Terry Francona last played baseball at Arizona 40 years ago yet he is still one of the most visible in the sport globally as the manager of the Cleveland Indians.
Francona, who turned 61 last month, was a guest Friday night of the Eye on the Ball radio show on KVOI (1030-AM) with Jay Gonzales and AllSportsTucson.com’s Steve Rivera. He talked to them from Louisville en route to Cleveland after spending most of his time in Tucson during the postponement of the MLB season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The interview lasted more than 30 minutes and touched on a variety of topics, including:
— The possibility of the season beginning in the first week of July.
“MLB is doing such a good job of having plans, having contingency plans, having plans on top of the plans,” Francona said. “They’ve been really open and honest. It’s going to have to be safe for their players and the families and we can’t be taken away from the public.
“It they can make it work, I actually think it would be great for everybody. I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve run out of TV shows. I think people would welcome something to watch.”
— The “Last Dance” documentary on Michael Jordan on ESPN. Francona was his manager at Class AA Birmingham (Ala.).
“One, it really surprised me that he allowed that much access to what they were doing, and I guess it’s taken 20 years for them to unlock the vault but I think it’s really well done,” he said.
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“He may be a little bit of a — I don’t want to say — tyrant,” Francona added about Jordan. “He pushes everybody but it’s to win. It’s not for personal gain, it’s for team gain. I saw that part of him, too. He doesn’t like to lose at anything when you’re talking about a team.”
— Developing his career at Arizona after he turned down the opportunity to play professionally in 1977 out of New Brighton Area (Pa.) High School when the Chicago Cubs drafted him in the second round.
“I honestly think that if I had signed (with the Cubs) I would have been one of those guys who fell through the cracks,” said Francona, who funded a state-of-the-art batting facility for the Wildcats at Hi Corbett Field. “I was a typical 18-year-old. I wanted to do everything, see everything. My parents knew that Jerry Kindall would keep a tight thumb on me and teach me how to play baseball the right way because they knew I wanted to be a baseball player.
“I got three years at Arizona where I got to mature. I got to learn not only baseball but life from three of the best coaches you can ever have. I know how lucky I was. Jerry Kindall, Jim Wing and Jerry Stitt — you couldn’t play for better guys.”
Francona, who played in the bigs from 1981-90, is in his 20th year as an MLB manager with a background at Philadelphia and Boston before joining Cleveland in 2013. He led the Red Sox to World Series titles in 2004 and 2007 after Boston had a championship drought of 86 years and took the Indians to the World Series in 2016 before losing to the Cubs.
A potential Hall of Fame inductee as a manager, Francona has 1,667 wins with a winning percentage of .542. His postseason winning percentage is even better at 58 percent.
If he wins 333 more games in his career he would become only the 11th manager in history to reach 2,000 wins in a career.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.