BY JUSTIN LADA
INDIANS BEAT WRITER
While you certainly won’t mistake him for Harry Potter, (other maybe than his glasses), Terry Francona knows a thing or two about reversing curses.
He helped knock out the ‘Curse of the Bambino’. Can he take on ‘The Curse of The Catch’?
The Indians and Francona have reportedly agreed to terms on a four year contract that would make him the 42nd skipper in franchise history.
Francona won World Series titles with the Boston Red Sox in 2004, a team that came back from an 0-3 deficit in the ALCS to the Yankees and then again in 2007, beating the Indians in the ALCS and moved on to sweep the Colorado Rockies.
Things got rocky for the Red Sox, who underwent a front office change and Francona found himself at ESPN as an analyst this season, while Bobby Valentine failed to control the mess that got Francona fired last season, losing his job this week too.
After the Indians front office felt like 2012 would be a window where they could contend for a playoff spot, the roster’s flaws ended up showing, leading to Manny Acta’s firing with 6 games left, with his fate maybe being decided by a 5-24 record in August.
Perhaps feeling the heat, the Indians had two candidates in mind for the open job; Francona or hometown favorite and former Indians all-star catcher, Sandy Alomar. The Indians went 3-3 in Sandy’s six games as the interim manager and was given an interview for the job on Thursday, a day after the season ended.
Alomar originally looked to be the favorite, and there were some strong arguments. He’s highly regarded around baseball and could still land a managerial job this offseason. He knows the system, had the respect of all the players, and logically would have been a great fit. He would have fit the recent mold of hiring new, young managers without having previous managerial experience, as the Cardinals hired Mike Matheny, who got them to the playoffs. Also Robin Ventura, who saw his Chicago White Sox collapse from 1st place in the AL Central in his first season as a manager.
However, Francona had a past relationship with Indians VP Mark Shapiro and GM Chris Antonetti. After being fired from the Phillies, Francona was an advisor to Shapiro, who was the GM at the time. Francona listed his relationship with the two Indians figure heads as the main factor and why it was “Cleveland or back here (ESPN)”, about taking the job.
Francona’s two World Series rings carry a lot of clout and obvious credibility. He is one of the most respected baseball minds in the league and isn’t all that different from Acta, he is a players manager and has a passive style. But, can he win with half the payroll that he had to work with in Boston?
In 2007, the Indians opened the season with a $61 million payroll in their last playoff season. That year the Red Sox opening day payroll was $143 million. In 2004, when the Red Sox won their first world series since the ‘curse of the bambino’ the Indians payroll was $34 million. Boston’s: $127 million.
That remains to be the biggest question on Francona’s credibility. In 1997, his first as a manager with the Phillies, he went 77-85, his best record with the club in his four seasons at the helm, with a payroll is $34 million. Obviously times have changed since then, but Francona can manage talent, he had it in Boston. It remains to be seen if the Indians will find a more talented set of left fielders than Johnny Damon, Shelly Duncan, Russ Canzler and Vinny Rottino.
Many people were excited about the chance to have Alomar manage the group in his final six games, and there would have been a lot of excitement about him taking over the job. Since coming back on Acta’s staff, Alomar has always received loud ovations from the fans when announced as well as a lot of credit for the work he has done here. It’s possible his staff might have included a few former 90s Indians favorites as well.
However, this seems like the right call. The Indians went outside the organization for a new voice, bringing in someone with a proven track record, ridiculous payroll or not, he has two championships, the Indians haven’t had one in 64 years. They haven’t been to the World Series in 15 years. They’ve’ made the playoffs once in the last 10 years. While Alomar was a part of all those successful Indians teams that were perennial title contenders, it was time for the Indians to break away a bit from relying on the 90s to appease fans. A new era must begin, and after six seasons without success on this ‘new plan’ or whatever it was, the Indians must change the course and find success another way, and Francona could be the right person for that.
There are a lot of things the Indians need to repair. Their starting pitching was among the worst in the league and they allowed the most unearned runs in the American league this season.
They also need to repair their relationship with their fan base. They only drew 1.3 million fans this season and even had bad crowds early in the season when the team was in 1st place. Alomar was offered a job on staff, and the Indians as well as Francona want him to stay, but he could interview in Boston or Miami, should Ozzie Guillen lose his job like it is being speculated. It would be the best of both worlds if Alomar stayed, but given the timing of their announcement, this might have been in the works for a while and the Indians minds may have been made up.
After the worst month in franchise history and one of the most disappointing seasons in a decade filled with them, it’s time to start a new era. The Indians hope Francona can make that era, one not associated with the terms ‘curse’ of ‘Mistake by the lake.’