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Terry Francona steps away as Guardians manager, will assume future role with club after 11-year run

CLEVELAND (AP) — For one of the few times in his life, Terry Francona won't have to follow a strict daily schedule. He's got freedom and flexibility.

He'll no longer have to rush to Progressive Field early in the morning to review scouting reports. There's no required pregame media interviews anymore, and Francona doesn't have to get out to the field for batting practice.

Those hectic days are done.

“I’m going to be OK not having that," Francona said. “It’s been 40-something years of that. I'm ready to rest a little bit and let somebody else be in charge.”

No one, though, will replace him.

One of baseball's most beloved figures, Francona stepped away from the game — at least temporarily — on Tuesday, ending a 23-year managerial career that began in Philadelphia, peaked with two World Series titles in Boston and concluded with an 11-season stay in Cleveland.

Although his decision to leave the Guardians has been known for weeks, Francona and the Guardians didn't make it official until two days after their season ended with a third-place finish in the AL Central.

And while he won't return to Cleveland's dugout, the 64-year-old Francona will have a future unspecified role with the team.

He's not sure what or when. And that's just fine.

“I know I need to go home and get healthy and see what I miss about our game and then maybe after some time see the best way to maybe quench that appetite — whatever it is," he said. “I don’t foresee managing again. If I was going to manage, I like doing it here. But I also don’t want to just turn away from the game.”

Francona, who only had two losing seasons with Cleveland, became the fourth major league manager to depart in five days following the firings of San Francisco’s Gabe Kapler, the New York Mets’ Buck Showalter and the Los Angeles Angels’ Phil Nevin.

Slowed by serious medical issues in recent years, Francona intends to spend more time playing with his grandkids, getting healthy (shoulder replacement and double hernia surgery is scheduled for next week) and enjoying an extended offseason after a four-decade grind.

At some point, he'll consult with Chris Antonetti, the team's president of baseball operations, and general manager Mike Chernoff on how he can further assist an organization he's helped make one of MLB's strongest.

While he was saluted over the season's final weeks, Francona stayed clear of saying this was a retirement.

Maybe more of a pause than anything permanent.

“I never was real concerned about the word retire,” he said. "I guess when you say retire, it’s like, well, you’re going home and not doing anything. Don’t feel that way either. We'll figure something out that makes sense.

“Just need some time. I mean normally after a season I need some time anyway. This is a little different.”

When Francona was hired in October 2012, Antonetti said he never imagined their partnership would extend beyond a decade. That rarely happens in major professional sports.

But Francona's uncanny ability to connect with people along with the club's willingness to support and grow with him, created a situation that may be impossible to duplicate.

The Guardians have had it good with Francona, and vice versa.

“I’m a way better person now for coming here,” said Francona, the winningest manager in club history. "It's just been good, man. I came here for the right reasons. I’m leaving for the right reasons and in between it’s been really good.

“That doesn’t mean we haven’t been challenged. We get challenged all the time. But doing it with people you respect and care about and care about you is really good.”

The Guardians now search for his replacement, who will have a monumental challenge in filling Francona’s shoes.

Antonetti said the team has already conducted several interviews after beginning with an initial list of over 45 internal and external candidates to succeed Francona, who won three AL Manager of the Year Awards in Cleveland.

Antonetti said Guardians first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. declined an opportunity to interview, but told the team he wants to stay in a similar position on the new manager's staff.

Cleveland bench coach DeMarlo Hale, who filled in for Francona when he had to step down during the 2021 season, is believed to be among the candidates.

“The most important thing is that we get to the right person, and if we can do that quickly, great,” Antonetti said. “But if it takes us a month or longer, then that’s the necessary timeframe. But the most important thing is getting the right person.”

That was certainly the case with Francona.

With 1,950 career wins, he's 13th on the all-time list, sandwiched by Casey Stengel (1,905) and Leo Durocher (2,008), two other colorful managers who like Francona endeared themselves to fans and players.

Every manager ahead of Francona is a Hall of Famer except for Dusty Baker and Bruce Bochy, who remain active and likely will be enshrined one day.

Francona’s rise as one of the game’s best managers was somewhat unexpected.

Things didn’t go particularly well for him in Philadelphia, where he had four straight losing seasons, got constantly booed in a demanding, sports-crazed city and had the tires on his car slashed on fan appreciation day.

He was an unlikely choice for Boston’s job, but immediately claimed legendary status by winning the World Series in his first season.

The Red Sox overcame a 3-0 deficit in the AL Championship Series and swept St. Louis to end an 86-year championship drought and exorcise the “Curse of the Bambino,” a perceived hex on the team after Babe Ruth was sold to the rival New York Yankees.

When his tenure in Boston ended in 2011 amid some controversy, Francona took a year off and worked in broadcasting before going to Cleveland, where his dad spent six seasons and he himself played 62 games in 1988.

He was an ideal fit, nearly perfect. And, who knows, if there's not a rain delay late in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, it may have been even more special.

Francona's not exactly sure what's next.

Once he recovers from his surgeries, he'll go home to Tucson, Arizona, and cheer on his beloved Arizona Wildcats. Some golfing buddies are planning another trip to Ireland next summer, and Francona may finally join them.

Finally, he's got some time.

“It’ll be nice to just be able to do something if I want to,” he said.

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB

Tom Withers, The Associated Press