CLEVELAND — Terry Francona’s feeling more fit and a little feisty. That’s welcome news for the Cleveland Indians.
After missing most of this past season with significant health problems, Francona said Monday that he’s stronger physically and looking forward to managing again in 2021, his ninth season with the club and 21st in the majors.
“I feel good. I’ve spent the last six weeks really working hard,” Francona said on a call from his home in Arizona. “I told (Indians president of baseball operations) Chris (Antonetti) I needed to do that. I said, ‘Hey, give me until Thanksgiving just to make sure I’m OK.’ We’re coming up on Thanksgiving now and I’m doing pretty well.
“I’ve been active, lost some weight and feel like I’m putting myself in a better position to succeed physically over the course of a long season.”
One of baseball’s best and most well-liked managers, Francona was in the dugout with the Indians for only 14 games this year due to a gastrointestinal issue requiring several surgeries. He also suffered some blood-clot complications that landed him in the hospital for several days.
He’s eager to return to doing what he loves most.
“I will be extremely excited, I guarantee you. I wouldn’t have come back if I wasn’t,” he said. “I think you’re cheating the organization to have somebody in charge who’s not excited. The timetable is still the same. You go through the holidays and then you get to the first of the year and everybody gets the itch to come back.”
“I need to respect that with the players and the coaches, because they went through the grind, even though it was a 60-game grind. I was laying at home.”
Francona has assembled his coaching staff for 2021, and for the first time in a long time it won’t include close friend and bench coach Brad Mills, who opted out last season for personal reasons and will be back with the Indians in another capacity.
Francona said Mills recently visited him to explain his decision to not be in uniform.
“He just needs to be home,” Francona said. “I don’t think it was a hard decision, but I think it was difficult, because he loves baseball. But I think he knew where he needed to be.”
Francona will replace Mills with DeMarlo Hale, who worked with him in Boston and spent the past two seasons with Atlanta.
Hale was on Francona’s staff with the Red Sox from 2006-2011, serving as bench coach in 2010 and 2011, when Mills left Boston to manage in Houston. Hale has also been with Texas, Baltimore and Toronto.
“DeMarlo was one guy that I kind of thought that if I ever get back to managing again, this is a guy I’d like to have on my staff. He’s really good. He has an unbelievable way of not just communicating, but connecting with everybody,” Francona said.
When Francona was out this season, first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. filled in and guided the club to a wild-card berth. Cleveland was eliminated by the New York Yankees.
Alomar, who has been a Cleveland coach for more than a decade, figured to be a candidate for a managerial job but didn’t get one.
That shocked Francona.
“I was borderline stunned that somebody didn’t try to hire him away from us this winter, because I thought he basically did a 54-game interview process and did it under the most difficult of circumstances and kind of aced it,” he said. “Now, for personal reasons, I’m glad he’s staying. I love having him on our staff.
“I guarantee you Sandy has as much or more responsibility than any first base coach in baseball, and there’s a reason, and that’s because he’s really good. ... When you spend eight years with somebody you get to trust them a lot. So for personal reasons, I’m thrilled he’s back, but I am really surprised.”