CLEVELAND — Terry Francona proved that he could work a room. Now, it’s time to see if the two-time world champion manager can work his magic with the Indians.
Francona was humorous, honest, engaging and all-around entertaining Monday during a news conference at Progressive Field to officially announce him as Cleveland’s next manager.
The news conference, which was attended by Francona’s stepmother and his famous father Tito, opened with a glowing description of Francona from longtime friend and general manager Chris Antonetti.
“After that introduction, I don’t think I got enough money,” joked Francona, who agreed to a four-year contract, with financial terms not disclosed.
With his credentials, Francona, who won the job over an inexperienced Sandy Alomar Jr., was expected to command a hefty salary. He could have waited to see what his options were after the postseason, but the allure of working again with Antonetti and team president Mark Shapiro, was too enticing, according to Francona.
“There’s two main reasons I’m here today — Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro,” said Francona, who spent a year in Cleveland’s front office as special assistant to baseball operations in 2001 and has maintained a friendship with the duo. “I value not only their friendship but their guidance and their leadership. I know we have challenges ahead of us, but I look forward to tackling these together. I’m genuinely excited to do that. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here rejoining the Cleveland Indians family.
“It wasn’t a priority for me being the highest paid manager. I was happy that they gave me four years. I don’t want to be a rental manager. I want to be part of the solution, so I want to stick around. I didn’t come here to go to pasture.”
Francona, 53, joked that contract negotiations took around 10 minutes and that he did not require a commitment from ownership to spend more, something many expected to be a stipulation for the veteran manager.
“I didn’t ask for that,” he said. “We’re going to work together and figure out how to tackle challenges. I don’t need to be the general manager nor the owner. I’m perfectly content being the manager. I don’t know what the payroll is.
“I think having a big budget allows you to maybe cover up some of your mistakes, so you have to limit your mistakes.”
Like Alomar Jr., Francona’s ties to Cleveland are strong. In addition to his front office stint, Francona played one of his nine major league seasons with the Indians in 1988. And his father Tito is an Indians legend, part of the “100 Greatest Indians” roster after a six-year stint in Cleveland from 1959-64.
“I kind of cried a little bit,” Francona said when he told his father he would be the next Indians manager. “I didn’t want to. It just happened. You can’t take a job because your dad was a good Indian, but it’s still a good story. My dad spent six years here. This is my third stint with the Indians and it’s pretty special. So, it was a little emotional.”
“I was with nine teams in 15 years but it was always Cleveland that was my home team,” Tito Francona said. “My roots were really with Cleveland. Terry has a good rapport with his players and people and they’re really going to enjoy him here.”
Francona, who after being dismissed following an eight-year stint in Boston spent this year as an analyst for ESPN, didn’t talk much player personnel.
“I think that’s putting the cart a little bit ahead of the horse,” he said. “I’m getting up to speed in a hurry. I probably need to do more listening in the next few weeks and learning about our players and what their about.
“We don’t know what the team is going to exactly look like next year, but the core of young position players, there’s some guys there that are exciting.”
When pressed on how close he thought the Indians were to competing in the Central Division, Francona had a quick response.
“Competing?” he asked. “About two minutes (away). We’re gonna compete. We’ll always compete. We may not win every game but we won’t back down from anybody.”
Francona’s success working with young players in Philadelphia and Boston appears to fit well with the Indians’ youth-laden roster.
“Obviously Terry’s had a lot of public success with teams and what they accomplished,” Antonetti said. “How those teams have gone about accomplishing those things have been important to us, specifically how he’s been able to take some of those talented guys from the minor leagues and helped them transition into in some cases major league stars and in other cases good major league players.
“It’s the total package with Terry that attracted us to him.”
Francona would not discuss his coaching staff candidates, but Alomar Jr. has already been offered a spot as bench coach. Alomar Jr. is expected to interview for potential managerial openings this offseason.