CLEVELAND: It started with a testimonial to Jason Giambi on the occasion of his 2,000th hit and ended with an abbreviated account of a career derailed by injuries.
The moral of the story: None was intended, but Indians manager Terry Francona gave voice to the precarious nature of being a professional athlete.
Asked his reaction to Giambi’s achievement, Francona said, “Giambi means so much to me. Yesterday my high school coach came up here for the game. He’s the person who taught me how to enjoy baseball. I wanted to introduce him to Giambi. I try hard to say it [praise Giambi], but I think I come up short.”
Giambi got his milestone hit Sunday. He produced his first hit in his 1995 big-league debut. Francona was asked if he remembered his first hit.
“Of course,” he said. “Single up the middle against John Montefusco.”
First home run? “That was off Bruce Sutter, because I didn’t know who he was,” joked Francona about the hall of fame reliever. “I never had a walk-off, because I got pinch hit for long before [the ninth].”
But young players and lofty aspirations go together.
“When you’re young, this is how you think,” Francona said. “I got to the big leagues and hadn’t really struggled. I thought I’d win the batting title, get a ton of hits and make a lot of money.
“Then I had my first knee surgery four months after I made it and the second one two years later. After that, I was just hanging on.”
Francona played all or part of 10 seasons in the majors, beginning with the Montreal Expos in 1981 and finishing with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1990. In 1988, he played in 62 games with the Tribe and batted .311.
In spring training of ’88, Francona thought he had made the team as the everyday first baseman, but the Tribe traded for Willie Upshaw, and Francona found himself in Triple-A Colorado Springs.
“When they traded for Willie, I thought, ‘OK, I’ll be a pinch hitter; that’s probably what I should be, anyway,’ ” Francona said. “But they sent me down and I’m thinking, ‘Hey, what happened to the bench?’ ”
He played for Steve Swisher at Triple-A, father of Nick, whom Francona manages.
“He isn’t anything like Nick,” Francona said. “He’s a maniac. He goes 100 miles per hour all the time. When that vein comes out, you better get to the other side of the bar.
“I was about done when I went to Triple-A. I had no knees, no power, couldn’t run. But Swisher wouldn’t let me quit. I know he was proud of me when I got called up.”