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Francona's knees are history

BOSTON -- Red Sox manager Terry Francona has frequently made sport of his own playing career, joking how he could never have played for the Red Sox with his low on-base percentage (.300 in a career that spanned parts of 10 seasons) and lack of power (16 home runs in 1,826 plate appearances).

What he seldom muses about, publicly at least, is what kind of career he would have had if he could have played on two healthy knees. Francona, a former college player of the year at Arizona and No. 1 draft pick of the Montreal Expos, was 46 games into his big-league career and starting regularly in left field in 1982 when he caught a spike while running into a wall in St. Louis. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and missed the rest of the season. He was batting .346 at the time, second in the National League.

Two years later, attempting to elude a tag from pitcher (and Peabody, Mass., native) John Tudor in a game in Montreal, Francona injured his left knee for the first time, and again was out for the season. He was batting .321 at the time, also second in the league.

Weirdly, the second injury came almost two years to the day of the first injury. The first was June 16, 1982. The second was June 14, 1984. For the rest of his career, Francona was never more than a part-time player, his big-league career ending just three days before his 31st birthday in 1990.

Five years ago this month, Francona had surgery to replace his right knee. Earlier this month, he went in for the same procedure on his left knee, the operation performed by Dr. Dennis Burke at Massachusetts General Hospital, who also did the right knee. Francona is on crutches now while he recuperates.

"A little beat up,'' Francona told ESPNBoston's Joe McDonald when they spoke on Monday.

Francona’s problems with his knees hardly ended with his playing days. He has had 19 operations by my count, and I might be missing one or two. If my tally is correct, this was the tie-breaker, the 10th procedure on his left knee as opposed to the nine on his right.

In 2002, Francona developed staph infections after arthroscopic surgery on both knees. Two additional surgeries on each knee were required to eliminate the infection, then Francona required emergency surgery because of massive internal bleeding in his right thigh.

This, in addition to pulmonary embolisms, placed Francona in life-threatening situations several times.

But now, both knees are gone, which should mean a good measure of relief for the 51-year-old Francona.