CLEVELAND — Terry Francona’s mind briefly wandered to a life without baseball while he battled through a major health scare.
Retirement stared him in the face.
“Some days when I was extremely frustrated, the thought crossed my mind,” the Indians manager said. “When it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I tried not to think like that.”
Francona revealed Wednesday that he underwent several surgeries in a four-day span and required an extended stay in intensive care at the Cleveland Clinic while dealing with medical issues that sidelined him for all but 14 games this season.
The 61-year-old Francona, who plans to return in 2021, said he’s relieved to have the ordeal, which beat him up mentally and physically, behind him.
After initially undergoing a surgery for a gastrointestinal issue that had bothered him for nearly a year, Francona thought he was recovering when some blood-clotting issues led to more operations and four days in ICU.
“It was kind of a rough time,” Francona said on a Zoom call from his home in Arizona. “For a couple weeks there I was not just away from the game, I was away from everything. It was getting a little hairy there.”
Francona feels much better and he intends to spend the next two months getting stronger so he he come back for an eight season with the Indians. With first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr., the club made it to the postseaosn for the fourth time in five years before being knocked out in the wild-card round.
Francona, who has had both knees replaced as well as one of his hips, said he needs surgery on his other hip but not until he’s healthier.
“I’d love for my quality of life to be a little bit better,” he said. “But I also don’t feel like going through the blood clots again. Limping’s better than being horizontal. The next seven weeks I’ve actually hired a guy that I’ve actually gone to for therapy before here on my last hip. He’s going to work with me on getting stronger and trying to put myself in a position where I can give myself the best chance to hold up for a long season.”
Francona estimated he had been under anesthesia “nine or 10 times” by the time the Indians re-opened training camp in July. He managed the first nine games before becoming ill when the team was in Minnesota in early August.
He left the Indians and although he wasn’t feeling well, he desperately wanted to be with the team to help handle the situation when pitchers Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac were demoted for breaking COVID-19 protocols. But during a game in Detroit on Aug. 16, Francona knew something else was wrong with him.
“I couldn’t get my shoe on because my right foot was so swollen,” he said.
As much as he wanted to come back during the final weeks and postseason, Francona wasn’t healthy enough to return. Not being with the team pained him.
“I want to be able to hold up my end of the bargain,” he said. “When you’re the manager, there’s a lot of people that depend on you, and I felt really guilty because I wasn’t there. That was tough on me mentally as well as when you’re going through physical stuff.”
One of baseball’s best managers, Francona, who won two World Series titles with Boston before coming to Cleveland in 2013, said not being around his staff and players was especially difficult during this pandemic-shortened seasoned.
He stayed in daily contact touch with Alomar and President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti, but it wasn’t the same as being at the ballpark. From his downtown apartment, Francona watched the Indians on TV and his frustration only grew because the broadcast was a little behind.
It was really hard the night José Ramírez homered to beat the Chicago White Sox and clinch a playoff spot for Cleveland.
“I hear the fireworks (after the home run) because I’m two blocks away before I see the home run on TV,” he said with a smile. “As happy as I was, it also brought home the fact that I was two blocks away, but probably could have been 2,000 miles away for all I was helping.”
Francona credited Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff for helping him putt through.
“They were incredible,” said Francona. “On the night we clinched (Sept. 22), I was back at the hotel. Chris and Chernie came over with a hat and a T-shirt and we celebrated for about five minutes. That was really meaningful to me.”