How Long Will Francona Be Indians’ Manager?

Monday night, for the second time this year, Indians manager Terry Francona had to leave a game at Progressive Field.

On June 13, as the Indians were hosting the Dodgers, he was taken from the dugout to the Cleveland Clinic for an elevated heart rate and dizziness. The diagnosis was dehydration, and he was back in the dugout the next day. He demonstrated similar symptoms Monday, and was told by doctors to stay home for Tuesday’s game against the Rangers. Francona was in good spirits, even joking that he was being tested for an allergy to bench coach Brad Mills.

But there’s a serious question in all of this: How much longer can Francona be expected to manage the Indians – or any other major league team? How much longer will he want to?

Francona is 58, which isn’t particularly old for a baseball manager. Jim Leyland managed until he was 70, and Jack McKeon won a World Series with the Marlins at the age of 72 (he finally retired at 75, and did a stint as an interim manager in Florida at the age of 80 – the second-oldest manager in major league history, after Connie Mack).

But as Indiana Jones said, it isn’t the years; it’s the mileage.

Francona had a tremendous college career at the University of Arizona, enough for the Expos to use a first-round draft pick on him in 1980. But 46 games in his rookie season in 1982, he tore his right anterior cruciate ligament after running into a wall at Busch Stadium. Two years later – nearly to the day – he injured his left knee, derailing a promising playing career and indirectly leading him into his second act in baseball as a coach and manager.

He served as a coach for the Detroit Tigers in 1996, when they lost a team-record 109 games, and then spent three years – none good – as Phillies manager. In 2001, he served as a special assistant to the Indians, the next year had both his knees scoped. There were complications, and at one point, amputation appeared to be a real possibility for Francona. He also had an embolism in each lung, requiring the use of blood thinners for the rest of his life.

But Francona recovered and in 2004, he was hired on as manager of the Red Sox, after Grady Little got cut loose following what was then becoming an annual postseason meltdown at the hands of the Yankees. He then went out and led Boston to its first World Series victory since World War I. Three years later, the Red Sox won another World Series – after dispatching the Indians in the American League Championship Series. That victory came a year after Francona had his right knee replaced.

After the 2008 season, Francona had back surgery. Three years later, he had his left knee replaced. After last season, Francona had hip replacement surgery.

In the four years Francona has been manager, the Indians haven’t had a losing season (and in the team’s history, that’s more of an accomplishment than most fans probably want to admit). The worst thing that can be said about Francona’s tenure is that he hasn’t won a World Series. Absent a complete collapse by the team and an abject loss of control in the locker room, Francona’s got this job as long as he wants it. But how long will that be?

You have to go back to 50 years to find an Indians manager who left the team of his own volition. That was Birdie Tebbetts, who resigned during the 1966 season. Tebbetts had recovered from a heart attack in spring training in 1964 to manage the team for another two years.

How much more can reasonably be expected of Francona?

Photo: AP Photo/Mark Duncan

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