CLEVELAND — Indians manager Terry Francona went skydiving in Arizona during spring training. He insists his thrill-seeking days are over.
“My feet are on the ground,” he said.
They’ll stay that way in Cleveland.
The Indians signed the popular Francona to a two-year contract extension through the 2022 season on Wednesday, giving him more security and a chance to become the longest tenured manager in Cleveland’s rich history.
Francona’s deal was set to expire after 2020, but as he begins his seventh season, the Indians decided to lengthen its successful partnership with the man known as “Tito” for at least two more years.
Since being hired in 2013, Francona has led the Indians to three consecutive AL Central titles and the World Series in 2016, when Cleveland lost Game 7 in 10 innings to the Chicago Cubs. The Indians, favored to win the division again in 2019, have made the postseason four times, had a winning record six times and have the AL’s best record under Francona.
“We had exceedingly high expectations when we hired Tito, and the unbelievable thing, is as high as those expectations were, he’s gone on to exceed those every day,” said Chris Antonetti, the team’s president of baseball operatiions. “And it’s not just with what happens on the field, it’s what happens behind the scenes.
“In those moments when we’re struggling or we’re facing challenges or there those moments of adversity, that’s when Tito is at his best.”
Francona joined the Indians after a wildly successful run in Boston, where he helped the Red Sox end their 86-year World Series title drought in 2004. He led them to another championship in 2007 before his stretch ended in 2011.
Cleveland was a new beginning, and a familiar place as his father played six seasons for the Indians.
He can’t imagine being anywhere else.
“I will say this: I have no ambition to ever work somewhere else,” said Francona, who will turn 60 later this month. “There’s going to come a time when I can’t do this job the way I want to, because of age. That may happen some point, but I don’t have any ambition to ever go somewhere else and that’s because of the people here.”
If he stays around three more seasons, and there’s little reason to think he won’t, Francona will surpass Lou Boudreau for the longest managerial run with the Indians. Boudreau, who was also an All-Star shortstop, managed the Indians from 1942-50. He led them to their last Series title in 1948.
The Indians are an AL-best 547-427 (.562) since 2013 under Francona. His 1,576 career wins with Philadelphia, Boston and Cleveland are second most among current major league managers, behind San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy.
Francona said a key to his success in Cleveland has been due to the strong relationships he’s built with Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff. He can be himself, and that in turn has made him a stronger communicator and manager.
“I know it’s made me a better person,” he said. “We collaborate so much. And there’ll be times at meetings and I’ll say something and when I leave the meaning, I’m like, ‘Why would I say that?’ And then about two days later, I’ll say, ‘Chris, I don’t know why.’ And he’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I knew you’d come around.'”
While the Indians are currently in a championship window, there may come a time when they have to rebuild. If that happens, Francona’s prepared to do his part.
“I’m not afraid. I want to be a part of the solution here — regardless of where we are,” he said. “Sometimes things happen in our game that are sometimes out of your control. Sometimes you make wrong decisions. Sometimes things don’t work. I’m not afraid of that. I’d like to be a part of the solution, whatever it is.”
After going on his first sky-diving adventure, Francona convinced Antonetti and several Indians coaches to join him for another jump.
“That was a fun experience,” Antonetti said. “Now that we’ve all made it down safely, it was a good team building experience.”
Francona couldn’t resist joking that owner Paul Dolan wasn’t pleased with his landings.
“There was a rumor that Paul was rooting against me on that,” he cracked.