Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: Francona vs. Alomar
By Jim Pete
October 3, 2012
What a long, strange trip it’s been here in 2012 at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
It actually seems odd to be standing here, on the last day of the regular season, looking forward to what should be an exciting offseason. Unfortunately for us Indians’ fans, the offseason will likely be a lot more intriguing than the second half of the 2012 season turned out to be.
The Indians’ front office gave us a taste of what’s to come when Chris Antonetti fired manager Manny Acta after nearly three complete losing seasons in which he went 216-268 overall. The Acta firing wasn’t a surprise, but the timing, combined with the simple fact that Antonetti himself was spared, was.
So, with the Indians set to take on the Chicago White Sox in a meaningless ballgame, the 2012-2013 fall/winter season is about to begin, and the Indians are going to get the ball rolling on Thursday and Friday with their first volley into their future.
On Thursday, the Indians will interview their current interim manager, Sandy Alomar Jr., and on Friday, they’ll interview former Boston Red Sox manager, Terry Francona.
There are other intriguing names out there that the Indians could ultimately make a play for that are serious candidates, such as John Farrell, Mike Sarbaugh and Torey Lovullo. There are even some not-so-serious contenders, such as Mike Hargrove, Albert Belle and Omar Vizquel.
Let’s face facts though. This race is between Alomar Jr. and Francona.
I’m not going to beat around the bush here. Sandy Alomar Jr. is the clear favorite, whether he should be or not.
Alomar is, of course, a native son in many ways. In December of 1989, the Indians traded one Joe Carter to the San Diego Padres for Carlos Baerga, Chris James, and one of the top prospects in all of baseball, Sandy Alomar Jr.
Alomar was a bundle full of talent at the catcher position, but he was stuck behind the 1987 rookie of the year, Benito Santiago. Alomar was the minor league player of the year in both 1988 and 1989, but the Padres had no problems making the deal, and Alomar really became one of the first pieces in that great run that started in 1994.
Unfortunately for Alomar, He never really could stay healthy for long periods of time. He won the rookie of the year for the Tribe in 1990, when he played in 132 ballgames. He would go five more seasons before he would play over 100 again. From 1996-1998, Alomar managed to play in three straight 100+ game seasons, including his best year with the Indians.
In 1997, Alomar would hit a career best .324, with 21 homers and 83 RBI.
Believe it or not, those four seasons of 100+ games are the only four of his 20 year career. Still, Alomar has always been a fan favorite, and now represents an era of baseball that may turn out to be the golden era of the Indians.
What kind of pedigree does Alomar bring to the table? He’s never managed at any level, but that shouldn’t count him out by any stretch. Alomar has baseball in his blood. Former Indians’ second baseman and Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar is his brother, and Sandy Alomar Sr. was in baseball for 50+ seasons as both a player and a coach. Sandy grew up with the game, and while it’s never a guarantee of success with regards to becoming a manager, it certainly can put him closer to the front of the line.
Where he really stands out to me is the position that he played. Alomar was, of course, a catcher, and one of his strengths when he was healthy was his communication with his pitchers. He parlayed that into a coaching job with the New York Mets after he retired in 2007, and was the catching instructor in New York during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. When Manny Acta was hired in 2009, he immediately hired Alomar as his first base coach, and quickly became noticed by other organizations.
Since Acta hired Alomar, He has been rumored to be in the running for several managerial positions, including Toronto, Chicago and Boston. It’s doubtful that Alomar won’t find himself leading a team in 2013.
Terry Francona has some similarities to Alomar.
While he wasn’t exactly an All-Star, Francona did play ten years in the big leagues, with Montreal, the Cubs, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Cleveland. In his only season in Cleveland, he played in 62 games, and hit .311. He was never a major part of any organization he played in, but was always highly thought of as a baseball mind.
Like Alomar, Francona came from a baseball family. His Dad, Tito Francona, was a major leaguer for 14 seasons for the Orioles, White Sox, Tigers, Cardinals, Phillies, Braves, A’s, Brewers and the Indians. He spent five seasons with the Tribe, which was his longest tenure with any organization.
Terry retired in 1990, and immediately was hired by the White Sox and began working his way up through the system. He won several awards, and by 1995, was considered a top candidate to become a big league manager.
Former Indians’ third baseman Buddy Bell hired Francona in 1996 as his third base coach, and he used that as a springboard to the managerial position with the Philadelphia Phillies from 1997 through 2000. It was an epic fail, as Francona never had a winning record. When he was fired, Mark Shapiro hired him as the special assistant to the general manager in 2001, and then moved to Texas and Oakland in 2002 & 2003 as their bench coach.
That’s when Francona caught the break of a lifetime. The Red Sox had folded under Grady Little in the ALCS in 2003, and he was fired after the season. Francona was hired with some help from some of the Red Sox players, led by starting pitcher Curt Schilling. He led the major league ready team to the 2004 World Series title in epic fashion, coming from a 3-0 deficit to the Yankees, then sweeping the Cardinals in four games for the title.
In 2007, Francona would find his Red Sox down 3-1 to some rag-tag team that will remain nameless in this story. Again, the Red Sox would show fortitude and win the next three games to win the series. They would then sweep the Colorado Rockies in four games to win their second World Series in three seasons.
In 2011, Francona saw his team go 7-20 in September, and a nine-game lead for the final wild card slot disappeared. Francona, the guy that brought the World Series back to Boston….twice…was gone.
Enter 2012, and Francona and Alomar converge over one job.
Who’s the best guy for the job?
On one hand, Terry Francona is a veteran manager with over 1,000 wins. He’s always been considered a player’s manager, and while his time in Boston ended acrimoniously, his players backed him. Sure, there was talk that the clubhouse was like the new version of the Bronx Zoo (Boston fans oughta love that comparison), but you can’t take away from what he accomplished there.
Francona is the #1 guy out there, and he truly is intrigued with the Tribe job.
On the other hand, Sandy Alomar Jr. has managed five baseball games in his life, with his first coming last week. Alomar has always been considered another coach on the field, and when he moved into the role of back-up catcher after he left the Indians, it was a role that he gladly took on, and relished. His rapport with players over the years has been second-to-none, and he clearly seems to be a player’s manager as well.
Francona has history with the Indians. As I mentioned before, his father played for the Indians for five seasons, and was ecstatic that his son was interviewing with his old team. Terry played a season for the Indians, and Mark Shapiro gave him his first job after he got canned in Philly.
I don’t need to tell anyone Alomar’s history with the Indians. He has acknowledged that this is his dream job, and that it was a no brainer that he come here as a coach, and a no brainer that he wants to stay here after this season as their permanent manager.
Francona has some clout, and might be just the manager to pull in some veterans who wouldn’t normally come to Cleveland. He’s a blue collar guy that fits with our blue collar town. He loves his veterans, but he has developed some great young ballplayers, such as Dustin Pedroia and Jaoby Ellsbury.
Alomar will likely bridge the 1990’s to the 2010’s by bringing back several of the old favorites, as possible full-time coaches (Omar Vizquel, for one), and certainly as consultants. Alomar is familiar with the system, and knows the young kids as well as anyone.
Francona would be a PR coup d’etat, as he really is the biggest managerial commodity out there with regards to pedigree. It would signify a start contrast to what the Tribe is currently doing, and may be just the change of pace Chris Antonetti needs to get guys like me off his back.
Alomar would be an outstanding PR piece, as it seems fairly clear that the fans are pining for Alomar to take over this team full-time. Sure, he bridges the 90’s, as I mentioned earlier, but the reality is that he has an incredible baseball mind.
Francona may command $3 to $4 million a season from other teams, but it’s unknown what he’s really looking for. Is he trying to maximize his money, or is he trying to find a club that is the polar opposite fo the Red Sox?
Alomar won’t command anywhere near $3 million a season, and it’s clear he just wants to manage. While I thought that he’d consider a job somewhere else, I don’t believe that to be true. I think he’s a lock here if they offer him a job.
I don’t believe that the Indians are going to wait to hire either one of these guys. I believe that the Indians will announce their next manager as early as Saturday, and as late as next Friday. I have a strong belief that there really was more than meets the eye with Acta leaving the team with six games left. The Indians want to get their guy in place, and get him in place quickly.
Alomar gets the first shot on Thursday, with Francona to follow on Friday. I think they’ll make an offer quickly thereafter. If Francona is the guy, they’ll give him the weekend to make up his mind. If Alomar is the guy, the rumors will leak before anything is announced.
If this draws out until AFTER the playoffs, it will be a PR nightmare. Francona will no doubt get many more interview options, and the PR positivity for Alomar will likely turn to another foot-dragging miscue for Antonetti, fair or not.
Who would I hire? Honestly, my thoughts change minute by minute…and for good reason. What team is this going to be next year? What will Antonetti do with this roster? Is his job on the line sufficiently enough to make him really go after it in 2013, or will he be trusted once again to build a team.
If it’s the former, he’ll go full boar to sign Francona. If it’s the latter, he’ll go with Alomar.
My preference…right now…without an interview…
Sandy Alomar Jr….for the simple reason that I firmly believe that he is going to be an incredible manager….and THIS IS HOME!!!!
The good news for me? I think this deal will be done by next week…for the good, or the bad….and if both turn them down…
Albert Belle is waiting in the wings…
Jim is currently the co-site editor, the ATF/Carolina Mudcats/Indians/General Site Columnist, and the co-host of IPI's weekly online radio show, Smoke Signals. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IPI, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This team is not ready to contend now, Tribe needs to be patient. . In a couple yrs we will see a wave of MLB ready prospects like we saw in the early 90's .
Very soon we will see the likes of Lindor/Paulino/Wolters knocking on the door along with Ronny Rod, Jesus Aguilar. I dont want a recycled manager like Francona but rather an energetic guy like Alomar