Every knowledgeable person I spoke with on the subject of American League Manger of the Year over the past few days was convinced that John Farrell of the Boston Red Sox was taking home the award. All of those individuals were incorrect.
Major League Baseball announced on Tuesday evening that Terry Francona of the Cleveland Indians had won the AL Manager of the Year award. Francona helped the Indians improve by 24 games from the season before, a mark that matched the biggest improvement in franchise history (they went from 60 wins in 1985 to 84 victories in 1986). The Indians earned 92 wins in 2013, a record that was good enough for what was, unfortunately for the club, a one-and-done postseason berth.
Odds are that Francona guaranteed himself MOTY honors due to the team's incredible and even magical September run. The Indians went 21-6 in the final month of the regular season, and Cleveland closed the campaign out as winners of ten straight. No team entered the playoffs as hot as did the Indians, but they couldn't take care of business against the Tampa Bay Rays in front of a sellout crowd at Progressive Field in the Wild Card round.
One of Francona's biggest decisions came late in the season. He removed the struggling Chris Perez from the closer position, and Perez was ultimately left as nothing more than a spectator by the end of September. Perez has since been released by the Tribe.
The previously mentioned Farrell finished second in the voting. Bob Melvin of the Oakland Athletics finished third. Francona, who won two World Series championships while managing the Red Sox from 2004 to 2011, had never before won MOTY.
What Francona was able to accomplish without having the services of what most analysts would consider to be a single “superstar” in his first year with the club was nothing short of phenomenal. Nick Swisher finished the season atop Cleveland's home runs category with 22. Jason Kipnis drove in 84 runs, a team best. No Cleveland pitcher had more wins in 2013 than did Justin Masterson, who went 14-10.
Just as important, Francona helped change the attitude of a clubhouse that had mostly known only losing for the past four seasons. The Indians falling apart in the final couple of months of summer had become almost routine, to the point that diehard fans couldn't help but expect the worst when the club went through losing streaks of five and six games in August. Then came the September to remember, a month that brought memories of those great Indians teams from 1995 and 1997.
Francona turned the Indians around quicker than most expected, taking a team of misfits and castoffs and turning it into what was, for at least one month, the best club in all of baseball. Now comes the hard part for Tito; building on last season's success, and taking Cleveland further along into October and ultimately back to the World Series.
The feeling held by many who follow the club is that the Indians have, in Francona, a manager for the future, someone who will hold the gig for as long as he wants it. Whether or not that will be the case won't be determined until well down the road. As with any professional sport, baseball is a matter of “what have you done for me lately?”
Wedge, for those who have forgotten, was fired by the Indians at the end of the 2009 season.