There’s been some whispering about Jim Leyland and his job security as manager of the Detroit Tigers. The lackluster start by the Tigers so far in 2012 hasn’t made Smoky’s critics very happy. As I’ve written here, Leyland is having a bad season. But while it’s a long shot that Leyland will lose his job, there is a two-time World Series winning skipper without a job right now and he has more than a few ties to the team and city.
The Boston Red Sox dumped Terry “Tito” Francona after his club collapsed down the stretch last season (don’t believe the spin that he “resigned”, Francona was exiled for what team officials believed was a “see no evil” relaxed method of managing his troops). Currently, Francona, who guided the formerly snakebit and cursed Red Sox team to a pair of World Series titles in 2004 and 2007, is working as an analyst for ESPN. In that role, Francona has received rave reviews for his candid and entertaining commentary. But, at the age of 53 and with his managerial successes, he won;t be out of a major league dugout for long. Like Sparky Anderson when he was fired by the Cincinnati Reds in 1978, Francona wants to prove his former club made a mistake. And they probably did.
Francona played 10 seasons in the big leagues, none of them as a Tiger, but after his playing career and before he was born, he had connections to the Motor City. In 1996, after several years as a successful minor league skipper, Francona was asked to serve on the Detroit staff by Buddy Bell, the man who replaced Sparky. Bell and Francona had been teammates in Cincinnati under Pete Rose. Francona served that one season as Bell’s bench coach and the exposure helped – the following year he was hired to manage the Phillies. He spent four seasons in the City of Brotherly Love, mostly taking grief for not being able to finish ahead of the rival Mets in the standings.
And way back in 1958, while Francona was still just gleam in his mama’s eye, his father – the original Tito – was playing for the Detroit Tigers. The first Francona to play in the big leagues was a hard-hitting outfielder who always seemed to pester the Tigers, so they acquired him midway through the ’58 season that sent Ray Boone to Chicago. Tito only spent 45 games in Detroit, and his little boy Terry was born just seven months after his final game in a Tigers uniform.
The older Tito went on to a long career as a 4th outfielder and pinch-hitter extraordinaire, playing 15 years and hitting 125 homers. Terry can boast of a higher career batting average – .274 to his Dad’s .272 – but he only hit 16 longballs in his decade in the big leagues.
Francona will manage again, and with Leyland a favorite of both his direct boss (Dave Dombrowski) and the Big Boss (Mike Ilitch) it’s unlikely an opening is coming soon in Detroit. But, if the Tigers limp to a disappointing finish in ’12 (say less than 81 wins and miss the playoffs), the prospect of Francona in the Old English D may be too much to resist.