As last season started for the Cleveland Indians, they were a stagnant organization.
The ownership didn’t spend any money and what may be worse, they seemed immune to the criticism they were getting on an almost daily basis from the Tribe’s fan base. Season tickets were dropping like a rock. Apathy was starting to set in.
The baseball operation people were inert as well. They settled for free agents than no one else wanted, players like Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon, and tried an experiment with virtually an all left-handed hitting batting order.
They seemed to be grasping at straws, trying wild theories in an effort to put together a winning season.
The manager was a nice man, but had a very subdued personality, and his team played like it. A member of the local media here said the Indians never looked like they were having any fun playing the game.
You couldn’t argue that point.
A year later, and it seems like a whole new organization, and it looks like it started with the hiring of Terry Francona as the new manager.
For whatever reason, be it the friendship that started with Indians’ president Mark Shapiro when he was a consultant with the Tribe after losing his managerial gig in Philadelphia, and perhaps coupled with Cleveland being the place his father, the “real Tito” as the skipper calls him, experienced his most success as a player, but the two-time World Series winner felt drawn to the job vacated by Acta.
Whether it was discussed during the interview process or not, the Dolan family decided to open up the purse strings shortly after the new manager was in place.
The front office didn’t go crazy in spending, but the combination of Travis Hafner’s money coming off the books, and the cash which came available through the sale of SportsTime Ohio, but the Indians signed three established solid, good major league players in Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, and Brett Myers.
The respect players around the league have for Francona was evident in Nick Swisher’s decision to sign a four-year deal here. It would have been a shock if the former Yankee had signed with the Tribe if the former Boston manager wasn’t here.
Swisher was ebullient in his praise for Francona at his introductory press conference, and his admiration for him has continued all during spring training. Myers played for Brad Mills, the new Tribe third base coach in Houston, and this relationship (along with cash) surely helped the right-hander sign in Cleveland.
Suddenly, there is a buzz in this city about the Indians. Opening Day tickets sold out in six minutes. Granted, they are playing New York, but people are excited about this baseball team. You hear fans talking about the battle for the spots in the starting rotation, and who is doing well during exhibition play.
After last season’s collapse after August 1st, this franchise seemed to be in a coma, with many long time supporters looking to pull the plug. Then, Terry Francona was hired as the new skipper and almost immediate jump started fan interest in this baseball team.
To be sure, Francona never asked to be the savior of this baseball team. However, there is no question he just may be the Pied Piper who leads fans back to Progressive Field.
The elder Francona, “the real Tito” has to be proud of the mark his son is making in Cleveland.