Francona talks leadership, family, history in Q&A
New Indians manager excited for his first regular season at the helm in Cleveland
Terry Francona spent a year away from a manager's chair, but in October, he became the 42nd manager in the history of the Cleveland Indians. After helping to guide the Red Sox to two World Series titles, Francona hopes to help the Tribe reach the postseason again. Francona sat down with MLB.com on a recent spring morning to talk about the preseason and the season ahead.
MLB.com: You've said since you took the job that you knew right away you made the right decision. Now that you've been back in uniform, and reunited with general manager Chris Antonetti and president Mark Shapiro for an entire offseason and Spring Training, how much has that feeling been reinforced?
W: Masterson L: Dickey SV: Perez
Francona: You know what? You know how sometimes you build things up in your mind and there's no way it can be that good? This has been better. Being realistic, nobody knows what our record is going to be. If we struggle, I think two things. One, going through it with these people that I really care and respect will be helpful. Two, we'll figure it out. That's kind of a good feeling.
MLB.com: What has been your overall impression of this team after watching them day in and day out this spring, both in the clubhouse and on the field?
Francona: They're very cooperative, which is always appreciated. I feel like we've gotten a lot of work done and we haven't had to do a lot of prodding. Some of that is from Brad Mills running the camp really well. He's organized. That helps me a ton, too. The more the coaches know their stuff, the more I can be myself. It allows me to go out and do some things. A lot of that is because Millsy and Sandy [Alomar] are good at what they do. That has allowed me to relax a little bit.
MLB.com: Along those lines, it seems clear that you have been pleased with how this new coaching staff has come together?
Francona: I'm happy with our staff. We spent a lot of time trying to put together a really good staff, because I believe you've got to have coaches who can coach. I think we did a good job.
MLB.com: Last year, some of the veteran guys viewed as possible leaders were injured throughout the year, leaving a lot of the young guys forced into leadership roles before they were maybe ready for that. From what you've seen this spring, do you see the makings of some clubhouse leaders who can help this team better weather the storms that arise throughout a regular season?
Francona: Yeah. Michael Brantley and I talked about that. He said, "I was kind of forced into that role." He was kind of saying that he wasn't sure if he belonged doing that yet. We have guys in there now that should care about each other enough to want to do the right thing, and there are some personalities in there that, yeah, will definitely be able to do that. You can name a lot of names that are leader-type guys, which is good. And the younger guys will definitely be better for that experience.
MLB.com: Your brand of leadership seems to be a blend of being one of the guys, but knowing when and how to be their boss. How do you strike that balance?
Francona: As long as they're doing what they're supposed to do, there are no issues. I don't ever want to pretend that I don't like those guys. I do. I enjoy them. At the same time, they know they have a job to do. So as long as they do it, there are no issues. And if they don't, I'll tell them. It's really not that tough.
MLB.com: So, as long as they do their job right, you don't mind dressing in a baby costume for a Harlem Shake video?
Francona: [Laughing] When they're doing their best, there's no reason to not to have fun. I want them to enjoy doing the right thing. That's basically the whole idea.
MLB.com: A lot of that goes back to the fact that you grew up in baseball clubhouses and around the game. Beyond just being in that environment as a kid, what lessons did you learn along the way from your dad, Tito?
Francona: Baseball was probably a little different back then. It was more stern, especially with leadership. I just know I was fortunate, because my dad always made it fun to play. I didn't ever feel like I had to play. When he'd stop hitting balls to me, I'd be like, "Come on, dad. Give me a couple more." Like in high school, I never wanted practice to be over. That's just how I felt about the game. It's probably why I'm so lucky I'm doing this job, because this is all I ever wanted to do.
MLB.com: The fact that your dad played for the Indians, that wasn't why you took this job, but it adds a nice feel-good element to the story. How much fun has he been having since you came here, and what's it been like to see that from your perspective?
Francona: He was out here in Arizona for a week, and people were coming up to him. He did a thing with the season-ticket holders and sponsors. I think it means a lot to him. It gives him a little renewed energy. I know he'll watch every game and he's into it, which I'm glad. He'll be at the home opener, which is pretty cool. It's neat. The other night during a game, I look over and he's sitting 10 feet away from me. That's a cool feeling. It's really good.
MLB.com: You know this team's history -- how long it's been since it won a World Series. I'm not saying all the bad fortune will be reversed in one year, it's a process, but if this year's club does make the postseason, what will have been the key to the season?
Francona: Pitching. It always is. Over the course of a long year, if you don't pitch, you get exposed. Even when you win, sometimes it's hard. That's a hard way to win. When you're pitching and you're holding your opponent down, your team looks crisp. Even when you lose, 3-2, you feel like you always have a chance. That's a good way to play.
MLB.com: Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez are important in that regard. What have you seen this spring that gives you optimism about their chances of rebounding from last year's struggles?
Francona: With Masty, I've said it a lot, I'm betting on the person. I think Ubaldo got overwhelmed last year -- everything just snowballed on him. He's got a clean slate, so hopefully he takes that and uses that to his advantage. I think there's good reason to be optimistic. That's the best way I can put it.
MLB.com: Are you excited about the kind of offense you guys might have this year? There is a lot of speed in that lineup that could put pressure on the opposition, and the potential for more power.
Francona: There are still some things we need to clean up. I don't mind running, but we can't be out. Those are things you can drive home in the last week of Spring Training. But I think every manager you'd talk to, you'd love to have that kind of offense. It's just, if you don't have the guys who can do it, it doesn't make sense. It's a fun way to play.
MLB.com: Due to the World Baseball Classic, you got to see some of Cleveland's young prospects more than you might in a normal spring. Guys like Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin, Ronny Rodriguez and Tony Wolters got into some games. Was that fun for you to see them in big league games?
Francona: It's probably way more fun than people realize. Those are fun days for us. They need to go play, but it's fun to see them. You put a name with a face with a scouting report, and you get to see their personality. It's just fun. It's just enjoyable.
MLB.com: When you were hired, you said it was your job to get the most out of whatever cast of players you were given. Is this Opening Day roster -- after what Antonetti did this offseason -- better than you anticipated it being when you came to Cleveland?
Francona: Yes. I thought Chris had an incredible winter. I'm biased, but I think if you're not biased, you'd be hard-pressed to say, "This guy didn't have a great winter." I'm privy to seeing how hard they work at doing stuff, but we got better. We infused more talent in the organization and it's not just for the now. That's what I think is such a hard balance. You're trying to get better, but you want to get better for the future and for the present. That's where it gets difficult, and that's where I thought he aced it.
MLB.com: In Boston, you helped the Red Sox end an 86-year World Series drought, and you saw how the fans there reacted. You spent time with Cleveland fans this offseason and talked to them, have you thought about what it'd be like to help end the Indians' 64-year championship drought?
Francona: I hope so. That's the idea. That's why we're here -- to win. I don't sit around thinking about it a lot, because as a manager, if you start doing that, you miss the process. And I can't allow that to happen. But someday, when we accomplish our goal, it's going to be really special.
MLB.com: And if the team does accomplish that goal, will we be writing about your lucky scooter?
Francona: [Laughing] No, and there will be no books.