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Monday, December 8, 2003
Francona says Wallace is first choice

Associated Press

BOSTON -- Terry Francona once wanted Tony Cloninger to be his pitching coach in Philadelphia. He may not make the same offer now that he's the manager of the Boston Red Sox.

Cloninger said Monday that Francona told him that Dave Wallace, who became interim pitching coach when Cloninger underwent cancer treatments last season, was the front-runner for the job.

"I'm not counting out that I'm going to be the pitching coach," Cloninger said in a telephone interview. He said he and Francona spoke by phone for about 20 minutes on Sunday.

Francona said Monday that he hoped a decision would be made soon and that he planned to meet Thursday in Boston with general manager Theo Epstein and other team officials. Epstein is scheduled to return Wednesday night after spending two days at the opening of the Red Sox baseball academy in the Dominican Republic.

"I'm not going to comment on anything like that out of respect for everybody," Francona said when asked whether Wallace was the front-runner.

Cloninger became pitching coach when Grady Little took over as manager before the 2002 season. The Red Sox let Little go after last season.

"I came over when Grady did and then things changed," Cloninger said. "That may have something to do with it."

Francona and Cloninger spoke highly of each other.

"We offered him the job" in Philadelphia in 1997, Francona said. "I enjoy Tony. He's a wonderful man."

Cloninger expressed interest but stayed with the New York Yankees as bullpen coach. Francona was fired after the 2000 season, his fourth as Phillies manager.

Cloninger, 63, missed much of last season when he underwent treatments for bladder cancer. He spent time at home in North Carolina and returned to Boston later in the season where he helped Wallace work with pitchers.

Cloninger said he's strong enough to reclaim his job.

"I hunted three or four nights in a row after my second treatment," he said.

Epstein and others in the organization told him last season that "I would be a Red Sox as long as I wanted to be. My understanding was I would be on the field," he said.

And if he isn't the pitching coach?

"There's not any hard feelings," Cloninger said. "I'll be hurt."