by Ryan Isley
The good old boys network never seems to work in sports – which is why when the Cleveland Indians mentioned talking to Terry Francona for their vacancy at manager, I could only shake my head.
Last week when the Indians fired manager Manny Acta with six games remaining in the season, Francona’s was the hot name that instantly rose to the surface. It seemed that Indians fans were mostly in agreement that if the team could land Francona, they would be ecstatic.
I guess you can count me in the minority – I don’t want the Indians to hire Francona. There are a few reasons for this, but the biggest of them is his relationship with Indians president Mark Shapiro and general manager Chris Antonetti.
When Francona went on “Pardon the Interruption” on ESPN Tuesday, he was asked by Tony Kornheiser about his interest in the Indians job despite the fact that the team has had four managers since 2000.
“When I got fired from the Phillies back in 2000, I went to work for the Cleveland Indians and it was Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti. I spent a year as a special assistant to Mark. So my relationship with those guys is really the main reason I want to go in and interview. And I am excited and we will see where it goes from there. I don’t know.”
Shapiro and Antonetti hiring someone whom with they have a relationship is the last thing this team needs. With the roster constructed as it is currently, the Indians will not be a contender and they need a manager who will come in and not be afraid to tell the front office what they need in order to win.
With Francona, I am just not sure that the front office will have that input from the manager as they seem to already be too buddy-buddy with the former Red Sox skipper. It is bad enough that Shapiro and Antonetti are not being held accountable by ownership but if they are not held accountable by the on-field leader, things will never get better.
Even as the team has fallen apart in each of the last two seasons with Antonetti as the general manager and Shapiro as the president, ownership has not held their feet to the fire. Instead, they have sat back as the front office has fired a hitting coach, a pitching coach and ultimately their manager.
Remember – this is a team whose ownership gave Shapiro a promotion from general manager to team president following the 2010 season – one in which the Indians were 69-93 a season after finishing 65-97. Most teams would have given Shapiro a pink slip, but the Indians showed him the penthouse. In his 12 years as either president or general manager, Mark Shapiro has overseen a team that has gone 913-1030 with just two playoff appearances and three winning seasons. Antonetti has overseen two seasons in which the Indians have combined to go 148-175 and finished below .500 both seasons.
The Indians are a team with multiple holes and ownership who doesn’t seem willing to spend the money to fill those holes properly. Even when ownership has greenlighted moves, the front office of Shapiro and Antonetti has continually screwed them up and then found other people to use as their scapegoat.
Handing this team over to Francona would not equal immediate success, especially if the front office sees him as more of a friend than they do as a manager. This is not the 2004 Red Sox team that Francona took over and led to a World Series title, either. That team was already on the verge of being a World Series contender when he took the reins from Grady Little between the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
The 2012-2013 Indians are more like the 1997 Philadelphia Phillies team that Francona took over from Jim Fregosi - a team that was 67-95 in the season before Francona arrived. Francona failed to post a winning season in Philadelphia in four seasons, compiling an overall record of 285-363 with a best season of 77-85.
Bringing in someone who has a relationship with Shapiro and Antonetti isn’t the answer. The Indians need someone with a new voice and a new philosophy. Of course, I have no reason to believe they will actually do the right thing. Being comfortable seems more important than winning to this front office.
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