On Wednesday, the Cleveland Indians play in the wild card playoff game. Before that happens, I want to throw a few kudos at Tribe manager Terry Francona.
I’ve been tremendously impressed by Francona this year, and not just because he managed the team to the post-season. When you hear him interviewed he gives thoughtful answers, rather than the mindless twaddle that tends to come from the mouths of every other coach in professional sports. He’s amazingly humble and quick to give credit to others, both players and team management. He never seems to rip his players, or get too excited or too depressed about the team’s last game or series. He’s got just about the perfect temperament for a high-profile job that requires a unique basket of skills.
I can’t speak to Francona’s managing abilities from a technical standpoint. I don’t know whether he pinch-hits at the optimum times, or calls for the hit-and-run when it’s warranted, or positions his fielders properly — although the Indians’ unexpected success this season suggests to me that Francona has a pretty good head for inside baseball. What impresses me more is his interpersonal skills. He seems to be an uncommonly shrewd judge of people, and particularly how to motivate them and raise their spirits. He has taken a bunch of players that no one else wanted and welded them into a unit that improbably won 92 games, including its last 10 games of the year. He stuck with players like Jason Giambi when fans were calling for their heads — and they ultimately delivered. He and his coaching staff have made a pitching staff of cast-offs and retreads into an extremely strong unit that really carried the team to the playoffs.
Too often in professional sports, coaches and managers are judged on their last game, and if their team loses the season is viewed as a failure. That’s not fair, and I hope that doesn’t happen to Francona. He has done a fantastic job in the manager’s seat this year, and I hope every Tribe fans recognizes that — no matter what happens in the playoffs — Cleveland is lucky to have him.