A conversation with Terry Francona, part four
In the fourth and final part of his conversation with Indians manager Terry Francona, Pat McManamon talks with Francona about the way things ended in Boston, and the way things are beginning in Cleveland.
Q: What was life like when you weren’t in baseball?
A: It wasn’t very long. I did one thing when I got done playing that year. I went to take a real estate course. My wife started looking at me like, are you going to sit here and watch Gilligan’s Island the rest of your life? So I started to take this real estate course just trying to stay busy and that’s when Buddy called me about halfway through. He was like, hey, do you want to coach. I was like, yeah. I went to Sarasota, Fla., and the first day I was there I knew. I loved it. Those first couple years with the White Sox in the minor leagues were probably the most fun of my life.
A: I wasn’t making any money. It was fun. I probably keep in touch with those guys from the minor leagues more than guys from the big leagues. You’re with them so much. They’re away from home sometimes for the first time. You’re with them all the time.
Q: You’re all just kind of thrown together …
A: It’s great. It’s great. You get close.
Q: It seems like your approach is going to be great in Cleveland. You’re direct. If you’re asked a question you won’t shy away from it. If you can’t answer it you’ll say you can’t.
A: Yeah. If I can’t I’ll try to be honest.
Q: That’s why I asked if you feel a little bit part of Cleveland.
A: I feel a lot a bit part of Cleveland. I want to.
Q: Did you feel that even before you were hired though.
A: Yeah, if there’s any place there’s a family feel it’s Cleveland. And I think I came here for the right reasons. I probably could have gotten more money somewhere else. I didn’t really care. I told Chris (Antonetti) when I interviewed what was important to me and that was having some years on my contract because I want to be part of the solution. I don’t want to come in and be a quick fix and leave. I didn’t want to go anywhere.
Q: So when it comes out that you have an out in your contract if Chris or Mark (Shapiro) leave …
A: It’s because of them. It’s because of the relationship.
Q: But if people ask are you committed to Cleveland or are you committed to the management …
A: Well, I’m committed to them. To be honest with you, they’re the reason I’m here. But I don’t want to leave anywhere. I don’t want them to go and I don’t want to go. I’m not looking for an out for more money. Because of my relationship with them, that’s why I’m here.
Q: So if they left you would take a step back and evaluate?
A: Yeah … I don’t anticipate that. That’s the business side of the game that’s not a lot of fun, but when you’re going through it you have to pay attention to it. The minute I signed that contract I never thought about it again.
Q: Did it hurt you the way things were portrayed at the end in Boston?
A: A little bit.
Q: I would think a lot, especially because it was anonymous …
A: Yeah. It was so … the way it ended. First of all when it ends it’s hard. It was hard when I left Philadelphia when I was fired. I spent eight years in Boston and when it comes to an end it’s hard to understand. And I didn’t even really get that chance. All of a sudden two days later you’re defending things, some that are true, some that aren’t true, some that are exaggerated. Regardless, it was still very public and it was hard. And somebody went out of their way to hurt me.
Q: Anonymously, too.
A: Yeah. It was tough. Real tough.
Q: Are you angry about it still?
A: I don’t think I’ll ever change my opinion on what happened, but I don’t wake up angry either. I just did this book, so it’s all coming back. But it wasn’t like it was written yesterday. It was written last year and now it’s just coming out, but no, I don’t wake up thinking about it. I don’t think that’s healthy either. But I probably won’t change my mind on the fact that I thought it was wrong.
Q: In that sense, did the year away help rejuvenate you?
A: Yes, very much so. I probably needed the year to recharge. I got pretty beat up and it was good for me to miss the game. Ifeel like I’m in a better position to do my job correctly.
Q: Is Boston as tough a …
A: At the end there … part of it was my fault. Things were starting to bother me there and wear on me that hadn’t in the past. And that was my fault. Again, as a manager you’re supposed to handle what’s thrown at you. Things were starting to eat at me a little bit. So I think my shelf life there was kind of coming to an end.
Q: That happens, right?
A: It does. And that’s not anybody else’s fault. That’s on me.
Q: Is the media there as tough as some make it seem?
A: There’s a lot of passion, there’s a lot of interest. I actually thought I had a great relationship with the media. I think it gets misrepresented because there was a really bad article written at the end of the year. That wasn’t how my experience was up there.
Q: Eight years, two World Series, you go through what you go through every day just to be able to get up and be an active coach and then at the end it ends like that.
A: It didn’t end the way I wanted it to. At the same time, the way we played in September, when you’re the manager you’re wide open for criticism. I get that. I thought I stood up and was accountable and then I was ready to move on and I wasn’t allowed to. All of a sudden I had to start defending stuff. And that was hurtful, sure.
Q: What about your family during that time?
A: Well the good part of it is they’re grown and the youngest one is a freshman in college so they were at an age when we were going through this they were out of the house.
Q: Where are they now?
A: One’s in Texas, one’s in Washington, D.C, one’s at the Naval Academy and one’s working at Boston College. And my wife and I are finishing the end of a divorce, going through divorce. We tried drastically to keep the kids so they could be kids. Regardless of what we were going through, we both agreed that we would try to protect them.
Q: Are things amicable?
A: Oh yeah. But we tried really hard. So I was disappointed that was in the article because we had tried really hard, both of us, to shield them. That’s not their fault.
Q: And all of a sudden they get dragged into a public thing.
A: Right. Being a kid is hard enough.
Q: How old are your kids now?
A: Nick’s 27, Alyssa is 25 and she works at BC. Leah is 23 and she lives in San Antonio. Jamie is 18; she’s at the Naval Academy.
Q: Is there a major point that you would like to get across to the city and to the fans.
A: Basically I will spend all my energy trying to make this team something that they will be proud of. I can’t guarantee how many games we’re going to win. I don’t know. I really don’t know. But I’ll spend all my energy trying to put us in the best position. And it’s not just me. It’s a we thing. Hopefully I’ll never say my team. That’s one of my pet peeves, like talking about yourself in the third person. This isn’t my team. This is our team. These are our players. That’s how I feel.
Q: Do you get a sense of the frustration, not just about the Indians but about all sports in general in this town?
A: Oh sure, sure. I’m not glad they’re frustrated, but I feel the passion.
Q: You know the list of events, right?
A: Yeah, but if it gets going … I’ve seen this place when it’s electric. That would be kind of fun to be part of that. I’m not afraid of this challenge.
Q: And you don’t believe that salary level can impede that.
A: I hope it doesn’t. I chose to come here. I understand what’s involved and what it entails. I’m not arrogant enough to think that there’s not going to be challenges, but I’m new enough and have enough energy to want to tackle those challenges.
Q: Can you think of one anecdote of handling a player in Boston or wherever that illustrates your approach?
A: That’s probably the one thing I don’t have a lot of. I don’t have a lot things on the wall, the sayings, the cliches. I just try to always do the right thing. I always try to put the players and the organization ahead of me. I always figured if I did that, when I was an A ball manager, I always thought if I do that my situation will be just fine. Well I look up years later and I’ve been a major league manager, and I still am. And I think it’s a good way to do it.