CLEVELAND (AP) — Terry Francona pushed his battered body to its absolute limit, doing even more damage.
He needs to give himself a break — and time to heal.
Cleveland’s popular manager is stepping down for the remainder of this season to address some lingering health issues, which have put his future leading a team and Hall of Fame career in jeopardy.
“I’ve got to get healthy or I can’t do this job,” Francona said Thursday.
The 62-year-old Francona has been wearing a boot on his right foot all season after undergoing toe surgery for a staph infection in February. The toe issue has exasperated his hip problem, which will require surgery.
Francona, who was only able to manage 14 games last season because of health reasons, will have his left hip replaced Monday at the Cleveland Clinic, and once he recovers from that procedure, he’ll have a rod inserted into his foot.
He’s agonized for weeks over his inability to manage the way he wants, and Francona said the decision to step down was difficult.
“It had gotten to the point where I didn’t feel like I was doing my job appropriately and I didn’t feel like I was being fair to the organization,” Francona said on a Zoom call. “But at the same time I almost didn’t feel like I was being fair to myself, either.”
Bench coach DeMarlo Hale will take over on an interim basis for the rest of this season while Francona focuses on his health. Third base coach Mike Sarbaugh will take Hale’s spot and assistant coach Kyle Hudson will move to third.
First base coach and former Indians All-Star catcher Sandy Alomar filled in for Francona a year ago.
Francona had deep, sometimes difficult conversations with team president and close friend Chris Antonetti before they mutually decided he needed to take a pause.
Francona’s issues have rendered him physically unable to do simple tasks, and he finally came to the realization he couldn’t go on.
“It’s been really hard,” he said. “I’ve had this internally battle on like, ‘Am I letting people down? Am I letting people down by staying? Am I being fair?’ It’s been beating me up. I admit that. Everything I do is hard, whether it’s getting to the airport or getting to the clubhouse. You’ve seen me taking pitchers out, that’s not even easy.
“It doesn’t make it very enjoyable and I miss that. All I do is go to the ballpark and then come home and get off my feet and lay in bed. And I got to give myself a a chance to have a little bit of a life.”
Antonetti marveled at Francona’s determination to push through the pain.
“I am in awe of Tito’s toughness and perseverance,” Antonetti said. “I know if it was me, I wouldn’t have been able to make it as far as Tito has with all the things he’s been dealing with. So I care for him.
“We talked about it a lot but in the end, I was going always leave that decision to Tito, and he would be the one to do it on his terms and on his time. The best way to answer it as a I said at the outset is that we arrived at this decision like so many others: together.”
Francona, a two-time World Series champion manager with the Boston Red Sox, dealt with serious health issues a year ago, when a gastrointestinal ailment — followed by blood clotting problems — led to spending an extended period in intensive care.
Francona is in his ninth season with Cleveland. He’s had a winning record each year and he’s just five wins from tying Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau (728) for the most wins in team history.
Francona led the Indians to the World Series in 2016, when the club lost in seven games to the Chicago Cubs. Cleveland hasn’t won the title since 1948 — baseball’s current longest drought.
The news on Francona continues a bumpy past week for the Indians, who have been overrun by injuries that have damaged their playoff hopes. Cleveland is 8 1/2 games behind the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central.
On Thursday, the Indians traded second baseman Cesar Hernandez to the White Sox, a signal that they’ve turned their focus toward improving their roster for the future.
Earlier this week, Francona missed two games with a nasty head cold he picked up on a recent road trip. Also, the Indians recently announced they’re changing their name to Guardians in 2022, a decision that has angered some fans.
Following the announcement, Francona spoke passionately about his love for the organization. His father, Tito, played for the Indians from 1959-64.
For now, Francona has to leave them.
“Man, it’s difficult,” he said. “A big reason why it’s difficult is because I love what I do and I love where I do it. I love this place. When people talk about our organization, I want them to talk with pride, because that’s how I feel.
“I don’t want that to ever change.”
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