CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – Indians President Chris Antonetti said he had to fight Terry Francona to get the manager to stay home from Miami and rest instead of managing the 2017 All-Star Game.
If Tuesday night’s affair is anything like Francona’s last go-around as the American League manager, he may be thanking Antonetti the next time the two friends cross paths.
Before going on his sabbatical to fix an irregular heartbeat, Francona detailed his experience in the longest All-Star Game in baseball history.
The troubles began early for the then-Red Sox manager, as his train from Boston to New York arrived late at night.
Assisting Tito in assembling the All-Star roster was Phyllis Merhige, an employee at the MLB offices for over 35 years, who Francona said he talked to five or six times a day over last week. Merhige told Francona that all she wanted was to get her hair done, but that the manager’s constant contact prevented that from happening.
“The people who know Phyllis, she was waiting in the ballroom with keys for everybody, it was probably three in the morning, and I walked up and said, ‘your hair looks like (crap),’” Francona joked. “To this day that’s something every time I see her, I laugh. She’s a trooper.”
The game went off without a hitch, with the National League striking once in the 5th and 6th inning before Boston’s JD Drew tied things up with a 2-run homer in the 7th. Each team scored in the eighth before a scoreless 6 ½ innings ensued.
With the infamous All-Star tie a year before, Francona said the league was sensitive to the idea of a tie in consecutive years, having received backlash from fans following the 2007 game.
Naturally, the game went 15 innings, and the manager quickly used up his potential hurlers, putting pressure on Francona’s shoulders.
“(Former Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Jimmie Lee Solomon) came down the tunnel about the 13th inning and he poked his head around and he was like, ‘Hey, are we OK with pitching?’” Francona recalled. “And by then I was already panicked.”
Francona went on to tell Brad Mills’ account of the story in which Tito retorted to Solomon, more or less asking if he could pitch, with a few other choice words thrown in.
“I was looking at the lineup card in the 14th inning and (Former Manager Jim) Leyland being Leyland, he was like, ‘ Big boy, you can look at that card all you want, you’re not going to find a pitcher.’”
The skipper even got on his own player, Rays catcher Dioner Navarro, after he got thrown out at the plate trying to score on a single from Michael Young in the 11th.
“I went out to make a pitching change and I looked and said, ‘My God, man, are you slow,’” Francona joked. ”He got thrown out by about 20 feet. Just to lighten the mood a little bit, because I think everybody was kind of feeling it by then.”
Eventually, a few pitchers made themselves available despite their teams hoping for the contrary, as Baltimore closer George Sherrill threw two innings for Francona, and Tampa Bay starter Scott Kazmir picked up the win after pitching the 15th.
Both teams were divisional rivals of Francona at the time, and neither were particularly fond of the decisions.
“I remember calling the guys from Baltimore after the game — like the next day — saying, ‘Hey, I feel [bad],” he said. “I wanted to call and let you know that part of me apologizes, and I don’t know what else to do.’ I think he only threw like 20-something pitches, and I thought they would at least appreciate it. They weren’t very happy about it.”
Francona’s next move would have been to put his own position player, Drew, into the game, but luckily Young’s sacrifice fly turned the tide.