Alomar Jr. has future as big league manager
Although he was not chosen as skipper, former All-Star is content with team he loves
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When Indians general manager Chris Antonetti had to make the decision this past offseason to hire a new manager, the choice came down to Terry Francona or interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr.
Francona got the job, but Antonetti made it clear earlier this spring how highly he admires the former Cleveland All-Star catcher, who he says has a big future ahead of him as a Major League manager.
"It was a very difficult decision," Antonetti said. "But once we got through the interview process with Terry and Sandy, we didn't think we had to talk to anybody else. They would both have been exceptional choices. We went with Terry's experience, but selecting Terry was in no way a slight to Sandy, because in the near term I think he's going to go out and be a very, very good Major League manager."
Francona has a great deal of experience and history in the dugout. Alomar's managerial background was the final six games of the Indians' 2012 season after the dismissal of Manny Acta.
"When they gave me the interim managing job, I knew the word interim was interim," Alomar said. "I accepted that. This guy Tito Francona knows this organization and has a track record. I knew it was not going to be easy for me to get this job full-time."
No matter. Antonetti loves Alomar and Francona is well-adjusted. It says a lot about Francona's self-confidence that his first staffing move with the Indians was to hire the man who he beat out for the job as his bench coach.
Alomar didn't play for or work with Francona when he managed in Philadelphia or Boston, where the man they call "Tito" after his ball-playing father won two World Series titles before resigning after a dismal finish to the 2011 season.
"That was our first hire, and it was an easy one," Francona said about Alomar on Friday before the Indians played the Royals at Surprise Stadium. "With his history here and his reputation, it was an easy hire."
Now an entire Spring Training has come and gone, and the pair has meshed as anticipated.
"It's been fun," Francona said. "I knew it would be. I go back with him to 1988 in winter ball when his dad was a manager. It'll be a good working relationship and a good friendship. It's just been easy from day one."
"He's a very likeable guy," he said about Francona. "He's been unbelievable so far in camp. I have a lot of respect for him. I played with Tito in winter ball with my father. Every player I've talked to has unbelievable things to say about him. If I'm going to manage in the big leagues, my time will come. I'm not concerned about that. I have my job to do as bench coach, and I really love this organization."
The Alomar family is considered baseball royalty. They are from the town of Ponce on the southern coast of Puerto Rico. Sandy Sr. was a fine Major League infielder in his own right. He was a winter league manager on the island and a longtime big league coach. Now retired, he was never hired as a Major League manager.
Sandy Sr.'s youngest son Robbie is a Hall of Fame second baseman and currently an executive for the Blue Jays. Alomar Jr. caught for the Indians teams that lost the 1995 and '97 World Series. He was also named MVP of the 1997 All-Star Game staged that year in his home yard, then called Jacobs Field.
Alomar Jr. had a 20-year career as a catcher. For numerous reasons, backstops seem to make the best managers, as guys like Bruce Bochy, Joe Girardi, Bob Melvin and Tony Pena -- manager of the 8-0 World Baseball Classic champion Dominicans -- are proving.
They study the game from behind the plate and earn a wide breadth of knowledge handling pitchers and moving around defenses. They are also expected to hit at the level of other position players. For anyone's money, Bochy has been the best in baseball at running a bullpen during his tenures managing the Padres and Giants. Girardi isn't far behind since taking over the Yankees in 2008 from Joe Torre, another catcher-turned-manager.
Antonetti believes Alomar has all the same attributes.
"He's got unbelievable experience as a player, and he's now gaining that as a coach," Antonetti said. "He's got a very great way about him. He's disciplined in his preparation. He connects with players exceptionally well. He relates to them well. He has a very high standard for success. I think when you combine those attributes, there's a lot of ingredients for him to be a successful manager."
Alomar is, of course, Mr. Indian, having played 11 seasons in a Cleveland uniform. It's still a bit disconcerting to see Chief Wahoo on Francona's chest after his highly successful eight years in Boston, when the Red Sox never finished with less than 86 wins or lower than third place in the American League East.
But as he says, "You better get used to it." Francona signed a four-year contract, which means Alomar's managing career will probably begin somewhere else.
"I'm really not worried about that," Alomar said. "I always focus on the task at hand. If the opportunity arises with somebody else, then that will come. I'll worry about it then."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.