A conversation with Terry Francona, Part 1

FOX Sports Ohio writer Pat McManamon sat down with new Indians manager Terry Francona prior to the season for a profile he was writing on Francona for Cleveland Magazine. In the interview, Francona talked about many elements of his life and career that have made him the manager, and man, he is today. To mark the opening of the major league season, Fox Sports Ohio presents this interview in four parts, starting today.

In the first part, McManamon talks with Francona about his love affair with baseball and the lessons taught him by his father Tito, who played for the Indians in the early ‘60s.

Question: What is it that you love about baseball?

Answer: Everything about it. I get asked the question all the time, if I wasn’t in baseball what would I want to do? I’d be missing baseball. This is all I’ve ever done. I’ve had different jobs. I’ve been a coach, I’ve been a manager, I’ve been a player. I just like being a part of baseball. I don’t envision being a manager until I grow old, but I know I’ll want to stay in the game.

Q: Is it the history of the game, the rhythm of the game?

A: It’s all I’ve ever known. I like it. I actually love it. I grew up with it. I never wanted to do anything else. I’m 53 and I still don’t. I still feel the same way.

Q: You went to the ballpark with your Dad when you were growing up, and you said you had to behave to be able to go. He said today there was one time he left you home.

A: Once.

Q: You remember what you did?

A: No. But I remember he kept his word. He didn’t let me go. I think it hurt him as much as it hurt me. In the four years when I was old enough to go to the ballpark, one time I wasn’t allowed to go.

Q: What ages were you going?

A: Seven, eight, nine, 10, 11. He knew I was old enough where he could do his stuff. He could leave me and he knew I was OK.

Q: He also said he never taught you baseball either.

A: No. But he knew I watched. He did a good job of being a Dad and not a coach, and it worked. I certainly have a lot of my views of baseball because of him, but he knew I kept my eyes open and was watching.

Q: What views?

A: I think enjoy playing the game correctly. Respecting the game. Things like that. I always watched how he did it. There’s a difference between just having fun and being silly, or enjoying just trying to be better than somebody else.

Q: What does respecting the game mean?

A: Trying to play the game right. Caring about playing the game right. Running balls out. Showing up on time. Competing correctly.

Q: Is it more challenging to get guys to do that nowadays?

A: No. I actually think it’s probably turned the other way. I think the younger players who come up to the big leagues now are really … it’s probably cyclical but I think our game is in great shape. The younger players are terrific.

Q: Anything else jump out at you about what your Dad either influenced you or taught you?

A: Everything. He taught me everything. I always wanted to hit like him. I think our styles were similar, he was just much better than me.

Q: How about as a man?

A: He’ll always be the person I look up to more than anything. That’ll never change. Just the way he carried himself. He grew up in a major league clubhouse. I grew up in a major league clubhouse. And I don’t remember ever hearing my Dad curse. It was something I always respected. I don’t care if he did. I do all the time. He just never did it in front of me, or my Mom. And I always thought that was pretty cool.

Q: What makes a good manager?

A: I think you have to have the ability to connect with everybody. If you have a reputation for dealing with the younger guys or veteran guys, that doesn’t work. I think you have to have the ability to connect with everybody. And I like it. That’s the fun part of the job for me, is being with the guys.

Q: I would imagine connecting with everybody means you treat everybody different?

A: Or treat everybody special. I get asked all the time how you’re going to handle the two … whatever … superstars. I think when they walk through our doors they deserve the right to be treated special. I don’t care how much you play. That’s just the way I’ve always tried to do it and I think it works.

Q: There is a belief that the more a guy produces the more he gets away with.

A: There’s a time when if you’re being a pain in the neck, if it outweighs your production, then it’s time to do something. But we’re not putting together a Cub Scout troop. But saying that, you get guys who care about winning it doesn’t mean they have to be perfect people. If they care about winning then we’re going in the right direction.

Q: When a guy like Chris Perez gains national attention for things he says because he cares about winning, is that the kind of thing you’re OK with or would it warrant your attention?

A: Well, I wasn’t here. So the last thing I’d do is hold something against somebody if they did something when I wasn’t here. But there’s probably a proper way to do something. If I was here I don’t know how I’d handle it because I didn’t know Chris. Once I know somebody I’ll have a better feel for how to handle it because you know people and you know what’s important to them and things like that.

Q: Is there a big difference between what makes a good man and a good manager? Do the same qualities that apply to you as a person apply to you as a manager?

A: You know what, I don’t know. I’m not really sure. I know how I feel about the game of baseball. And I know how I feel about the people in it. I know what I think works. And whether we’re winning or losing I’ll always try to be the same, and be consistent. I think part of my job is to deflect stuff for the players and make it easier for them to play. Not make excuses for them, but put them in position where they can succeed.

Q: Are you a believer in the ‘moneyball stuff.’ The stats, the numbers.

A: Moneyball is more a concept. With Oakland it was doing more with less. The sabermetrics, they were trying to get guys that could get on base. Then once that caught on they were trying to get guys who maybe had run into a little bit of trouble. Then they were trying to go off the injured guys. They’re always trying to find a way to find players that other teams aren’t looking for. That’s basically what it was.

Q: Are you big on sabermetrics?

A: It’s one way of learning about players. I like to think I’m big in everything. I want to have an answer for doing stuff, whether it’s video, numbers, knowing a player, I think it’s my responsibility to have a reason for doing stuff.

Tomorrow: Francona talks about the 2007 American League Championship Series when he managed the Red Sox against the Indians.

To read Pat McManamon’s profile of Terry Francona, go here to the Cleveland Magazine web site.