CLEVELAND - Terry Francona is getting back with one of his baseball families.
Francona, who guided the Boston Red Sox to two World Series titles, has been hired as manager of the Cleveland Indians, a team that collapsed in the second half this season after a promising first four months. The sides continued working Saturday night on the length of Francona's contract.
The 53-year-old will be formally introduced as Cleveland's 42nd manager during a Monday news conference at Progressive Field.
"I'm really excited," Francona said on the air as an ESPN analyst, his job for the past season. "People who don't know me may have thought I was looking for something different."
The Indians chose Francona over Sandy Alomar Jr., who served as the club's interim manager for the final six games after Manny Acta was fired on Sept. 27. Francona and Alomar, who spent the past three seasons as a coach in Cleveland, were the only candidates to interview for the Indians' opening.
Alomar has been offered a spot on Francona's staff, most likely as bench coach.
The Indians have always held a special place for Francona. After he was fired as Philadelphia's manager, he worked in Cleveland's front office as an adviser in 2001. He also spent a portion of the 1988 season on Cleveland's major league roster and his father, Tito, played with the Indians from 1959-64.
Francona has stayed close with Indians president Mark Shapiro and general manager Chris Antonetti over the past decade. He said the chance to work with them again is what intrigued him most about the Cleveland job, which will have its challenges because of a much smaller payroll than he enjoyed in Boston.
"It's a good story, almost a family feeling," Francona said after his interview on Friday. "I don't think you can take a job because of that, but it still means a lot to me. Because of Chris and Mark and my relationship, I am excited to try to tackle, or attempt to tackle, every challenge that comes our way and do it together."
There are some major challenges in Cleveland, where fans have been waiting for a World Series winner since 1948.
The Indians were a major disappointment this season, going 68-94. They were within 3 1-2 games of first place on July 27, but went 5-24 in August — the worst month in the franchise's 112-year history — and finished 20 games out in the AL Central. Acta didn't get to finish his third season with the club.
"We have better talent than our record shows," Antonetti said earlier this week.
With shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, second baseman Jason Kipnis, centre fielder Michael Brantley and catcher Carlos Santana, the Indians have a solid core of young position players to build around. Cleveland's bullpen was the strength of the team this season, but All-Star closer Chris Perez caused distractions with his comments and actions.
The Indians lacked a proven power hitter — DH Travis Hafner was injured much of the season — and it remains to be seen if Cleveland owner Paul Dolan will spend in free agency to add talent.
Francona interviewed with the Indians one day after Alomar, a six-time All-Star catcher for Cleveland and fan favourite. Alomar managed the Indians to a 3-3 record after Acta was dismissed. Alomar will likely be courted by other teams seeking a manager. He interviewed with Boston last year before the Red Sox hired Bobby Valentine.
Francona spent eight seasons with the Red Sox but was not brought back after the club fell apart down the stretch in 2011. This season, Francona worked as a TV broadcaster and said it was while preparing for telecasts that he realized how much he missed managing and being around players.
"We appreciate Terry's great contributions to our baseball coverage and we wish him the best,"? ESPN said in a statement, adding Francona will appear as a guest analyst during the network's World Series coverage.
Francona has managed for 12 seasons in the majors, compiling a 1,029-915 record.
"I played for Tito (Francona) and everybody knows his track record is a good one," said Indians pitcher Justin Masterson, who was with Francona in Boston for 2008-9.
Antonetti said part of Francona's appeal was how he developed young players like Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester as they came up through Boston's system.
"In addition to that, he's a great communicator and an accomplished leader," Antonetti said.