It is difficult to believe the Cleveland Indians have played 25 years at Jacobs Field/Progressive Field. Looking ahead to the next 50 years, either at the same location or elsewhere – but hopefully in Northeast Ohio – some fan or member of the media will look back at the 2019 roster and ask how the team won more than 90 games and was not eliminated from the playoff picture until the last couple days of the season.
Nobody would win a trivia contest by asking to name the starting lineup on opening day. This season, the lineup consisted of Leonys Martin in center field, Jose Ramirez at third base, Tyler Naquin in right field, Carlos Santana at first base, Hanley Ramirez at designated hitter, Jake Bauers in left field, Roberto Perez at catcher, Brad Miller at second base, Eric Stamets at shortstop and Corey Kluber on the mound. Max Moroff came off the bench. Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis were injured.
Then, there’s the injury-riddled pitching staff of Kluber (broken arm), who missed almost the entire season, Mike Clevinger (back), Dan Otero (shoulder), Brad Hand (elbow) and Carlos Carrasco (leukemia). Name a roster with similar injuries to its pitching staff that could compete for a postseason berth so deep in the season.
Two members of the front office told me in the last two weeks that Terry Francona, who has already won two manager of the year awards with the Indians, did his best this year. In an era when younger managers replacing veterans and new analytics are coming into the game, Francona still stays on top of the game and players still want to play for him. Yasiel Puig’s recent comment that Francona is the best manager he has played for echoes throughout the game.
His love affair with mixing and matching his bullpen is frustrating, but it is admired by other managers and pitching coaches. One habit I don’t like, but I see positive results, is his belief you can never look ahead. Earlier this season, with a big lead in the opener of a doubleheader, he brought in closer Hand, which kept him from using the left hander in the nightcap. His explanation was that you are never guaranteed anything and he wanted to win the game that was at hand. Most people would let the opening game play out and have the closer finish off the second game. I guess that’s why he is one of the top managers in the game today and I’m not.
Francona has not lost his zest for the game, nor the excitement of working for the Dolan ownership and the Antonetti front office.