2012 was one crazy year in the wild wacky world of Cleveland Sports. Some would tell you 2012 was as bad as it has ever been here. As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last four years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the 10 biggest sports stories affecting our local sports scene. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one. We started the Buckeyes Final Four trip. Number nine is something that happened just a short two weeks ago. The Ohio State perfect 12-0 season was number eight while Chris Perez’ harsh and honest words clocked in at number seven. Our sixth-biggest story saw our first of two straight from the Cavaliers, the drafting of Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller. Up next was Kyrie Irving receiving the NBA Rookie of the Year award. Coming in at number four is was the firing of Manny Acta. Our third biggest story was the picking two cornerstone offensive players in Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden. Up next on our list, is the franchise-changing managerial hire by the Indians.
2. Terry Francona is named the new manager of the Cleveland Indians signalling a new era for the franchise
On the day the Indians put an end to the Manny Acta era the name Terry Francona was being floated by many national baseball media types. I for one thought the speculation was laughable at best. Here is exactly what I wrote that day:
Save your Terry Francona pipe dreams. The guy isn’t coming here. He can sit back and wait for the right job and get paid in excess of $5 million to do so. Why would he come here to manage this train wreck under the current ownership?
Sandy (Alomar) is 100 percent going to get the job because A) He will come cheap, and B) He is a Tribe legend from the “Era of Champions.” He will bring in Kenny Lofton as one of his coaches and it will make many Tribe fans feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Nostalgia is the Dolan’s only card to play. What are they selling on the field?
Then less than two weeks later, the Indians brass showed me. They showed us all. They had a bigger plan and they were about to execute it. I still cannot believe myself today. Somehow, some way, Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro pulled off a coup and got Terry Francona to manage their sinking ship. I still don’t know how they sold it, and maybe I never will, but nonetheless, the 2013 Tribe will be led onto the field by a two-time World Series champion manager who could have picked any open job he wanted. He chose Cleveland for two reasons. “”Relationships,” Francona said. “(Mark) Shapiro and (Chris) Antonetti were reasons #1 and #2.”
That’s right. Two men who could have and probably should have lost their own jobs, did a complete about face and turned dirty water into wine. Looking back just two short months ago, what I said after the hire holds even more true today:
While picking, choosing, and trading for players has not exactly been Antonetti’s strong suit, you have to give both he and Shapiro big marks for pulling off this coup. And make no mistake people, this is a serious coup. When asked by my mom, a lifelong diehard Browns and NFL fan how big of a move this was, I said she could equate this to the Browns going from Pat Shurmur to Bill Cowher. It is an instant credibility grab that is universally praised and will bring so much to an organization that is in dire need of a shot in the arm.
You all know Francona’s pedigree – he won two World Series in a span of four seasons in a town that hadn’t won one in 86 years. He is a brilliant baseball mind and a players manager who has about as sterling a reputation as you will find in a skipper. Name me the last time in this history of this city that one of our teams brought in a head coach/manager with this kind of juice? You can’t.
As much as everyone like Acta personally, he had lost the team and now that he is gone, the whispers of his lack of communication with his players have gotten louder. This young group needed a strong voice that commands respect. They now have it in Francona.
On top of reeling in the biggest managerial fish, the Dolan Family ownership and their GM Antonetti headed to baseball’s winter meetings with their uber-respected manager and an open wallet. Out of nowhere, the Indians were one of the most active teams in the hot stove league. First they set their sights former Philadelphia CF Shane Victorino, offering him a whopping four-year, $44 million deal, which thankfully he passed on. The message though was clear, the Indians with Francona on board, were not going to sit idly by.
They left Nashville empty handed, but just a few days later, they made their first move, trading Shin-Soo Choo for future ace Trevor Bauer and two relief pitchers. They were far from done though. Perhaps in the biggest free-agent move in team history, the Dolan’s forked over $54 million for OF Nick Swisher, the flashy and productive former Yankee.
Sure, the Indians probably overpaid for the 32-year old former Buckeye, but it was the right move for where this franchise is today. The Dolan’s, Shapiro, and Antonetti had a major credibility problem with a sinking fanbase. Nobody was coming out to watch this team and anger had turned to apathy. However, before the calendar turned to 2013, we have seen a major revitalization program behind the same men who so many wanted out.
(photo via Marvin Fong / The Plain Dealer)