Special to Sports News Highlights

(SNH) — Filling the managerial shoes left by the beloved and highly successful Terry Francona was never going to be easy, no matter who stepped in to guide the Cleveland Guardians for the 2024 season.

The man known as “Tito,” with 1,950 managerial wins, went 921-757, won five division titles and took Cleveland to the 2016 World Series during his 11 seasons as the club’s manager. Yeah, daunting stuff for his successor.

Yet, roughly two months into the 2024 season, Guardians fans are loving life under new skipper Stephen Vogt. Entering play Tuesday, Cleveland has the third-best record in the majors (39-20), owns a four-game lead over Kansas City in the AL Central and just might be the most balanced team in baseball.

The Guardians rank among the major-league leaders in runs (298) and team ERA (3.47), are 20-7 at home, where they just won nine a row, and have thrived even after losing star pitcher Shane Bieber to a serious season-ending elbow injury two starts into this season.  

“They’re resilient, they fight,” Vogt said of his team. “That’s what this group of guys does. They expect (to be successful), they demand it of themselves, and they go out and get it done.” 

Not bad for the team with a manager whose own major-league career, which spanned parts of 10 seasons and five different franchises, ended in 2022. He then spent last season as the bullpen and quality control coach for the Seattle Mariners. Not exactly the type of resume that screams big-league manager. 

However, for those who have watched the Guardians this season, and notice the fun they’re having while brimming with confidence, then the hire makes sense. 

They’re led by 31-year-old, five-time All-Star Jose Ramirez, the power hitter who’s been known to score from second base on a wild pitch, and 26-year-old budding star Steven Kwan, who entered Tuesday batting a nifty .362. Journeyman pitcher Ben Lively is a surprise 5-2 with a 2.84 ERA and the Guardians bullpen sports a big-league best 2.42 ERA. 

And, the 39-year-old Vogt, a former catcher who has been liked by just about anybody he’s met since breaking into the majors in 2012, is obviously a big reason. He’s even-keeled, consistently praises his players, but also expects them to perform to earn a level of trust needed for the club to be collectively successful. 

Oh yeah, he’s also humble.

“I inherited a great situation,” Vogt said. “It’s not like we need to do a 180.” 

At some point, possibly, the bloom could come off the managerial rose for Vogt, who, along with his own club, is taking everything in stride. When things get rough, how will he handle things? 

That’s a question which may or may not come in 2024.  

For the moment, however, the Guardians’ brass hit a home run with their new manager. A guy who was a hard-working, grind-it-out player that worked for everything he got.  

Much like the collective backbone who make up the city of Cleveland and its metropolitan area. And, certainly those who wear the Guardians’ uniform this season. 

“It’s been a lot of fun so far,” Vogt said, “but there’s a long way to go.” 

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