Francona takes leave due to health reasons

Bench coach DeMarlo Hale to take over as acting manager

July 30th, 2021

CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona has been having an internal battle, wondering if he was doing the right thing by trying to manage through his health issues or if he’s been hindering his team in the process. It’s a conflict that he officially put to an end on Thursday night, when he announced that he’d be stepping away from the team for the rest of the 2021 season.

“It’s not just been hard physically, it’s been really hard mentally,” Francona said. “I think the coaches knew that it had been weighing on me for a while. Man, it’s difficult. A big reason why it’s difficult is because I love what I do and I love where I do it. I love this place. When people talk about our organization, I want them to talk with pride, because that’s how I feel. I don’t want that to ever change.”

Francona’s future in baseball is still undetermined. What he needs to determine now is whether he’ll be healthy enough to even consider coming back to the game in 2022, which he hopes is the case. The 62-year-old underwent nearly a dozen procedures from the end of the '19 season until the delayed start of the '20 season for stomach problems. He then found himself in the ICU at the Cleveland Clinic last August due to blood clots. And just as he was getting healthy over the offseason, a staph infection was discovered in his foot and he needed surgery to remove part of the bone in his big toe.

Despite everything he had been through, Francona reported to Spring Training on time in February with crutches, a boot and a PICC line in his arm to receive daily IV treatments. At this point, he’s down to just a boot (well, many boots, considering he’s said it’s been impossible to keep them in one piece throughout the season), but he knew that postseason surgery would be a must; he was just hoping that surgery could be prolonged. Instead, time caught up with him.

“I actually really, desperately wanted to try to manage this year,” Francona said. “And I just got as far as I could. No, I don't regret it. The organization has been so good to me. And it was important that I try. I honestly gave it my best shot. It's not a great feeling not being there for people. But I didn't feel like I was there as much as I needed to be anyway, and I didn't feel good about that, either.”

Francona will get admitted into the Clinic on Friday to give him three days to get prepped for surgery to have his left hip replaced on Monday. Doctors want to be extremely careful with him after he ran into clotting issues just one year ago. He’ll likely have five or six weeks to recover from that before he will undergo another surgery to have a rod placed in his foot because of the staph infection, which will require 10 weeks of keeping all weight off his leg before he moves into a boot, aided by crutches.

“Everything I do is hard,” Francona said, “whether it’s getting to the airport or getting to the clubhouse. You’ve seen me taking pitchers out, that’s not even easy. It’s just -- It doesn’t make it very enjoyable and I miss that. It’s not like during the season I have a whole lot of life anyway, because I love being at the ballpark, but all I do is go to the ballpark and then come home and get off my feet and lay in bed. And I gotta give myself a chance to have a little bit of a life.”

“I am in awe of Tito's toughness and perseverance,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “I know if it was me, I wouldn't have been able to make it as far as Tito has with all the things he's been dealing with. So I care for him. I obviously see Tito every day and I know the pain and discomfort he's in. We talked about it a lot but in the end, I was going always leave that decision to Tito, and he would be the one to do it on his terms and on his time.”

So now that Francona is officially focusing on his health for the rest of the season, bench coach DeMarlo Hale will take over as acting manager. Last year, first-base and catching coach Sandy Alomar Jr. filled this role due to the fact that the club did not have a bench coach since Brad Mills had opted out of the season to be home with his family. With Hale here, he’ll slide in as Francona’s replacement, moving third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh to serve as the bench coach and outfield coach Kyle Hudson now coaching third.

Francona informed the coaching staff on Thursday night what was about to transpire. He wanted to fly to Chicago quickly to tell his players in person that he was going to have to step away, but doctors insisted he stay home and get into the hospital immediately to get ready for his surgery. But because his hip surgery shouldn’t be too invasive, he’s hoping to be able to be around Progressive Field for the next few weeks during his recovery. However, he said he’ll be sure to not get in the way of the coaching staff.

“Truth be told, they’ve been kind of carrying me for a while now,” Francona said. “I mean, they’ve done their work and some of mine and that’s not fair. But they are really good at what they do and I wanted to make sure they understood that. They don’t need me to micromanage. If I can help, I will. But they’re good at what they do.”

Francona isn’t sure what this means for his future, though he’s hoping he’ll be able to get back in the dugout eventually. For now, he’ll continue to live by his managerial style: Focusing on one day at a time.

“This isn’t the greatest day, by any means, but I do feel like I’m taking a big step toward getting healthy and I know I have a long road ahead of me,” Francona said, “but for me to be able to do the job and do it how I would want and to get some satisfaction and some enjoyment out of it, I have to get healthy or there really wasn’t a decision.”