Tito eager to put 2020 health battle in past
CLEVELAND — Clinching a postseason berth didn’t include the same type of celebration in 2020. But for Indians manager Terry Francona, it was even more foreign. He wasn’t in the dugout or with his team. Instead, he was back at the hotel when front office personnel stopped by his room
CLEVELAND — Clinching a postseason berth didn’t include the same type of celebration in 2020. But for Indians manager Terry Francona, it was even more foreign. He wasn’t in the dugout or with his team. Instead, he was back at the hotel when front office personnel stopped by his room with a postseason hat to celebrate for five minutes.
As strange as it seems, it was a moment that brought a tremendous amount of joy to Francona, who may not have been able to envision having an experience like that just weeks prior.
“For a couple weeks there, I was not just away from the game, I was away from everything,” Francona said. “It was getting a little hairy there.”
Francona’s health issues began early in the year, as gastrointestinal problems sidelined him a few times during Spring Training. From the time baseball was suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak until Summer Camp began in July, Francona estimates that he was put under anesthesia nine or 10 times for procedures.
“It took its toll,” Francona said. “When we started our second Spring Training, there was a couple weeks there where I actually felt pretty good. … But then it kind of went the other way pretty quickly.”
No one knew just how bad it was going to get.
Francona left the team Aug. 2, right before first pitch in Minnesota, leaving Sandy Alomar Jr. to fill in as manager. Francona had a few appointments at the Cleveland Clinic then returned to the club a week later, when the Indians were determining what to do with starters Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac after they broke team protocols in Chicago.
“I just felt like I really needed to be there to help through that period,” Francona said.
Five days later, Francona realized something was very wrong. He had been chalking up some of his symptoms to aggravating a hernia, but when his right leg became too swollen to wear a shoe, he knew the hernia wasn’t the problem.
“That last day in Detroit, I couldn’t get my shoe on and I was fidgety, and everybody was noticing,” Francona said. “Even though we were winning the game, [replay coordinator Mike Barnett] said I was dropping F-bombs. I was just really uncomfortable.”
Francona immediately returned to the Cleveland Clinic and learned he had a blood clot. But similar to the blood clot issue he had in 2002, this time around there was not just one. Francona said he re-clotted three more times after he underwent his first procedure. He needed three surgeries in five days and spent four days in the ICU.
“I was feeling pretty lousy, and I just couldn’t figure out why, and it made a heck of a lot more sense when it was explained to me,” Francona said. “I don’t want to go through that anymore, though. I don’t know why it happened, but I certainly don’t want to go through it again.”
When he was well enough to return to his apartment, Francona was back to watching Indians games on TV. Because he lived just a few blocks away from the ballpark, he was able to hear the celebratory fireworks after a win. That’s when it became difficult to accept that he couldn’t be with his team.
“As happy as I was, it also brought home the fact that I was two blocks away, but probably could have been 2,000 miles away for all I was helping,” Francona said.
Chris Antonetti on Terry Francona: “We’re expecting that he’ll be ready to go for the start of the 2021 season.”
— Mandy Bell (@MandyBell02) October 6, 2020
In those moments, it was easy for Francona to consider retiring at the end of this season. But Francona said he did his best not to think in that manner. In the meantime, he tried to help Alomar from afar, but mostly wanted to stay out of his way.
“I thought [Alomar] was tremendous,” Francona said. “The biggest thing I told him was, ‘Don’t look over your shoulder. Don’t try to do what you think I would do.’ That makes it too hard. … His wealth of knowledge is not just as a first-base coach helping the runners or helping our catchers; he understands the game extremely well.”
Now that Francona is cleared to return home to Arizona and begin light activities, he fully expects to be back in his managerial role next season. He said it was difficult not to feel guilty during this past season, knowing he couldn’t physically do his job, but is ready to be back at the helm in 2021 with the organization that took such great care of him over the past few months.
“I don’t think I need to get sick to know that I’m a lucky person and value the relationships I have and things like that,” Francona said. “I understand, and I love where I’m at. Everybody that’s around me knows that. I love the people I work with and work for. And that doesn’t change; it just probably continues to grow stronger. But I want to be able to hold up my end of the bargain.”
Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.