CLEVELAND — In his debut season, Terry Francona reversed the fortune of the Indians and changed the losing culture of baseball in Cleveland.
For that he was rewarded with his first career manager of the year award Tuesday.
Francona, whose Indians matched the franchise record for year-to-year improvement (92 wins from 68 in 2012) and returned to the postseason for the first time since 2007 as the American League’s top wild-card representative, edged Boston’s John Farrell for the award.
Francona, 54, received 16 of 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America, while Farrell, whose Red Sox won the AL East and went on to capture the World Series title, got 12. The other two first-place votes went to Oakland’s Bob Melvin, who finished third.
Pittsburgh’s Clint Hurdle, who like Francona, led a remarkable turnaround, was named NL Manager of the Year, receiving 25 of the 30 first-place votes. Voting was completed prior to the postseason.
“This is an organizational award,” Francona said on conference call Tuesday night from his offseason home in Tucson, Ariz. “It’s an honor to have my name on it, but this is such an organizational award. That’s what makes me so happy.
“From the moment I was hired, it’s always been a ‘we’ mentality, not just the players, but the front office and ownership. I think we did it together all year.”
Francona becomes only the second Indians manager to receive the honor since the inception of the award in 1983, with Eric Wedge also winning in 2007. Despite winning two world championships and qualifying for the postseason five times during an eight-year tenure in Boston from 2004-11, Francona had never received a first-place vote in the manager of the year race. He also managed four years in Philadelphia from 1997-2000.
Francona’s ties with Cleveland run deep. Both he and his father played for the Indians and he is close with team president Mark Shapiro and general manager Chris Antonetti. That’s what made the success he enjoyed this season special.
The Indians overcame a wealth of injuries and showed resiliency to finish strong, just a game behind first-place Detroit in the Central Division standings. They hosted a one-game wild-card game that they lost 4-0 to Tampa Bay.
“There were a lot of things I was proud of,” Francona said. “The biggest thing is just how we did it. We did it the right way. We didn’t reach our ultimate goal, but we’re getting there. And it’s going to be a lot of fun with this group.”
Francona was extremely popular among Indians players. Many of Cleveland’s high-profile offseason additions said the manager was a factor in their signing.
“Congrats to Tito on AL Manager of the Year. He was the first domino to fall last off season and was the key to our success #Tribevstheworld,” tweeted relief pitcher Vinnie Pestano.
“Congrats to #Tito for winning AL manager of the year. Well deserved and a honor to play for!!” starting pitcher Scott Kazmir tweeted.
Francona said he received a number of congratulatory texts from Indians players and people around baseball, but isn’t planning a big celebration.
“I have a load of laundry in right now, and I’m going to go golfing (this) morning like I always do,” he said. “I’ve got nothing planned. I’m not going to celebrate. The way I celebrated it was the whole year. I got to live it. That means a whole lot more to me than a trophy or plaque.”
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