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Googling Terry Francona

By next week, there’s a good chance that former Philadelphia Phillies manager Terry Francona will be named the 44th manager of the Boston Red Sox. Other candidates have come and gone, but none has received the follow-up attention or front-runner status accorded Francona. It’s become clear that the Sox brass was impressed with him from the first interviews, and no one else has even come close. Since the Sox probably want to have a new manager in place before the winter meetings of the second week in December — and because there just don’t seem to be any other viable candidates out there — an announcement is likely to come down soon, and unless Francona is somehow linked to Michael Jackson’s escapades at the NeverLand Ranch, it would appear that the skipper’s job is Francona’s to lose.

So what to we really know about him? Well, when circumstances make it difficult to have a face-to-face chat with the guy, innovative reporters do the next best thing: they run a search for him on the Internet. So, Sox fans, thanks to Google here’s what we know about Mr. Terry Jon Francona, your soon-to-be-named Red Sox manager.

First, the basics. Francona was born in Aberdeen, South Dakota, a town of 25,000 in the northeast corner of the state. According to its Visitors and Convention Bureau, Aberdeen "emerged with the coming of the railroads, flourished into a strong agricultural economy, and has diversified into a manufacturing and service center. A city of Midwestern hospitality mixed with metropolitan progressiveness, Aberdeen is a community where life is exceptional — and its residents are willing to share!" Unlike my kids.

Francona, his wife, Jacque, and their four kids (teenagers Nick, Alyssa, Leah, and 10-year-old Jaime) presently live in Yardley, Pennsylvania, part of Bucks County just north of Philadelphia. Francona is the son of former major-leaguer Tito Francona, a 15-year veteran of seven Major League teams. By the time Terry was a teenager, his family had moved to Western Pennsylvania, where he attended New Brighton High School. He became a baseball star at the University of Arizona, where he was named by The Sporting News as its College Player of the Year after hitting a sizzling .401. He was drafted by the Montreal Expos as their first pick in the 1980 free-agent draft. Touted as a line-drive hitter with little power, he was promoted to the parent team from Double-AA Denver in 1981 after hitting .352. As an Expo — primarily as a first baseman but occasionally as an outfielder — he missed half of the 1982 and 1984 seasons with recurring knee injuries. The injury flared up in ’84 at a particularly inopportune time, as he was hitting .346 at the point he was put on the DL. The following season, after hitting .267 through 107 games, he was released in favor of impressive rookie Andres Galarraga. The balance of his 10-year career was spent with the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Milwaukee, where he was released for the final time on April 27, 1990 after going 0-for-4 in just three games. He then signed with the Cardinals as a free agent, but never played for the Redbirds, and his playing days thereby ended after collecting a .274 BA, 474 hits in 1731 at-bats, 163 runs, 16 home runs, 143 RBIs, and 119 strikeouts in his 708-game career. He even pitched a scoreless inning and struck out a batter for the Brewers in 1989.

During his playing days, Francona had as teammates the following former Red Sox players: Andre Dawson, Rob Deer, Dennis Eckersley, Nick Esasky, Tony Fossas, Jamie Moyer, Rob Murphy, Larry Parrish, Jeff Reardon, Lee Smith, Joe Hesketh, Rheal Cormier, and Bill Lee (!). He also shared clubhouses with such renowned names as Greg Maddux, Paul O’Neill, Dave Parker, Ryne Sandberg, Gary Sheffield, Robin Yount, Gary Carter, Dave Concepcion, and Paul Molitor.

In 1991, Francona got his first coaching position as a hitting instructor with the White Sox organization, and became a manager for the first time a year later with Chicago’s Single-A franchise in South Bend, Indiana. In 1992, he was promoted to the White Sox’ Double-A club in Birmingham, Alabama, and was named Baseball America’s Minor League Manager of the Year after leading the Barons to a 78-64 record in 1993. A year later, he was picked by Baseball America as the minor leagues’ top managerial prospect, despite the fact that he was supremely tested throughout that season by the attention given his most popular player, one Michael Jordan. While he was unable to help Jordan hit at a consistent level throughout MJ’s brief baseball career, Francona got accolades for the way he handled the team amid the media frenzy, despite the team’s 65-74 record. The following season he led the team to an 80-64 record in his final season of coaching at the Minor League level, establishing a résumé that would garner him a job in the majors in 1997. That’s when the Phillies came a-callin’, and handed him the reins of a team that had gone 67-95 under Jim Fregosi the previous year. Jordan himself, at this point back playing hoops, had even given the Phils an unsolicited recommendation of Francona, and the team took a chance with the 37-year-old greenhorn. At the press conference announcing his hiring, Francona didn’t sugarcoat the job ahead of him: "It’s not starting over," he said. "It’s a different direction. There are going to be a lot of young faces. There’s going to be some rough spots." He added that his frequent rehab stints as a player helped formulate his growth as a manager. "I wasn’t playing, and at an early age, I started watching. I watched, I kept my eyes open, and I listened."

The Phillies hung around the .500 mark for the first part of Francona’s inaugural year on the bench, but the team went south after catcher Mike Lieberthal went down with a hip injury in late July. The Phillies would ultimately finish last for the second straight year to cap a 68-94 season, but the team improved to 75-87 in ’98 and 77-85 (third place) in ’99, despite losing superstars Scott Rolen and Curt Schilling to injury. Francona was viewed as having a calm, positive attitude in the dugout, and his reputation as one of the game’s rising young tacticians remained intact despite the team’s losing ways. Despite a two-year contract extension prior to the 2000 season, the Philadelphia brass got impatient after the team took some steps backward that season, fading to 65-97 and finishing fifth. Francona was fired with one game left in the regular season, but was allowed to manage that final game — a contest the Phils lost, closing the book on his 285-363 managerial record in Philadelphia.

Despite the team’s failure to win on a consistent basis, Francona was well-liked by his players. "Philly’s a tough town, and you take your lumps there," Cubs outfielder Doug Glanville, who played for Francona for three seasons, told the Chicago Tribune. "I thought he did a good job. We were making progress every year and then in 2000, we really struggled, and that cost him," Glanville added. "But I know he’ll do a good job [next time]. He’s prepared after being a bench coach."

In 2001, Francona was picked by Cleveland to be its Special Assistant for Baseball Operations, and he was also selected to manage Team USA in the Baseball World Cup, where he led the squad to a silver medal. In 2002 he was on Jerry Narron’s staff in Texas as the Rangers’ bench coach, and took the same position under Ken Macha this past season in Oakland. (As bench coach, Francona was actually ejected from a game last summer for arguing balls and strikes with the home-plate umpire.)

Prior to taking the job in Oakland, Francona had a health scare last October after routine surgery to clean out his knees. Apparently a blood clot developed and moved up into his lungs, and while blood thinners initially helped, his knees became infected and filled with fluid. Days later he was rushed into emergency surgery because of compartmental hemorrhage syndrome, but eventually he was released with a clean bill of health after a couple of months in the hospital. "When you’re an athlete, bulletproof might not be the right word to describe yourself," Francona later told MLB.com. "But when I got hurt I always got better. You have kind of an armor. This was the first time I had no answers. I felt very vulnerable."

Before interviewing for the top job in Boston, Francona interviewed in Baltimore for the Orioles’ post last month, where he admitted that his previous managing experience proved invaluable. "Like you can’t believe," he said. "Having the chance to do it — the people in Philadelphia may not want to hear this — but it’s almost like having a mulligan. I had my chance to make my mistakes, learn from them, and gain confidence. Because of my past, I feel prepared to not just be the manager, but to be a leader that can be successful." Part of his previous problems stemmed from the Phillies’ lack of pitching depth, he said. "There was no pitching. Schilling had been traded and there just wasn’t much of a bullpen there," he lamented. "I’d like to have a better bullpen. I got tired of going out there and having stuff fly by me on my way back to the dugout. As a manager, you shouldn’t have to wear a helmet."

Now Francona’s on the verge of taking on one of baseball’s greatest challenges. Knowing this town’s reputation and impatience with its managers, he’d better keep that helmet at the ready. And maybe the armor, too.

Sporting Eye runs Mondays and Fridays at BostonPhoenix.com, and Christopher Young can be reached at cyoung[a]phx.com


Issue Date: November 21, 2003
"Sporting Eye" archives: 2003 |2002
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