`Mulligan' powers Francona's O's shot

Candidate says experience as Phils manager would be asset if given 2nd chance


October 29, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The Philadelphia Phillies had four losing seasons when Terry Francona was their manager from 1997 to 2000, but he called the experience "invaluable" yesterday when he interviewed with the Orioles.

It will only make him better the next time, he said.

"Philadelphia may not want to hear this, but it's almost like having a mulligan," Francona said. "I had my chance to make my mistakes, to learn from them and to gain confidence, just like a player does."

Francona, 44, who spent last season as the Oakland Athletics' bench coach, was the fifth candidate to interview for the Orioles' managerial job. Earlier this month, they interviewed Eddie Murray, Sam Perlozzo, Rich Dauer and Rick Dempsey.

Today, they'll interview Tampa Bay Devil Rays third base coach Tom Foley, with New York Yankees first base coach Lee Mazzilli to follow tomorrow.

The Orioles considered interviewing Grady Little, who was fired Monday by the Boston Red Sox, but yesterday, an Orioles official said they had decided against it.

So of their seven interviewees, Francona is the only one with previous major league managing experience.

"I knew when I took the job in Philadelphia, they were looking for a young manager to grow with the club," Francona said. "I knew that going in, or they would have gotten Jim Leyland or someone else. I also know that I wish we would have had a better bullpen."

Francona was 38 when the Phillies hired him to be their manager. He had batted .274 in 11 seasons playing in the big leagues, including five years with the Montreal Expos.

The Phillies improved their record in Francona's first three years, going 68-94 and then 75-87 and 77-85. But in 2000, they finished with the worst record in the National League, at 65-97.

That July, they traded pitching ace Curt Schilling to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Travis Lee, Vincente Padilla, Nelson Figueroa and current Orioles pitcher Omar Daal.

The Phillies saw Francona as a good baseball man, but they wanted someone who would get in the face of their millionaire players. So they fired Francona and hired Larry Bowa. Two years later, they still haven't been back to the playoffs, even after signing Jim Thome and Kevin Millwood.

"Sometimes you need to make a change," Francona said. "I don't think [Phillies general manager] Ed Wade took any pleasure in firing me. I made a lot of close friends there. I went through a lot of times there. It's not a good city to not have a very good team.

"But it was a tremendous learning experience, and I think because of that, the next time I manage, I think I will be better and definitely more prepared to be successful. I feel very strongly about that."

Francona spent three hours talking with Orioles vice presidents Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan. He also interviewed for the Chicago White Sox managerial opening this month, and Red Sox officials have mentioned him as a potential candidate, as well.

"I've already been a manager; I don't want to manage for the wrong reasons," Francona said. "So if I wasn't interested in managing this ballclub, I would have politely and respectfully declined, and I actually have done that in the past."

Francona doesn't have the close ties to the Orioles that Murray, Perlozzo, Dauer and Dempsey have, but Francona's father, Tito, did play for the Orioles from 1956 to 1957.

Asked what he liked about the Orioles' opening, he said, "I think the history of the Orioles, first of all, is one that's very good and very long-standing.

"They've got some young players coming now," he added, "and they're going to go out and try to get a few players to make this club competitive again, and I don't think they're as far away as maybe other people think."

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