Cleveland Indians bench coach Brad Mills and manager Terry Francona have known each other for almost 40 years, and Mills will have to stand-in for his good friend to manage the 2017 American League All-Star team. Francona is recovering from a heart procedure he underwent in Cleveland last week.
The 58-year-old Francona was set to manage the AL team because the Indians won the pennant last year, only to lose to the Chicago Cubs in seven games. He has already managed the 2005 and 2008 All-Star Games after the Boston Red Sox won the World Series the previous years.
Here’s a look at Francona and Mills’ friendship.
1. Mills & Francona Have Known Each Other Since 1978, When They Played at the University of Arizona
The 60-year-old Mills and Francona’s friendship dates back to 1978, when they first met at the University of Arizona. According to MLB.com, Mills and Francona were the only University of Arizona recruits to get full scholarships. Mills knew that Francona was the son of retired MLB player Tito Francona and was excited to meet him.
Mills was surprised to see Francona more laid back than expected. But they still became fast friends and were roommates on the road.
“I’m not sure if Coach [Jerry] Kindall put me with Terry as roommates on a lot of trips to keep him straight,” Mills told MLB.com. “I don’t know if I helped him or if he corrupted me.”
Their friendship continues today, with Francona nicknaming Mills “Millsie.” Francona is nicknamed “Tito” around the MLB, in honor of his father.
2. Francona Called Mills for Advice When He Became a Minor League Manager in 1992
Both Mills and Francona didn’t have remarkable careers as players. Francona played in the majors for 10 years, playing for five different teams. Mills was only in the majors for four years, spending most of his career with the Montreal Expos. He didn’t retire as a player until 1986, after suffering a career-ending knee injury at age 29.
Mills started his managerial career first. As the New York Times reported in 2010, the Chicago Cubs hired Mills to coach a rookie league team in Virginia in 1987.
In 1992, Francona began his coaching career after retirement. He was first hired to manage teams in the Chicago White Sox farm system. The Times reports that Francona called Mills up right after he was hired for advice.
“I always figured I’d be on his staff,” Francona told the Times. “But things work out for funny reasons.”
3. Mills & Francona First Coached Together in Philadelphia
When the Philadelphia Phillies hired Francona to manage in 1997, Mills joined him as first base coach. Their years in Philadelphia were terrible, with the Phillies never having a winning record in his four seasons. Francona had a 285-363 record and didn’t manage again until the Red Sox hired him in 2004.
Between 2000 and 2004, Mills stayed busy. In 2003, he returned to the Expos franchise to serve as bench coach with manager Frank Robinson.
Mills was Francona’s bench coach in Boston for most of his tenure. They won two World Series championships before Mills left in 2010 for his run as Houston Astros manager. His tenure in Houston wasn’t great, posting a 171-274 record. Mills was fired midway through the 2012 season.
When Mills got the Houston job, they stayed in contact. At the time, the Red Sox and Astros also weren’t league rivals, since the Astros were still in the NL.
“That’s just how close we are, how we do things,” Mills told the Times in 2010. “It’s not any big deal to either one of us. But I respect him, I like him, I want them to have a good year — and I’d love to face them at the end of the season.”
4. Mills Re-Joined Francona in Cleveland in October 2012
Mills didn’t have to wait long for another job after the Astros fired him. A year after leaving Boston on bad terms, the Cleveland Indians hired Francona.
Francona filled his staff with familiar faces. The Indians announced that Francona kept Sandy Alomar Jr. around as a bench coach, while Mills was hired as third base coach at first. Alomar is now first base coach, with Mills moving up to bench coach.
“I think we actually have a really well-rounded staff,” Francona said in 2012. “It wasn’t necessary for me to have prior relationships with people. But I think in some instances, when you’re looking for coaches, that’s probably the reason you’re looking for guys. You’ve been around them and you appreciate the way they work.”
Francona has been successful with the Indians. They still haven’t had a losing season under Francona and he’s won AL Manager of the Year in 2013 and 2016. In 2016, he took the franchise to its first World Series since 1997, although they lost to the Cubs in seven games.
5. Mills Is the Straight Man, While Francona Loves to Joke Around
Mills and Francona might be best friends, but they have two very different personalities. While Francona loves to joke around the clubhouse, “Millsie” plays the straight man.
“Brad’s the anti-Tito,” Indians All-Star reliever Andrew Miller told the Associated Press. “To watch them work together and see how different they are, and yet how much they do like each other, it’s pretty special. I don’t know if they could be more different.”
When the games start though, they are laser-focused on what’s happening on the diamond.
“Millsy and Tito are pretty much joined at the hip,” Indians All-Star right-hander Corey Kluber told the AP. “It might be Brad Mills managing the team, but it’s not going to be that much different than if it was Tito.”
The rest of the Indians coaching staff is also helping Mills out, and Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Clash will be joining them.
“You really couldn’t do wrong with putting them anybody anywhere in the lineup that we have,” Mills told the AP of the AL All-Star team. “It was more about this being a show, let these guys show what they can do. Up and down the lineup we can shuffle it, put anybody in there.”