007.
The Indians won 21 games in September, including a stretch of 15 victories in the final 17 contests. Cleveland finished the regular season with 10 straight wins, becoming just the sixth team in the modern era to accomplish that feat. That improbable finish was essential, considering the Indians punched their ticket to the postseason on the final day of the season in Minnesota.
"We did it the right way," Francona said. "When we clinched in Minnesota, those hugs were real. They weren't just hugs for the minute. I couldn't wait to get to [Antonetti]."
The Indians' furious finish was a stark contrast from the way things ended for Francona in Boston.
The Red Sox suffered a historic collapse in September 2011, losing their spot on the October stage on the final day of the season.
Mike Aviles, who played for Francona with the Red Sox that season, was thrilled to see the manager experience some redemption this year.
"I love it. In all honesty, he deserves it," Aviles said. "I was there in Boston. He had to take the blame, because somebody always has to take the blame. You can't get rid of the entire team. Unfortunately, it was him. They turned things around over there and, for him, he was able to come to a different situation, a change of scenery, and able to turn things around for himself and for another organization.
"I think that speaks a tremendous amount for the person he is and what he brings to the game."
Francona worked as a television analyst during the 2012 season. He maintained that it would take the ideal situation for him to return to a managerial role. It turned out that Francona, who worked with Antonetti and Indians president Mark Shapiro in the Tribe's front office in 2001, had Cleveland in mind.
"They made me feel so at home," Francona said. "It makes my job not only easier, but it makes it a lot more fun."