Terry Francona and the drama-free culture of the Cleveland Indians

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - AUGUST 28: Manager Terry Francona of the Cleveland Indians looks on while playing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on August 28, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - AUGUST 28: Manager Terry Francona of the Cleveland Indians looks on while playing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on August 28, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Say what you will about the on-field performances of the Cleveland Indians since 1948. At least they are not shrouded in never-ending dysfunction.

Most of us watched it happen live. For anyone who didn’t, just tune into any form of sports media for at least the next 96 hours, and you can watch it from a half-dozen angles. The Cleveland Browns won their second consecutive game, at home, on national television, against a division rival.

And the only thing anybody anywhere will remember about that game is that Myles Garrett swung a football helmet at Mason Rudolph.

Whether you are viewing the Garrett vs. Rudolph rumble from the outside looking in, are an even-keeled Browns fan, or are the most die-hard season ticket holder in the Dawg Pound, one thing I think we can all agree on is this: if any NFL team was going to find itself in a needless, over-the-top, undeniably detrimental situation on a night when it should’ve been celebrating, it was going to be the Browns.

Garrett, who is arguably the Browns’ best player on either side of the ball, will now watch from the sidelines as his team tries to climb back into the AFC playoff race. And in a way, that is befitting of a franchise that was preemptively believed to be a genuine Super Bowl contender for the 2019-20 season despite not having demonstrated a sustained culture of winning in decades.

Garrett’s actions on Thursday night are the icing on the cake of a Browns season defined largely by an under-performing celebrity at quarterback who is sometimes too honest for his own good, a star wide receiver with a reputation for being less than an ideal locker room presence who everyone outside of Cleveland is just waiting to see do something irredeemable, and an offseason signing of a running back who was basically kicked out of the league for nearly a full calendar year after being caught kicking a woman in the head on camera.

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I’m of the mind that both Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. are undeserving of most of the negativity that has been cast upon them, but the fact of the matter is this: the Cleveland Browns entered this season as the odds-on favorites to provide tabloid-style headlines for the national football media, and they haven’t disappointed in that regard.

Just across town from First Energy Stadium–the site of Thursday’s helmet slam heard ’round the world–resides a team that seldom finds itself under self-inflicted storm clouds, the Cleveland Indians.

While each new iteration of the historically hapless Browns is born in and molded by tumult, the Indians fly under the radar in all the right ways. Regarding the contemporary era of Cleveland baseball, this is undeniably a product of the positive clubhouse culture fostered by manager Terry Francona.

Francona is routinely and repeatedly criticized for a variety of managerial decisions, but his ability to handle the 25 human beings in the Progressive Field clubhouse for three quarters of the calendar year is beyond reproach.

Even the occasionally questionable antics of now-Cincinnati Red Trevor Bauer were never viewed through a national scope as a reflection of the Indians as an organization at large, nor were they used as a means to suggest Francona lacked control or respect in his clubhouse.

If any player in the Francona era stood to challenge his patience or otherwise ruffle feathers to the extent that it snowballed into a larger issue, Yasiel Puig would have been a safe bet to be the culprit. Though Puig certainly had his moments during a two-month tenure with the Tribe, his time with the team was by all accounts a net positive.

In this new phase of baseball dominated by bat-flips and bean-balls, old school unwritten rules versus letting the kids play, many MLB clubs can’t help but find themselves involved in on-field controversies that occasionally take a turn toward physical and dangerous–often resulting in fines, suspensions, and ultimately serving as an unwelcome distraction from the game of baseball itself.

But never the Indians. No opposing pitcher has ever buzzed the tower of Francisco Lindor for strutting around the bases with his patented smile after a home run. No Indians pitcher takes exception to similar behavior from the opposition–not even the notoriously emotional Bauer. And perhaps these two things go hand in hand. Perhaps the Indians are regarded throughout the league with a certain level of respect. And perhaps that, one might argue, can be viewed through a national scope as a reflection of the Indians as an organization.

The Indians don’t find themselves in bench-clearing, bullpen-emptying altercations. Francona can’t often be seen screaming in the faces of umpires, despite at least a handful of occasions in any given season in which doing so might actually serve his team well. He’s been ejected just 10 times during his tenure with the Tribe, and only once since the start of 2017. For context, White Sox manager Rick Renteria was tossed from eight games in 2019 alone.

Francona and the Indians could ultimately do better at achieving their collective goal of winning a World Series, but the same could be said for any manager and any roster that’s worn the uniform since 1948. There’s something to be said for the fact that the Indians just go out and play baseball.

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The football team across town is one of unarguable talent and potential that just can’t escape from its own three-ring circus. But for any faults the Indians have, the city of Cleveland should take comfort in and appreciate its baseball franchise’s history of doing things the right way.