Francona’s return to managing became official on Monday, and the former Red Sox skipper and current ESPN analyst couldn’t be more thrilled about becoming the Indians’ 42nd manager. Initially, there were some baseball fans and analysts who thought Francona might look elsewhere when considering a return to the dugout because of Cleveland’s ongoing rebuilding process, but the two-time World Series champion is ready to start building something special.
“I know we have challenges ahead of us but I look forward to us tackling these challenges as a unit, as a ‘we’. I’m genuinely excited to do that,” Francona told reporters Monday.
The Indians are coming off a season in which they went 68-94, which placed them fourth in the American League Central, 20 games behind the first-place Tigers. In other words, it’s going to be a much different challenge than the one Francona faced in Boston. The Tribe will feature a more up-and-coming unit rather than a star-studded squad like the ones Francona was accustomed to managing while with the Sox.
“This is a clean slate for everybody,” Francona said. “Dealing with players is fun. Dealing with young players is really fun.”
Francona’s deal with the Indians is for four years, which the 53-year-old is excited about, because it means he won’t be just a “rental manager.”
Francona’s arrival in Cleveland isn’t without ties. His father, Tito, once played for the organization, which makes the hiring even more special. In fact, Francona said he cried upon breaking the news to his father.
Indians president Mark Shapiro and general manager Chris Antonetti have also been a part of Francona’s life through the years, which is something the new manager also considers to be important.
Now it’s time for Francona to get down to work. With teams like the Athletics and Orioles suddenly emerging as contenders this season despite low expectations, perhaps a turnaround in Cleveland could come sooner rather than later. Regardless of the win-loss record in Year 1, though, Francona is ready to lead a culture change.
“We’re going to compete,” Francona said. “We’re always going to compete. We may not win every game, but we won’t back down from anyone.”
At this point, that’s a big step in the right direction.