The Cleveland Indians still have a chance at a MLB wild-card playoff bid, five games behind the Oakland Athletics for the American League’s second spot. (Though the Tribe also has to leapfrog three other teams to get to the A’s.) But they’ll have to play the rest of the 2021 season without manager Terry Francona.
On Thursday, the Indians announced that Francona is stepping aside as manager for the remainder of the season with bench coach DeMarlo Hale taking over.
Francona is doing so to focus on his health, which will include recuperating from a left hip replacement that he’ll undergo on Monday. The veteran skipper will also have a rod placed in his left foot approximately six weeks after the hip procedure if that goes according to plan. Francona will require a 10-week period to recover.
Terry Francona will step away from managerial duties for the remainder of the 2021 season to focus on his health and recovery.
DeMarlo Hale will assume managerial duties for the rest of the season. pic.twitter.com/wDO9xRVuya
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) July 29, 2021
As the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s Terry Pluto explained, Francona has been dealing with multiple physical maladies for quite some time which could no longer be ignored. Early this year, he developed a staph infection in his big toe which required several surgeries to alleviate. Moving around, let alone traveling, has been difficult as a result.
Francona managed only 14 games for the Indians last season due to various health concerns, including blood-clotting issues and stomach problems. First-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. managed the team in his absence and it’s a bit curious he’s not doing so again.
But this time around, Hale will take over in the interim. Hired as bench coach last winter, Hale was also on Francona’s staff when he managed the Boston Red Sox and the two worked together in the Texas Rangers organization prior to that. During a 20-year coaching career, he’s worked for the Orioles, Blue Jays, and Braves before reuniting with Francona in Cleveland this year.
Yet when it comes to Francona’s status for next season, Pluto’s colleague Paul Hoynes raises a valid question: Will he be able to manage the soon-to-be Guardians in 2022? Whether or not Francona will be up to the job physically is a concern. And with 2022 being the final year on his contract, he may decide his managing days are over.
Consider that Francona has previously had his right hip and both knees replaced, as well. And in 2017, he had a procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat.
The physical demands of being on the field, in the dugout, working 14-hour days at the ballpark might simply be too much for the manager at 61 years old. Not to mention the travel. Sitting on airplanes likely isn’t very comfortable for him, even if those flights are under better conditions than most people endure.
If we never see Francona in the dugout again, he’ll end his managerial career viewed as one of the best managers in baseball. He’s compiled a 1752-1483 record (a .542 winning percentage) during a total of 21 seasons in the majors.
Francona began his career managing the Phillies for four seasons, followed by eight with the Red Sox (including two World Series championships and two American League pennants), and nine with the Indians (winning an AL pennant in 2016).