Indians’ Terry Francona stepping down due to physical health issues

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

CLEVELAND (AP) Terry Francona pushed his battered body to its absolute limit, doing even more damage.

He needs to give himself a break – and time to heal.

Cleveland’s popular manager is stepping down for the remainder of this season to address some lingering health issues, which have put his future leading a team and Hall of Fame career in jeopardy.

“I’ve got to get healthy or I can’t do this job,” Francona said Thursday.

The 62-year-old Francona has been wearing a boot on his right foot all season after undergoing toe surgery for a staph infection in February. The toe issue has exasperated his hip problem, which will require surgery.

Francona, who was only able to manage 14 games last season because of health reasons, will have his left hip replaced Monday at the Cleveland Clinic, and once he recovers from that procedure, he’ll have a rod inserted into his foot.

He’s agonized for weeks over his inability to manage the way he wants, and Francona said the decision to step down was difficult.

“It had gotten to the point where I didn’t feel like I was doing my job appropriately and I didn’t feel like I was being fair to the organization,” Francona said on a Zoom call. “But at the same time I almost didn’t feel like I was being fair to myself, either.”

Bench coach DeMarlo Hale will take over on an interim basis for the rest of this season while Francona focuses on his health. Third base coach Mike Sarbaugh will take Hale’s spot and assistant coach Kyle Hudson will move to third.

First base coach and former Indians All-Star catcher Sandy Alomar filled in for Francona a year ago.

Francona had deep, sometimes difficult conversations with team president and close friend Chris Antonetti before they mutually decided he needed to take a pause.

Francona’s issues have rendered him physically unable to do simple tasks, and he finally came to the realization he couldn’t go on.

“It’s been really hard,” he said. “I’ve had this internally battle on like, `Am I letting people down? Am I letting people down by staying? Am I being fair?’ It’s been beating me up. I admit that. Everything I do is hard, whether it’s getting to the airport or getting to the clubhouse. You’ve seen me taking pitchers out, that’s not even easy.

“It doesn’t make it very enjoyable and I miss that. All I do is go to the ballpark and then come home and get off my feet and lay in bed. And I got to give myself a a chance to have a little bit of a life.”

Antonetti marveled at Francona’s determination to push through the pain.

“I am in awe of Tito’s toughness and perseverance,” Antonetti said. “I know if it was me, I wouldn’t have been able to make it as far as Tito has with all the things he’s been dealing with. So I care for him.

“We talked about it a lot but in the end, I was going always leave that decision to Tito, and he would be the one to do it on his terms and on his time. The best way to answer it as a I said at the outset is that we arrived at this decision like so many others: together.”

Francona, a two-time World Series champion manager with the Boston Red Sox, dealt with serious health issues a year ago, when a gastrointestinal ailment – followed by blood clotting problems – led to spending an extended period in intensive care.

Francona is in his ninth season with Cleveland. He’s had a winning record each year and he’s just five wins from tying Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau (728) for the most wins in team history.

Francona led the Indians to the World Series in 2016, when the club lost in seven games to the Chicago Cubs. Cleveland hasn’t won the title since 1948 – baseball’s current longest drought.

The news on Francona continues a bumpy past week for the Indians, who have been overrun by injuries that have damaged their playoff hopes. Cleveland is 8 1/2 games behind the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central.

On Thursday, the Indians traded second baseman Cesar Hernandez to the White Sox, a signal that they’ve turned their focus toward improving their roster for the future.

Earlier this week, Francona missed two games with a nasty head cold he picked up on a recent road trip. Also, the Indians recently announced they’re changing their name to Guardians in 2022, a decision that has angered some fans.

Following the announcement, Francona spoke passionately about his love for the organization. His father, Tito, played for the Indians from 1959-64.

For now, Francona has to leave them.

“Man, it’s difficult,” he said. “A big reason why it’s difficult is because I love what I do and I love where I do it. I love this place. When people talk about our organization, I want them to talk with pride, because that’s how I feel.

“I don’t want that to ever change.”

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

aaron judge
Cole Burston/Getty Images
2 Comments

TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.