Francona finalist for BBWAA's top AL skipper honor
First-year manager guided Tribe to 24-win turnaround, Wild Card spot
CLEVELAND -- Terry Francona's impact on the Indians was immediate. In his first season in the manager's chair, Cleveland experienced an incredible turnaround, capturing the American League's top Wild Card spot to reach the postseason for the first time in six years.
Francona quickly became beloved in his new city, which has waited a long time to experience a World Series triumph. It made sense then that Francona was named Tuesday night as one of three candidates for the Baseball Writers' Association of AL America's Manager of the Year Award.
Red Sox manager John Farrell and A's manager Bob Melvin are Francona's competition for the award, which will be revealed at 6 p.m. ET on Nov. 12 on MLB Network.
Balloting for the award took place by BBWAA members before the postseason.
"I think I've probably gotten too much credit at times," Francona said toward the end of this past season.
While Francona will deflect questions about his influence, others around the Indians are quick to praise the work he did from the moment he was hired last October. Francona -- with a pair of World Series rings (2004 and '07) on his resume from his Red Sox days -- immediately garnered respect, but also created a loose atmosphere behind the scenes.
"As excited as I was a year ago when we hired Tito," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said at the end of the season, "I'm even more excited today, having had the opportunity work alongside him this past year. ... To experience it firsthand and see his passion, his work ethic, the way he prepares for games, how much he cares about each player, the environment he creates, it's impressive."
The Indians lost 94 games in 2012 and Antonetti embarked on a drastic overhauling of his roster and coaching staff for the following campaign. The restructuring began with the hiring of Francona, and continued with a wave of transactions -- both through free agency and trades -- aimed at swiftly turning the page on Cleveland's disastrous season.
All the moves paid off to the tune of 92 victories and a spot in the AL's Wild Card Game, which the Indians lost to the Rays. Despite the quick exit from October, the Tribe enjoyed a memorable season. The 24-win improvement from 2012 to '13 tied the largest one-year wins increase in franchise history, excluding strike-shortened seasons.
Francona became one of 10 managers since 1969 to guide a team to a one-year improvement of at least 24 wins in his first season at the helm, and is one of only six in that group to notch at least 92 victories in the process.
"If Tito doesn't come here, I don't think we make the moves that we made," Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano said in September. "I think when the front office made the commitment to Tito, they were also making a commitment to fill out this roster. He was definitely the first domino to fall."
Dating back to his time managing the Red Sox, Francona has now won at least 86 games in nine consecutive seasons, marking the sixth-longest streak of its kind in baseball history. He has won at least 90 games seven times in his 13 managerial seasons, and his nine straight winning seasons represents the longest streak among active managers.
"The biggest kid in this locker room is Tito," said Indians infielder Mike Aviles, who also played for Francona in Boston. "There's a reason why everybody loves playing for him. He brings a certain passion. He brings a certain knowledge. He's the kind of guy you can talk to. He's just a good all-around person.
"When you get a guy like that at the helm, there's nothing you won't do for him."
Melvin helped lead the A's to the AL West title this season and Farrell (in his first season as Boston's manager) guided the Red Sox to 97 wins, an AL East crown and a World Series victory over the Cardinals. Farrell's Red Sox are a worst-to-first story, and he helped the club win 27 more games this season than a year ago.
Farrell -- a close friend of Francona's since their days as teammates with the Indians -- served as Francona's pitching coach during Boston's run to the World Series crown in 2007. When the Red Sox brought Farrell on board to be their manager for this past season, Francona felt his former team made the right hire.
"I always felt that way," Francona said at the end of the season. "I just thought there was an immediate buy-in from the best players on that team, the guys that were already there that knew him. And guys I've mentioned -- [Jon] Lester, [Clay] Buchholz, [Dustin] Pedroia -- I guarantee you they were excited when he was hired. That immediately got them back to where they were going to be, not only relevant, but really good."
The same goal applies to the Indians with Francona leading the way.
"One of my goals was, 'If we could just get to September, you don't know what can happen,'" Francona said. "And we played pretty well. Now, I think our goal is to continue to get better. That will be harder, but it doesn't mean we can't do it."