Cleveland’s Terry Francona is probably the leading candidate for American League Manager of the Year after guiding the Indians to 94 regular-season wins and an AL Central crown despite the team’s myriad injuries.
It’ll be the second time Francona’s captured the award – 2013 , also with the Indians – despite twice winning the World Series with the Boston Red Sox (votes have to be in by the end of the regular season). Besides 2013, he’s never finished higher than fourth in the voting.
Francona has a solid .533 winning percentage in 16 seasons as a big-league manager and a mind-blowing .648 winning percentage in 54 postseason contests heading into Tuesday’s Game 1 of the World Series.
Francona, many forget, could have been a manager of the Orioles.
Back in the fall of 2003, the Orioles interviewed eight candidates after Mike Hargrove was fired. Francona was a candidate for the spot that eventually went to Lee Mazzilli, who lasted just one-and-a-half seasons in Baltimore.
No tears were shed by Francona.
He was hired that same offseason to take over the Red Sox – and his club won the World Series the next season, busting the 86-year-old Curse of the Bambino (named after a guy who was born in Baltimore).
Now Francona is attempting to break a 67-year title drought in Cleveland while facing a Chicago Cubs team that hasn’t won the October Classic since 1908.
The Cubs are run by team president Theo Epstein, who was an intern in the Orioles’ public relations department back in the early 1990s while a student at Yale University. Epstein was Francona’s boss when the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series.
One other weird connection to illustrate the intersecting tentacles of baseball: Who did Francona beat out for that managerial job with the Red Sox in 2004? Angels coach Joe Maddon, whom Epstein later hired away from Tampa Bay and is now the Cubs manager facing Francona in the World Series.
Here’s more small-world baseball, Orioles style
Francona is the son of Tito Francona, who had a 15-year career in the majors, which began in Baltimore.
Tito originally signed with the St. Louis Browns and made his major-league debut for the Orioles on Opening Day, 1956 at Fenway Park (in a game the Red Sox won, 8-1). A 22-year-old playing center field that day, he batted fifth (behind Gus Triandos), and picked up his first major-league hit in his second at-bat, a fourth-inning single against Boston starter Frank Sullivan. (Boston’s Ted Williams had three hits in that game.)
Francona lasted just two seasons with the Orioles, hitting .249 in 236 games before being traded to the Chicago White Sox in what was a fairly insignificant, seven-player deal. That December, 1957 trade, however, included a future Hall-of-Famer that never actually played for the Orioles.
It’s one of those trivia questions in club history that needs an asterisk.
Hall-of-Famer Larry Doby was an Oriole, wore an Oriole uniform and is captured in pictures in the Orioles’ archive. But he never played a game for them.
Doby, a seven-time, All-Star centerfielder, was the headliner in that trade between the White Sox and Orioles in 1957. He spent spring training with them, but on April 1, before the season started, the Orioles traded Doby and pitcher Don Ferrarese to the Cleveland Indians for three players, including veteran outfielder and Orioles’ fan favorite Gene Woodling.
It was a reunion trade of sorts. Doby returned to the franchise for which he broke the American League color barrier in 1947 and Woodling returned to the Orioles for a second stint. Woodling was part of the record, 17-player deal in 1954 with the New York Yankees. He played just 47 games with the Orioles in 1955 before being traded to Cleveland. In his second stint with the Orioles, from 1958-1960, Woodling made his lone All Star game.
One other thing about that Doby-Woodling deal. The Orioles also received a solid outfielder from Cleveland named Dick Williams, who played parts of five seasons in Baltimore. He eventually became a Hall of Fame manager, winning two World Series with the Oakland A’s.
So, that trade involved two Hall-of-Famers, though only one actually played a regular season game with the Orioles.
To wrap up this small-world, one-degree-of-separation piece, the Cleveland Indians eventually traded Doby away again, a one-for-one deal in March 1959 with the Detroit Tigers.
And who did the Indians get in return, straight-up, for Doby?
Tito Francona – the second time the players were included in a deal for each other.