Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year is an annual must-read. Given that the national recognition rarely has anything to do with the teams or individuals whom we cover, WFNY writers have been giving their nominees for our own Sportsman of the Year. After an internal vote, WFNY is pleased to announce the winner of the inaugural WFNY Sportsman of the Year award.
What is a Sportsman? I wondered if it was even a real word. So I looked it up in the dictionary1, and sure enough, it is a real word. The definition of ‘Sportsman’ is “a person who engages in sports (as hunting or fishing)”. But if you ask the staff of WFNY, the definition of ‘Sportsman’ is Terry Francona.
As if there was ever any doubt. The exercise of nominating candidates has been a lot of fun. Taking a couple weeks to look back and reflect on all the different individuals who impacted our lives as Cleveland sports fans in some way in 2013. There was no singular way of looking at this award. Nominees came in all different types, roles, sports, etc.
The one common thread found throughout all the nominees was a tangible sense of impact. And that’s the neat thing about sports. “It’s just a game”, “It’s just a bunch of grown men being paid millions to play a kids game”, “Don’t let the billionaires and millionaires ruin your day”. We’ve heard them all. It’s easy to downplay sports and the role they play in our adult lives. So why do we keep coming back?
2013 was mostly a rough year between the lines in Cleveland sports. But it was the Cleveland Indians that saved us all from total sports depression. And that’s what brings us back to sports time and time again. For all the misery and heartbreak you can go through, the sense of community and fellowship you gain in sports trumps them all. Sports can be the generational bond between family and friends. Sports can provide us with some of the most impactful moments of our lives.
Terry Francona may not be able to deliver the kind of in-game moments as nominees such as Josh Gordon, Kyrie Irving, and Jason Giambi delivered in 2013, but when it came time for WFNY to vote on our Sportsman, the unanimous winner was Francona.
The reasoning is simple enough. TD beautifully laid out all the reasons in his nomination post, but to summarize, it essentially boils down to winning. Francona delivered Cleveland just a small taste of the one thing we’ve all been starving for, postseason play.
Of course, there’s more to Francona than just that. Winning 92 games and earning a wild card bid was exciting, but to really understand Francona’s impact on Cleveland, you have to understand some of the context surrounding the wins. Remember, this is a guy that accepted the Cleveland Indians managerial post when all of us laughed at the suggestion of him being a candidate. We didn’t laugh because we didn’t think he was qualified. We laughed because there was no way such highly esteemed and respected figure in baseball would take a job managing the lowly 96 loss Indians. To all of our surprise, Francona jumped at the opportunity and started turning this team around from the very instant he set foot in Cleveland.
That’s the beautiful thing about a guy like Francona. He didn’t see the Indians as a 96-loss team. He never waivered once…not in his own calm confidence in his abilities nor in his confidence in his guys. And make no mistake, these definitely became “his guys”. Francona’s success as a manager has always been a testament to his level headed demeanor and his genuine love for his players. Francona has always believed that if a team can come together as a family and truly care for one another, the players will all feel a responsibility and a sense of duty to do whatever they can for the good of the team. And when that happens, the team can become something more than the sum of its parts.
Francona’s managerial philosophy has perhaps never been tested quite like the 2013 Cleveland Indians. This wasn’t a Major League-esque story. The Indians didn’t miraculously win the pennant. They didn’t even win their division. But what they did do was find a way to persist. Francona oversaw a club that refused to ever give in. They didn’t give up in late innings when trailing. They didn’t give up when the AL Central deficit grew. They didn’t give up late in the season when the Wild Card odds appeared long.
The team never panicked. The players took on the identity of their manager, and they remained focused on their own confidence. They stayed calm and level headed. And when they needed it most, they rallied for 10 straight wins to finish the season and to earn the city of Cleveland its first taste of playoffs since LeBron James left town. And in doing so, Terry Francona gave all of us a memory that will last forever. This wasn’t the best Indians team we’ve seen in our lifetime, but it’s one of the most memorable. I think all of us will carry a soft spot in our hearts for this team and its manager for the rest of our lives.
Terry Francona wins by making sure his players become “his guys”. But in 2013, Cleveland sports fans saw Terry Francona become “our guy”. Francona knew what was at stake in Cleveland. He knew this wasn’t a huge spending franchise. He knew the odds would always be against him. But he took the job anyway. He said ‘yes’ to Cleveland. And best of all, he won. He delivered on his vision and we all got to watch and celebrate vicariously through the TV as the Champagne Shower covered the Indians locker room. We all felt that moment together as a sports community. And none of it would be possible without Terry Francona.
And so, from all of us at Waiting For Next Year, we could not be happier or more proud to announce the winner of our first ever WFNY Sportsman of the Year: Terry Francona.
- Actually, I looked it up on the internet. It’s been a very long time since I’ve actually opened a physical Dictionary [↩]