TORONTO: Indians manager Terry Francona learned how special it was to be part of the All-Star Game when he invited Jim Leyland to join his staff in 2008.
Francona was managing the Boston Red Sox, heading the American League All-Stars for the second time. He said he had help picking his assistants from Phyllis Merhige, a senior vice president at Major League Baseball. When she brought up how much he liked Tigers manager Leyland, Francona wasn’t sure Leyland would accept.
“I remember calling him from the parking lot in Fort Myers at 7 in the morning,” Francona said Wednesday before the Indians took on the Toronto Blue Jays. “He called me back and he was like, ‘[Bleep] yes, it will be [bleeping] awesome!”
“I guess I just figured, ‘He’s done it all and he’s been there.’ To see how he reacted to it really taught me a lot.”
Francona said the two days he spent sitting in an office with Leyland and then-Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell laughing and talking are “some of my best memories.”
That’s why when Red Sox manager Farrell called him during the winter meetings and offered him a spot on his All-Star staff for the July 15 game at Target Field in Minneapolis, Francona jumped at the chance.
“I was honored,” Francona said. “It took me about half a second to go, ‘Hell, yeah.’ To be there with John is really meaningful for me.”
Francona was one of two managers Farrell chose to assist him, along with Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire, Farrell said Tuesday. Francona and Farrell are close friends, dating back to their playing days with the Indians in 1988. Francona said he will enjoy not having to be in charge.
“I don’t remember a lot of the two All-Star Games I’ve been a part of because they’re happening so fast,” he said. “You’re trying to navigate getting guys in.”
Francona managed the AL to two victories, a 7-5 triumph in Detroit’s Comerica Park in 2005 and a 4-3, 15-inning victory in Yankee Stadium in 2008.
“I was getting a little panicky,” Francona remembered of the latter. “[Leyland] wandered over and said, ‘You can look at that lineup card all you want, you’re not going to find a [bleeping] pitcher.’ By the 13th inning, I was like, ‘If we can win this I’ll quit chewing.’ ”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com.