In Part III of his conversation with new Indians manager Terry Francona, Pat McManamon asks Francona what it was like to manage Michael Jordan in Jordans only year in baseball. The two also discuss Franconas playing career, which was shortened by numerous injuries, and his health.
Q: What was your first conversation with Michael Jordan?
A: Oh boy. I went up to him in the outfield at the end of spring training there were like four or five days left in spring training. He saw me coming, and I could see him thinking, Oh boy heres another guy who wants to be my coach. Because everybody wanted to be a part of that. I walked up to him, introduced myself and said, Im going to be your manager. For the next four or five days Im going to leave you alone. I could see him kind of exhale, relax. Im like, Just get yourself grounded. When we get to Birmingham well sit down and well talk about whats important and how it works. And I think he appreciated that.
Q: And then what?
A: We sat down. I told him figure out what questions you have. He wanted to know how we travel, things like that. We had a really good relationship. He was terrific. He respected that was one thing I told him, I said you have to respect what were doing here for this to work. And from day one, he did. He really did.
Q: Thats a curveball you dont expect coming.
A: Right. But I learned more than he did. Just about how to compete. Watching him and the way he handled people. I was amazed. Im a big fan of his. I think it comes across when Im talking about him, but I am. Im a big fan of his.
Q: When you say the way he handled people, you mean the constant attention?
A: Anything. Ive never seen anybody get picked at like him. Thats why I dont call him very often. Because his life was one constant people were always trying to get at him. I think thats part of the reason he liked baseball so much. Hed get on those bus rides and nobody could get at him. So I saw a side of him that a lot of people didnt, with his guard down, and it was fun.
Q: Thats a unique experience. How much did that help you be a good manager?
A: A lot. When youre in AA, youre dealing with two writers and youre on radio. I was put in, not a predicament, but a spot nobody else is. Dealing with national media. I learned how to be organized. Dealing with a high profile athlete. Im sure it helped a ton.
Q: And how much did he improve during the season?
A: A lot.
Q: Do you think you had much to do with it.
A: No. We had a hitting coach and everything. He got better. He went out to the Fall League and did a lot better. And I dont doubt if hed have kept at it hed have figured out a way to get to the big leagues. Because I found out if you tell him he cant do something, hell figure out way to do it. I found that out a lot of times the hard way.
Q: Your playing career, any disappointment at the injuries?
A: I got hurt so early that my goals kind of drastically changed. I wanted to be a hotshot hitter and lead the league in hitting, to suddenly just trying to be good enough to make a team. So my goals kind of changed. But it helped me prepare for this side of the game. I didnt know it at the time, but it was really helpful for this side. I got to see a lot of different managers and how they did things, different organizations. But I never felt like I was dealt a bad hand. I used to stay in the training room with Andre Dawson, and wed get our knees taped at the same time together. Hed go out and hed put up Hall of Fame numbers, and I couldnt do it. So I would move from team to team and I always felt like Id get another opportunity. It was what it was, and I did the best I could.
Q: The recurring health issues that have lingered, how much have those set you back?
A: It set me back a lot. In 02 I had that (staph infection) fiasco. It aged me. Its not gonna kill me, but what it does is kind of piss me off. Its aggravating. Today, when Im done with you and some other guys after Ill go in and swim. Because it helps me. Thats the one thing if I swim it really helps, helps my circulation, helps me limber up. In spring training Ill wake up in the morning and Ill go swim somewhere so I can be a working coach.
Q: Every day?
A: Yeah. Thats the one thing, and Ive really gotten good at it. If were on the road Ill find a place to go.
Q: How about here in the clubhouse?
A: Theyve got the SwimEx here. Its wonderful. Awesome. I love it. Ill tear that thing apart.
Q: Have you ever counted how many different surgeries youve had? There are different numbers online.
A: Ive had 22 knee surgeries. Alone.
Q: Thats partly because of staph too, right?
A: Yeah. You count six in there, so Ive had 16 or 18 before that anyway. Ive had both my shoulders done, my elbow, my hands, my neck. Ive had a lot of surgeries. My body hurts.
Q: Was it worth it?
A: (Pause) Yeeeahh. (Smiles) I loved playing. And even my last year, I spent my last year in Louisville in AAA, but I loved it because I got to play. I loved it there. My body was failing me and I wasnt a very good player but I loved it because Id show up at the ballpark and I knew I was going to play.
Q: What did you have to do every day just to get ready to play?
A: It was hard. It was hard.
Q: A long routine every day?
A: Yeah, and we played on turf that was awful. But I wasnt productive enough to play in the major leagues, but I go to AAA and I played every day. It killed my body but I loved playing. It was good. It was fun.
Q: Do you think it was just good fortune, good luck that you happened to know Buddy Bell and he brought you to coaching?
A: Very. Our relationship we hung out together when I was with the Reds and we talked baseball all the time. He had enough faith in me that when he was with the White Sox he wanted me to be a manager. Then when he went to the big leagues he took me as his third base coach. And a year later I was managing. Ive been fortunate a lot of times. Because I think Im just a normal guy that loves the game, and Ive caught a lot of breaks. I dont dispute that.
Q: Some might say youve caught a lot of bad breaks too though.
A: Hmm I dont think so.
Q: But you were hitting .320 and your foot got caught in the turf
A: Yeah, but I probably wasnt strong enough to Thats why I think that last season at Triple-A was good for me. I saw six or seven guys on that Triple-A team that didnt have any time in the big leagues and they were better than me. So I thought maybe I ought to count my blessings here and not whine too much. It was good for me, good learning experience. I played for a guy that was kind of a grizzled minor league guy, and he treated me great.
Q: Who was it?
A: His name was Gaylen Pitts. And it got to the point where I wasnt playing very well and he had to pinch hit for me Im sure that wasnt very easy. I learned a lot from him. Like how to treat people. Hed go out every day and throw to me early, and his arm was killing him. Wed pick up the balls together and I knew he was pulling for me and I wasnt doing that well. But I respected him a lot.
Q: So batting practice every day with him?
A: Always. Then wed go pick up the balls together. I learned a lot from him.
Q: Sounds like a Bull Durham thing.
A: Sort of. But it was good. It was a great learning experience.
Tomorrow:The conclusion of our conversation with Terry Francona.
To read Pat McManamons profile of Terry Francona,go here to the Cleveland Magazine web site.