There are just 10 days left until Cincinnati Reds pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, and this is the time of year when fans of every team can dream about post-season glory. As unlikely as that scenario may seem for some clubs, they’re all 0-0 at this point and have a clean slate for 2015. If anybody in the game today knows about unlikely World Series runs, it is Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, Number 10 on our Countdown Team.
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Most fans these days identify Francona as the skipper who helped to break the Boston Red Sox’s “curse” in 2004, but he enjoyed a modest, decade-long career as a Major League utility player before hanging up his spikes in 1990. Francona spent the first five of those seasons with the Montreal Expos, but he logged one unremarkable summer with a remarkable 1987 Reds team.
That was the year after Jose Canseco smashed into the Majors, and it was the same year that Mark McGwire would set the all-time rookie home run record. Offense was up all across baseball, and the Reds were an exciting club, featuring Eric Davis, Kal Daniels, Paul O’Neill, Dave Parker, Barry Larkin, Tom Browning, Bill Gullickson and John Franco. They were led by fiery manager Pete Rose, of course, and were a favorite to win the National League West.
That didn’t quite pan out, but three years later, the Reds won it all, though with a slightly different cast.
Francona was one of the bits who was discarded after 1987, when he hit .227 over 219 plate appearances, logging 57 games at first base and picking up a decent chunk of the Reds’ pinch-hitting duties. Francona would log parts of three more seasons in the Majors, split between the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers, before retiring in 1990.
As is often the case in MLB, the best managers seem to come from the ranks of players who were mediocre (or worse) on the field but have a tremendous understanding of the game. For more than a decade now, Francona has been in the upper echelon of baseball field generals, and he has the chance to further elevate his standing if he can lead Cleveland to a championship.
So, the race is on. Will the Reds or their former light-hitting infielder reach the promised land first? If you had to lay odd on 2015 alone, Francona would have the upper hand.