The pain became too much; time for Terry Francona to get healthy – Terry Pluto


CLEVELAND, Ohio – Maybe now he can start to heal.

That’s what I was thinking when the Tribe’s Terry Francona announced he has to step down as manager for the rest of he season due to health reasons. Coach DeMarlo Hale will take over as interim manager.

You could hear the gut-churning agony in his voice as he talked about last weekend when he missed two games due to an illness.

“I was over-done,” he said. “I got sick.”

Francona rarely mentions his health, unless it’s in a press conference where he has to explain why he’s not managing. A year ago, he missed 46 games in the 60-game season due to various health issues. His plan was to get stronger and come back better in 2021.

But he was attacked by a staph infection in his big toe, leading to several surgeries. He opened spring training on crutches, and then progressed to a walking boot.

“Everything I do is hard,” he said. “It’s getting to the airport or getting to the clubhouse. You’ve seen me taking pitchers out, that’s not even easy.”

BACK TO THE HOSPITAL

Francona said he plans to have a hip replacement on Monday, something he admits he should have done a year ago.

If the hip surgery goes well, then about six weeks later he’ll have a rod put in his foot. That’s yet another surgery. And Friday, he said he’s going into Cleveland Clinic “because of my blood issues in the past” as they prepare him for Monday’s surgery.

“I went as far as I could,” said Francona.

No, he went farther than he should.

The pain became too much; time for Terry Francona to get healthy – Terry Pluto

Cleveland Indians bench coach DeMarlo Hale watches the game with Manager Terry Francona. Hale now takes over for the rest of the season. AP

HE’S BATTLED PAIN FOR DECADES

At the start of spring training, Francona said he had “nine or 10″ surgeries since the calendar turned to 2020. A few years ago, he told me about having “about 30 surgeries” since he became a first-round pick by the old Montreal Expos in 1980.

He agonized over this decision.

“Am I letting people down by staying?” Francona asked himself. “Am I being fair?”

He called it “an internal battle.” Down deep, he sensed, “I’m not physically able to do what I know needs to be done. ... I’ve got to get healthy or I can’t do this job.”

Francona is 62 and suddenly he felt 162 trying to manage the 162-game schedule.

“I desperately wanted to try to manage this year,” he said. “I got as far as I could. I don’t regret it.”

Those close to Francona know the effort it took for him to function on a job where 12- to 14-hour days are common with almost no days off from mid-February to the end of the season. Front office executives, managers, coaches and others close to the team work a massive amount of emotionally and physically draining hours.

“I’m in awe of Tito’s toughness and perseverance,” said Tribe President Chris Antonetti. “I wouldn’t have been able to make it as far as Tito has with all the things he’s been dealing with.”

HE LOVES CLEVELAND

The pain became too much; time for Terry Francona to get healthy – Terry Pluto

Special assistant coach Terry Francona poses for a studio portrait during spring training at Chain of Lakes Park in Winter Haven in 2001.AP

Francona batted .311 as a part-time player with the Tribe in 1988, his only season as a player in Cleveland. But he also came to the ballpark as a child when his dad Tito Francona was a first baseman for the Indians.

He also was a special assistant to former Tribe GM Mark Shapiro and Antonetti in 2001 after he was fired as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. He moved on to Boston, winning the World Series in 2004 and 2007. He came to the Tribe in 2013, and has had eight winning records in his eight full seasons. That also includes five trips to the playoffs and leading the team to the 2016 World Series.

He seems destined to make the Hall of Fame. That’s why the Tribe wants to find a way for Francona to recover and return in 2022. But there is a big question mark looming over that possibility.

“I know I have a long road ahead of me,” Francona admitted.

The Tribe believes it has three coaches on its staff capable of managing in the majors: Sandy Alomar, Mike Sarbaugh and Hale. But the goal is for Francona to return if possible.

“I love what I do and I love where I do it,” said Francona. “I love this place. ... I haven’t lost the love of our team or the people. If anything, I care more today than I ever did. The relationships have grown even stronger.”

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