By Pat Anson, Editor
Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona – who has led the Indians to their first World Series since 1997 -- has struggled for decades with chronic pain from knee, wrist and shoulder injuries.
His story is an inspirational one to pain sufferers who have also dealt with the stigma associated with chronic pain and the use of opioid pain medication.
Francona may be the front runner for American League manager of the year, but it wasn’t too long ago that he was barely able to walk after complications from knee replacement surgeries left him in severe pain with blood clots and staph infections.
His managerial career also seemed finished after rumors surfaced that he abused pain medication while managing the Boston Red Sox.
Francona was upfront about his health problems and use of painkillers like oxycodone and Percocet in his book with Dan Shaughnessy; “Francona: The Red Sox Years.”
“I think I probably should have died with all that happened,” Francona said of one extended hospitalization in 2002, when his right leg almost had to be amputated.
“There were a couple of nights in the hospital where I was thinking, I can’t take this anymore. The nurses would come running in because I’d stop breathing. I was in bad shape. There were people around who did not think I was going to make it. I know I came real close to losing the leg.”
Pain medication helped him survive the ordeal.
“I lived on it at that time,” Francona recalled in the book. “When I left the hospital, I was on heavy-duty drugs, and it was tough.”
Francona recovered and resumed his career as a baseball coach. In 2004, he was hired as manager of the Red Sox and led the team to its first World Series title in 86 years. They added a second title in 2007. Through it all, Francona was still in pain and taking so much medication he would sometimes joke about it. He also started hoarding pain pills.
When one of Francona’s adult daughters found a bottle in his home with 100 Percocet pills, she convinced her father to see a pain management specialist and enter a confidential drug treatment program managed by Major League Baseball.
That was in 2011, the year Francona’s marriage and his career as Red Sox manager unraveled at the same time. A team that many predicted would win yet another World Series suffered an historic collapse. Stories surfaced about players drinking beer, eating fried chicken and playing video games in the clubhouse during games. Anonymous sources pinned much of the blame on Francona, who was unceremoniously dumped by the Red Sox at the end of the season.
“Team sources said Francona… appeared distracted during the season by issues related to his troubled marriage and to his health,” reported the Boston Globe. “Team sources also expressed concern that Francona’s performance may have been affected by his use of pain medication.”
Francona felt betrayed by the team and by the insinuation that he was an addict.
“I don’t have a drug problem, that’s pretty obvious. I don’t drink that much, but I joke about it a lot. Anybody that knew me knew that I had taken more painkillers in ’04, because my knees were shot,” he said.
Francona was hired as manager by the Indians in 2012 and has guided them to four consecutive winning seasons. The Indians swept Francona’s old club – the Red Sox – to win the American League’s divisional series this month. They went on to beat the Toronto Blue Jays to win the American League pennant and now face the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.
This is Francona’s 16th year managing in the big leagues. At 57, he doesn’t talk much about his health problems – preferring instead that the attention be focused on his players. In addition to pain medication, Francona reportedly takes blood thinning medication and wears compression sleeves on his legs to improve blood circulation.