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CLEVELAND -- Down at the Knotty Pine Pub, so deeply hidden off a lakeshore side street that some say it does not exist -- and maybe it doesn't -- a debate raged between two patrons.
The first was an alarmingly overweight man who went by -- clearing throat -- Harold C. McGillicutty III. The other combatant had the rather unusual handle of -- and I think I have this right -- Bor Rello. Scandinavian, I would guess.
Anyway, the conversation began as these things usually do, with a declarative statement -- in this case that coaches and managers are overrated -- before quickly escalating into an argument.
The bait that led to the bite? McGillicutty III insisted that the Cleveland Indians could win a World Series this season without manager Terry Francona.
"Preposterous," Bor bellowed, banging his beer on the wooden bar so forcefully that some of the brew sloshed out. Pity. "Tito is as important to the Tribe as Bill Belichick is to the New England Patriots."
"Belichick wouldn't be a genius without Tom Brady, and baseball managers are probably the most overrated game managers in sports," The III shot back, adding that Sparky Anderson was a nice guy and all, but Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne could have Dumb and Dumbered The Big Red Machine to back-to-back World Series titles in 1975-'76.
"Point being," 'Cutty continued, "give me Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller, Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley and Jose Ramirez, and I could lead the Tribe into late October, too."
"You couldn't lead kindergartners into a candy store," Rello countered. "Without Tito, the Indians lose the playful vibe that is a huge part of their success."
The hook to this whole thing, of course, is that the Indians gave their fans -- and really all of baseball -- an awful fright Friday by announcing that Francona had undergone a procedure Thursday to correct an irregular heartbeat.
The excellent news is that the cardiac ablation procedure was successful, and Francona is expected to rejoin the team next Thursday and begin managing again next Friday, barely a week after having entered the Cleveland Clinic for further testing to determine what caused him to miss several games in the past month. Tito, 58, had experienced a rapid heart rate and dizziness.
Unfortunately, Francona will not manage the American League on Tuesday in the All-Star Game in Miami. Indians president Chris Antonetti confirmed Friday that his manager has been advised to rest over the break, which precludes traveling to south Florida. Cleveland bench coach Brad Mills, who has been filling in for Francona, will manage the AL.
Listening to the two pub inhabitants berate one another, I felt a strange kinship with Rello. True, Francona doesn't pitch, hit or steal bases, but his presence in the clubhouse and dugout is such that he is as important as any player.
Rello did not mention it, but the Tribe finished 68-94 under Manny Acta in 2012. The next season, under Tito, the Indians went 92-70. He led Cleveland to the World Series last fall.
Even better proof of Francona's impact on the Indians comes courtesy of his players.
"It doesn't matter if you're a rookie or a veteran," closer Cody Allen said Friday before an 11-2 victory over Detroit. "When you walk out of his office, you feel important."
Added starter Josh Tomlin: "He's just a guy you know you can trust. He's not going to give up on you."
And this from Miller, the setup man whose specialty is setting down hitters: "It's been seamless (with Mills) but it's certainly a different personality (from Francona). There's a way Tito handles a group of players that's unique to anybody. It's special."
No argument here. And, really, no argument anywhere. Unlike those who question his worth, Tito is the real deal.