CLEVELAND -- At the end of last season, Guardians manager Terry Francona sat down with the media alongside president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff, explaining that he was returning to manage for as long as it made sense for him, health-wise. Little did anyone know at the time that it would mean just one more year.
Over the last month, Francona has hinted at retirement, and on Tuesday he announced that he'd be stepping down as Guardians manager. But he will not use the word “retired.” He doesn’t foresee managing in his future again, but he’s leaving the door open to stay involved in baseball in some capacity after he gets himself healthy again. Antonetti said Francona will transition into a new role with the club, but they haven't discussed what that will be yet.
“I never was real concerned about the word ‘retire’ because I guess when you say ‘retire,’ it’s like you’re going home and not doing anything,” Francona said. “I know I need to go home and get healthy and see what I miss about our game. And then maybe after some time, see the best way to maybe quench that appetite, whatever it is.
“I don’t foresee managing. Again, I don’t have a crystal ball. Nobody does. Because if I was gonna manage, I like doing it here. But I also don’t want to just turn away from the game.”
The 64-year-old skipper has had a legendary 23-year managerial career, spanning three big league teams.
Francona wanted to avoid the spotlight by putting off his official announcement for as long as he could. But he’s said numerous times that he doesn’t feel like he’s able to do the job at the level it should be done anymore, which is unsettling for him.
He’s dealt with medical nightmares over the last few years, getting sidelined for 46 of the 60 games in the shortened 2020 season due to stomach and blood clot issues that landed him in the ICU. In 2021, he missed 63 more games for hip replacement surgery and a procedure on his staph-infected toe. And we can’t forget about the other blood clotting issues or the heart problems he had earlier in his managerial career. This offseason, he needs to have his right shoulder replaced and he’ll have operations on two hernias.
“It’s like every winter, I’m trying to get healthy for the season and then I get beat up,” Francona said. “I need to go get healthy for life. This lifestyle is just too difficult.”
Francona did as much for Cleveland as the organization could’ve asked for. In his first season with the team in 2013, he led the club to 92 victories, 24 more than it had the year prior. That marked the largest year-to-year improvement Cleveland had ever seen and led to his first AL Manager of the Year Award. His second came in 2016, when he guided his team to Game 7 of the World Series before falling just short of Cleveland’s first title since 1948. In ’22, he earned his third Manager of the Year honor when baseball’s youngest roster unexpectedly clinched a playoff berth.
Francona was the longest-tenured manager in Cleveland history. His 921 wins are the most of any skipper in the franchise’s 123 years of existence. And of the 1,678 games he’s managed for the Indians/Guardians, he’s only been eliminated from postseason contention in 25 of them. Seven of those came at the end of this season.
The skipper has built quite a résumé in Cleveland, but it’s only half of his story.
Francona grew up in baseball, following his beloved father, Tito Francona, around the game as a child. He was a first-round Draft pick of the Montreal Expos in 1980 and played in parts of 10 seasons for five different teams.
Francona began managing in 1997 with the Phillies after spending the ’96 season as a coach under Buddy Bell with Detroit and the handful of years before that as a Minor League skipper. At the time he took the helm in Philadelphia (on Oct. 30, 1996), he was the youngest manager in MLB at 37 years old. He went 285-363 in four seasons with the Phillies before becoming a special assistant to baseball operations in Cleveland under Mark Shapiro and Antonetti in 2001, and then a bench coach for Texas and Oakland in ’02 and ’03, respectively.
In 2004, Francona moved to Boston, where he ended the Curse of the Bambino in his first season, leading the Red Sox to their first world championship since 1918. In eight years with the Red Sox, he added another World Series ring and made a total of five playoff appearances. And just like his time in Cleveland, he battled through health hiccups all along the way.
This will be the last year Francona adds to his managerial profile on the field, but that doesn’t mean he’s done earning accolades. While he’d rather avoid the spotlight -- though he’s grateful for every honor he receives -- anyone who’s worked with him or around him will say he’s on the fast track to the Hall of Fame.
He led a team to at least 90 wins 12 times in his career, which was the most among active managers. He posted 16 consecutive winning seasons from 2004-20, a streak that was snapped by an 80-82 mark in ’21, when he was on the sidelines recovering from surgeries. It was the longest stretch by any skipper since Sparky Anderson had 17 straight winning seasons from 1972-88.
Francona participated in postseason play 11 times (six with Cleveland) and owns a .564 winning percentage in those games (44-34), which ranks as the eighth best in MLB history (minimum of 40 games managed). And he’s one of just 18 managers in MLB history who have led two or more teams to a World Series.
Francona’s managerial career may be at its end, but the imprint he’s leaving on the game -- especially Cleveland -- will last forever, which is why the organization wants to make sure he remains involved.
“I mean, the first press conference [when a manager is hired] everybody hugs, you get a uniform,” Francona said. “There’s not many times you’re gonna hug after the second one. It’s a little bit different. And it’s not a bad thing at all. It’s great.”