Terry Francona won two World Series championships with the Boston Red Sox but never received a first-place vote as the American League’s top manager until he led the Indians to a second-place finish in the Central Division this year.
In turning around a team that won 68 games in 2012, Francona was named AL Manager of the Year by the Baseball Writers Association of America on Tuesday night.
The Tribe won 92 games and finished as the league’s No. 1 wild-card entry before falling to the Tampa Bay Rays in the one-game showdown for the right to move on to the Division Series.
What changed among the writers who vote for manager of the year?
“I honestly don’t know,” Francona said from his home in Tucson, Ariz. “It’s hard to answer when you’re talking about yourself.”
In addition to making the right moves on the field, Francona altered the mindset of his players, persuading them to believe in themselves and to focus on one game at a time. He went out of his way to make players feel comfortable and put them in a position in which they wanted to give their best effort.
“This is really an organizational award,” Francona said. “I’m honored to get it, but this is a huge organizational award. That’s what makes me so happy … That we did it together.”
Francona took pride in many things that occurred this year.
“I was proud of our effort,” he said. “I thought we were resilient. I think our guys enjoyed playing the game the right way, and I enjoyed being around our coaches.”
During the season, Francona often talked about the way his players related to each other.
“When we clinched [the wild-card berth] in Minnesota, those hugs were real,” he said.
“And I couldn’t wait to get to [General Manager] Chris [Antonetti]. What made it so much fun is that we had so many contributions from all over the map. That’s how we won.”
Fans were incredulous that Francona would take a job with the Indians after he had spent 12 years in large markets, four managing the Philadelphia Phillies and eight with the Red Sox, where his teams won 90 or more games six times.
Few among the Tribe faithful thought Francona would agree to manage in Cleveland, where payrolls have been consistently among the bottom 25 percent in the majors.
His presence probably induced to the club to spend $78 million last season, still below the middle of the pack but $18 million more than the previous year.
“[The money] doesn’t really mean anything when you get on the field,” Francona said Tuesday night. “The reason I took the job is because of the relationships I had. And this was one of the funnest years I’ve had … We had a lot of fun, and there were a lot of good people.”
Francona spent the first five years of his life in Cleveland, until the Tribe sold his father Tito’s contract to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964. Tito Francona was one of the club’s most popular players during his five seasons with the team.
Terry Francona also played for the Tribe in 1991, when he began to form friendships with then-General Manager Mark Shapiro [now club president] and his lieutenant Antonetti.
Of the 28 first-place votes, Francona received 16. He also was awarded 10 second-place votes and two for third place.
Runner-up John Farrell, who led the Red Sox to a World Series title, got 12 first-place votes, 10 second-place votes and six for third. Bob Melvin, who managed the Oakland Athletics to their second consecutive Western Division championship, had the other two first-place votes plus five for second and 11 for third.
Asked how he would celebrate his award, Francona said, “I’ve got a load of laundry in the washer; I’ll go play golf tomorrow like always, get up and take a swim.
“The way I celebrated was [being there] the whole year. I got to live it. That means more than getting any trophy or plaque.”