Francona should spark Indians

As baseball moves into its offseason hot stove phase in which franchises attempt to improve the talent level of their clubs (hint, hint Indians), long-suffering Cleveland fans can start looking forward to the decision on a new manager to replace the fired Manny Acta.

Oh that’s right, they already took care of that.

In what seemed like one of the quietest but most surprising offseason moves by a Cleveland team in recent years the Indians named Terry Francona as their manager in early October.

There was surprisingly little reaction, perhaps a sign of a lack of interest in the Indians among northeast Ohio fans, or because of the competing story lines of Jim Haslam becoming the Browns’ new owner and Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes’ adventures.

But Francona is one of only 22 managers with two World Series titles to his credit. He led Boston to championships in 2004 and 2007, the latter including an ALCS victory over the Indians who blew a 3-1 advantage in the series.

Most struggling franchises don’t get a crack at a two-time champion as manager. In fact, only nine of the aforementioned 22 managers were hired by another club after leaving the team for which they won two titles.

Among those were three who left late in their careers: Joe McCarthy (Yankees to Red Sox), Casey Stengel (Yankees to Mets) and Frank Chance (Cubs to Yankees). Two — Dick Williams and Ralph Houk — were fired by owners, Charlie Finley and George Steinbrenner, respectively, who made a habit of firing managers.

Sparky Anderson (Reds to Tigers) is the only one who also won a World Series for his new club, perhaps a bad omen for the Indians.

Joe Torre is the most recent example, winning four championships for the Yankees before managing the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2008 to 2010. But his situation is exactly what you would expect: Big-money franchise in a major market hires successful, winning manager.

Whatever are the Indians doing hiring a two-time World Series winner as manager? Francona did spend one year (1988) as a player with the Tribe and his father, Tito, was one of the team’s stars in the late 1950s and early ’60s.

But more importantly, it turns out, Francona developed a relationship with club president Mark Shapiro and general manager Chris Antonetti when Francona was hired by the Indians in 2001 as a special assistant.

Fans immediately speculated that the hiring of a top-level manager would mean an improvement to the talent at his disposal, specifically through the free agent market. That idea has been downplayed by everyone involved but it is hard to envision Francona not pushing the front office for an infusion of talent.

Since all managers use basically the same “book” for strategy, a manager’s influence is felt mostly in the clubhouse through relationships with the players. Francona has a good reputation in that area, but talent still is vital. Once a team’s talent reaches a certain level, then intangibles like teamwork become more important.

Here’s hoping Francona’s hiring sparks team ownership to go out and improve that talent level and give him something to work with.

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