Terry Francona was reluctant all year to take a bow for the Cleveland Indians' success, saying it was all about the players. Thanks to the hip surgery he underwent a few days after the World Series, he was able to take his second American League Manager of the Year Award lying down.
"I've had both knees done and now my right hip, so if I can get my left one done, then I'll be fully bionic," he joked on a conference call with reporters Tuesday evening.
His body might get more mechanical if he has any more ailments. His managerial style, though, is anything but robotic. He led the Indians through a challenging season to within a game of their first World Series win since 1948 by bringing an unmistakable humanity to the job. He not only went against the book, he rewrote it along the way.
AL Manager of the Year voting
Terry Francona, Indians
Jeff Banister, Rangers
Buck Showalter, Orioles
John Farrell, Red Sox
Joe Girardi, Yankees
Scott Servais, Mariners
"I'm so fortunate," Francona said, "and I get to take a bow because of so many other people's hard work."
Francona's second Manager of the Year honor in four years in Cleveland makes him the eighth multiple-time winner since the award began in 1983. Francona won the award in 2013, his first season in Cleveland, for finishing a game out of first place in the AL Central. The only other Indians manager to ever win was Eric Wedge in 2007.
"Although Tito never seeks individual attention or recognition, it's great to see his extraordinary work honored with the AL Manager of the Year Award," Indians president Chris Antonetti said in a statement. "Tito has done a remarkable job in leading our Major League team during his four seasons with us and has been an instrumental part of any organizational success we've achieved, however, focusing only on those achievements would understate the impact he's had the entirety of the organization. His passion, work ethic, determination, collaboration, humility and team-first approach represent the values we aspire to embody throughout the organization."
Francona won this one by earning 22 out of 30 first-place votes in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America announced on Tuesday. Four others went to Rangers manager Jeff Banister, who finished second. Third-place finisher Buck Showalter of the Orioles and Boston's John Farrell picked up two first-place votes each.
All of them led their respective teams into the postseason through different challenges, but arguably none faced as many as Francona, who was the only manager named on every ballot.
He led the Indians to a 94-win season despite a bevy of injuries, from essentially a lost season by left fielder Michael Brantley to late-season maladies to catcher Yan Gomes and starting pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Cleveland held off the defending champion Royals and resurgent Tigers to win the AL Central, the Indians' first division title since 2007, then used a makeshift rotation and highly leveraged bullpen to advance to the World Series for the first time since 1997.
Though voting took place before the postseason, Francona's impact was already evident. The Indians led the Majors in platoon advantage, both offensively and with the pitching staff, becoming the first team to be first in both areas since the 1985 Cardinals. Francona used switch-hitting slugger Carlos Santana as a leadoff man and No. 5 hitter. The manager threw convention out the window with his bullpen, viewing pitchers as leverage options rather than assigning set roles.
Twice, the Indians won games in which Francona had to replace an injured starting pitcher in the first inning. He strung together relievers for 10 scoreless innings for a 1-0 win over the Tigers with two weeks left in the season, having lost Carrasco on the second pitch of the game. When Trevor Bauer had to leave with a bloody finger in Game 3 of the AL Championship Series, Francona assembled 8 1/3 innings of two-run ball to beat the Blue Jays.
Francona's bullpen usage down the stretch and through the postseason became famous, partly out of necessity with a shortened rotation, but bigger than a formula was a mentality. All the while, Francona helped create a tight-knit group that seemed focused more on team success than individual stats. Nowhere did that seem more evident than in the bullpen, where Trade Deadline acquisition Andrew Miller went from potential closer to Indians setup man and embraced the flexible role.
"We try to get everybody to think about our ballclub and put the personal things in the background," Francona said. "It's not perfect, but we work at it because we want to be better at it than other teams."
It's that same thought process that made Francona not want to look at his latest award as a personal honor.
"The really good thing about winning this," he said, "is it gives me an opportunity to brag about our players, our coaches and our organization, and if I don't, I'll be so wrong. My reward is watching our players play the game, and building relationships and that stuff. I want the players to win awards."
They still could. Corey Kluber is a finalist for the AL Cy Young award, to be revealed Wednesday on MLB Network. Esurance MLB Awards week concludes Friday on MLB Network and MLB.com at 8 p.m. ET with the MLB Awards. Categories include Best Major Leaguer, Hitter, Pitcher, Rookie, Executive and Manager.
Francona, meanwhile, will lie in bed, recovering, and thinking of next season. Even in his current state, he said he was on the phone with bench coach Alan Mills about next year, trying to prepare for the next challenge, trying to get better as a manager. Francona loves the job because of the journey, he said, not the end results or accolades. He'll worry about legacy later.
"I think that I'm really unbelievably fortunate to be where I'm at in baseball," he said. "I enjoy managing so much. The things that I cared about when I was the Birmingham Barons manager, I try to still live by. You try to put the organization and the players first, and I still feel that same way."
Jason Beck has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.