SON OF A MAJOR LEAGUER
- Terry is the son of Tito Francona, who played 15 years in the Major Leagues. Terry says, "My Dad never coached me. Not once. When I'd come in from a game he'd ask me only two things. Did I play the game right? Did I have fun? And if the answer to both those questions was yes, that was all right. It didn't matter if we'd won or lost or how many hits I had."
When Francona was in high school, he broke a school record for the golf team. He asked his coach, Drew Szabo, the name of the player who held the record before him. The answer: Rodney Oxenhurdt, a well-liked kid who had died in a car accident and whose name had been preserved on a trophy at New Brighton. Francona paused, then told Szabo to leave Oxenhurdt's name on the trophy.
That is Terry Francona. (Sean Deveney-The Sporting News-10/01/07)
Terry recalled spending time at the park with his father.
“I think my dad’s last three or four years, I went to the ballpark with him just about every day,’’ Francona said. “You weren’t allowed in the clubhouse. I’d run in and grab some candy. I thought I was sneaking it and then I’d go run around.’’
Francona said Al Downing and Rick Monday were among his favorite players because they were willing to play catch with him.
“All it takes when you’re 8, 9, 10 years old is somebody to say hello to you,’’ Francona said. “That kind of does it. There was always somebody on every team, somebody willing to let a 10-year-old get in the way and play catch with.’’
A grouchy Gene Mauch, on the other hand, once kicked Francona out of the clubhouse.
In 1970, his father’s last season, Francona went on a 10-day August road trip with the Brewers to Minnesota, Chicago, and Kansas City. “Back then you didn’t do that,’’ Francona said.
But manager Dave Bristol, “a grizzled baseball guy,’’ Francona said, allowed it.
Francona recalled watching Bert Blyleven pitch and marveling at his curveball.
“It was probably the funnest 10 days of my life,’’ Francona said. “My mom bought me a suit to go on that trip, dressed me up, and put a tie on me. When I came home after that 10 days, man, I looked like an unmade bed.’’
Francona allows the players to have their sons in the clubhouse as often as they want. Victor Martinez Jr.and D’Angelo Ortiz are often underfoot, playing catch or dressing in their own uniforms.
“It’s good,’’ Francona said. “When you think about it, we’re away from our families so much and these guys are a lot. I think you can see how healthy it is when the kids are around. I think it’s good." (Peter Abraham-Boston Globe-6/21/10)
- In 1997, Tito Francona retired as the Director of Parks and Recreation in New Brighton, Pennsylvania. He never brought his own game home with him. "When he got three hits, he didn't go out and buy me a new toy," Terry recalls. "You could never tell how he had played. It never made a difference. And for that, I'll always be thankful."
- When his Dad would come home from those hot, steamy St. Louis afternoons of playing baseball for the Cardinals, Terry would be in front of the door with a baseball glove for both he and his father.
"I'd have my glove waiting and a glove for him," said Terry Francona. "And he'd go out and play catch with me or hit me fly balls. Then when I got older and I started playing, I remember thinking, 'My goodness, my Dad came home from the ballpark, he was exhausted, and he would play catch with me.' I waited for him on the doorstep. I never knew if he had played good or played bad when he got home. I hope that taught me a lot of lessons with my children."
- Terry plays golf in his leisure time.
- In 1989, Terry was signed by the Brewers as a free agent.
- After the 1990 season, Terry underwent knee surgery that led to the end of his playing career.
- In 1993, Terry was Baseball America's Minor League Manager of the Year while with the AA Birmingham Barons.
He married Jacqui Lang January 9, 1982. They have four children: Nick (born 7/11/85), Alyssa (4/7/87), Leah (1/27/89), and Jamie (11/25/94).
In 2005 and 2006, Terry was paying about $70,000 per year for his son at the University of Pennsylvania and daughter at the University of North Carolina. He also had a daughter in high school and a daughter in middle school, so they are not far away from needing college money too.
- Francona is utterly without pretense. He has absolutely no ego.
- Terry sometimes plays cribbage with his players before games. Cribbage is a counting card game devised by the 17th-century English poet Sir John Suckling. It demands cunning, skill, experience, etiquette, and luck. Kind of like managing.
Francona has fought a long battle to stop chewing tobacco. According to coach Brad Mills, he has cut back a lot.
"Now, it's just three chunks of bubble gum, with just a little bit of chewing tobacco mixed in," Mills said near the end of the 2007 season. "The thing is, Tito doesn't chew at all between the end of the season and Opening Day."
- May 13-14, 2008: Terry missed a couple of games to be with family after Mary Ann Lang, the mother of Francona's wife, Jacque, succumbed to cancer.
- 2004 World Series: Terry became the third manager in four years to win a World Series in his first year as a manager. The others were Bob Brenly (Arizona) and Jack McKeon (Florida).
- March 5, 2015: Francona's red scooter that he rides around during training camp and to and from Progressive Field in downtown Cleveland during the regular season was wrecked recently by a team employee during a promotional video shoot.
Francona was pleased to report that the unnamed rider is doing fine, but his two-wheeled vehicle is going to require some maintenance.
"It's in the shop," he said, "as is the kid."
Francona didn't reveal the exact nature of the scooter's problems, but indicated it could be some time before the motorized bike is back on the streets.
Tito switched from chewing tobacco to bubble gum a few years ago. And he chews a lot of the sugary confection.
Asked how many pieces he puts in his mouth, Terry started computing, wanting to give an honest answer, then said, "Probably 80 pieces, average, but if it is a very close game, a few more. If not, less."
Memorial Day means a little more to Terry these days. Appreciation for the annual holiday grew for him after his son, Nick, joined the U.S. Marines and served overseas. Francona said he knows this day should have carried more weight for him years earlier.
"For right or wrong, my feelings probably changed when my son went into the Marines," Francona said. "I probably started to be a little more respectful of days like this than I probably should've been all along. I know during the National Anthem, I probably think more about things that maybe I should've [thought about] a long time ago."
In 2011, Nick Francona served in Afghanistan as the commander of a Marine brigade's scout-sniper platoon. The son of the Cleveland manager currently works in the player development department for the Dodgers, following a stint in the Angels' front office during the 2014 season.
Since taking over as the Indians' manager in 2013, Francona has helped with a "Friends of Francona" program that hosts members of the military or first responders for each Sunday home game.
"Back in generations before me, you didn't sign up. You had to go," he said. "Now, that's not the case. People volunteer. And I think what's kind of neat is, they refer to people as heroes. But, what they are, are regular people that choose to do something that helps us live our life how we want to.
"I guess that's what makes a hero. That's pretty cool. Unfortunately, along the way, people lose their lives, they have injuries that hurt their way of life. It's difficult to understand, but hopefully it's not just today that we remember." (Bastian - mlb.com - 5/25/15)
Terry said his father never quite understood why the nickname made it to a second generation. "Tito" is what the elder Francona was called since his youth, and it is now what friends and family, and even players in the clubhouse, often use for the Indians' manager.
"Because I care about my dad so much," Terry Francona said, "I always took it as a compliment."
Little Tito was back with his team following the funeral of his dad, John "Tito" Francona, on February 17, 2018, in New Brighton, Pa. Tito, who suited up for the Indians from 1959-1964, died at his home. He was 84. That created a somber tone to the early portion of Spring Training around the team's complex.F rancona cherishes his memories with his dad, but said he is especially grateful for the past five years.
Tito Francona only spent six years of his career in a Cleveland uniform, but he quickly became a fan favorite. He nearly won a batting title in 1959—the same year Terry was born. And he was an American League All-Star in 1961. Tito was at the media conference when his son was named the 42nd manager in club history before the 2013 season. In the years since, he watched as many games as he could, called his son often, and made the drive from New Brighton when he could take in games in person.
In 2016, Tito threw out the ceremonial first pitch in the Indians' first playoff game, when they came one win shy of the franchise's first World Series title since 1948. He was the first person to call Terry when the Tribe clinched the pennant that year, and Little Tito badly wanted to win it all, not only for the city, but given his father's ties to the organization.
"Cleveland's as close to family, a familial feeling, as you can get in a professional setting for him and myself," Francona said. "My son did kind of a eulogy and he mentioned that, like what a fitting way to kind of wind down your life, being that happy."
Over the past several days, Francona has tried to return every message left from people who knew his dad. He was overwhelmed by the notes that flooded in. "When you play for nine teams and you're a good guy," Francona said, "you're going to know a lot of people."
Francona grew up in a big league clubhouse. It was his dad's teammates who dubbed him "Little Tito" long ago, and that remains where he is most comfortable. There is another season at hand. Terry knows Tito would not want his him to be distracted by anything else.
"It's so nice to be back," Francona said. "I went back for two days to be with my family and then I came back here to kind of be with my family. I care about the game, I respect the game, I love the game, because of my dad. I guarantee you that. He taught me to care about baseball so deeply. I got that right from him." (Bastian - mlb.com = 2/19/18)
TITO GOES SKYDIVING
March 17, 2019: With final roster cuts nearing, vacancies in the outfield that still need to be addressed and bullpen spots to fill, where would be a better place to clear your thoughts than 14,000 feet in the air? Yes, crunch time is just around the corner as the Indians enter their final days in Goodyear. It’s a time where players on the bubble start gripping the bat a little tighter as anxiety and tension grow to make the final cut. But before the big decisions need to be made, manager Terry Francona experienced some nerves of his own as he strapped a parachute to his back to skydive for the first time.
Francona happened to be swimming at the same pool as some Navy SEALs who had talked about their skydiving experiences, which piqued the manager’s interest. He had the Indians’ vice president of baseball learning and development, Jay Hennessey (who served 25 years in the United States Navy), do some research around the area to find the best skydiving companies. After the Indians’ win against the Rockies, Francona headed to Skydive Buckeye, 21 miles from Goodyear Ballpark. When he arrived, he had to go through three pages of paperwork, which he said was like signing his life away.
“I thought that was interesting, when I went out there, [bench coach Brad Mills] moved all his [stuff] into my office. Maybe they’re trying to tell me something,” Francona said, laughing.
Francona received a quick briefing, then got strapped in and headed to the plane. According to Skydive Buckeye’s website, it takes about 15-20 minutes for the plane to get up to approximately two miles in the air.
“As soon as we took off, he went straight up,” Francona said. “I thought we were going down. I was like, ‘[Dang], I didn’t even get to jump.’ But it was intense.”
Francona was attached to his instructor on the flight, sitting on his lap. Once the plane hit the desired altitude, the tandem made their way to the edge of the plane.
“For me, to get out of the plane was the hardest thing,” Francona said. “He’s like, ‘Pull your legs up.’ And I’m like, ‘They are!’ But they open the door and that wind comes . . . and you’re like, ‘Oh my god.’ “But then I got my feet out on the strut, and I was OK. I wasn’t panicked. But I started to ask him something about when we’re going, and all of a sudden the plane is over there! It’s amazing, what goes through your mind. All the stupid stuff you’ve done in your life.”
The free fall lasted about 45 seconds, but Francona said he couldn’t fully enjoy it because of the air pressure and wind causing his face to blow back around his head. If he’d do it again, he’d use a helmet to block that all out.
“You know when you clinch the division and they pour champagne on your head? After like three seconds, you’re like, enough,” Francona said. “Try that for 45 seconds. I thought my head was going to explode.”
Although it may have felt like an eternity in the moment, the 45 seconds blew past and Francona quickly forgot about the pressure in his head when the parachute was pulled, causing a painful jolt. But then, a sudden rush of peace came over him as he began his four-minute float down to land. But the ground came up quickly.
“You come in, man, kind of hot,” Francona said. “I mean, it’s all gravel. I’m like, ‘[Dang], man. That’s going to hurt.’ And then you just walk right into it. It was unbelievable.” (M Bell - MLB.com - March 17, 2019)
- Oct 7, 2020: Clinching a postseason berth didn’t include the same type of celebration in 2020. But for Indians manager Terry Francona, it was even more foreign. He wasn’t in the dugout or with his team. Instead, he was back at the hotel when front office personnel stopped by his room with a postseason hat to celebrate for five minutes.
As strange as it seems, it was a moment that brought a tremendous amount of joy to Francona, who may not have been able to envision having an experience like that just weeks prior.
“For a couple weeks there, I was not just away from the game, I was away from everything,” Francona said. “It was getting a little hairy there.”
Francona's health issues began early in the year, as gastrointestinal problems sidelined him a few times during Spring Training. From the time baseball was suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak until Summer Camp began in July, Francona estimates that he was put under anesthesia nine or 10 times for procedures.
“It took its toll,” Francona said. “When we started our second Spring Training, there was a couple weeks there where I actually felt pretty good. … But then it kind of went the other way pretty quickly.”
No one knew just how bad it was going to get.
Francona left the team Aug. 2, right before first pitch in Minnesota, leaving Sandy Alomar Jr. to fill in as manager. Francona had a few appointments at the Cleveland Clinic then returned to the club a week later, when the Indians were determining what to do with starters Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac after they broke team protocols in Chicago.
“I just felt like I really needed to be there to help through that period,” Francona said.
Five days later, Francona realized something was very wrong. He had been chalking up some of his symptoms to aggravating a hernia, but when his right leg became too swollen to wear a shoe, he knew the hernia wasn’t the problem.
“That last day in Detroit, I couldn't get my shoe on and I was fidgety, and everybody was noticing,” Francona said. “Even though we were winning the game, [replay coordinator Mike Barnett] said I was dropping F-bombs. I was just really uncomfortable.”
Francona immediately returned to the Cleveland Clinic and learned he had a blood clot. But similar to the blood clot issue he had in 2002, this time around there was not just one. Francona said he re-clotted three more times after he underwent his first procedure. He needed three surgeries in five days and spent four days in the ICU.
“I was feeling pretty lousy, and I just couldn’t figure out why, and it made a heck of a lot more sense when it was explained to me,” Francona said. “I don’t want to go through that anymore, though. I don’t know why it happened, but I certainly don’t want to go through it again.”
When he was well enough to return to his apartment, Francona was back to watching Indians games on TV. Because he lived just a few blocks away from the ballpark, he was able to hear the celebratory fireworks after a win. That’s when it became difficult to accept that he couldn’t be with his team.
“As happy as I was, it also brought home the fact that I was two blocks away, but probably could have been 2,000 miles away for all I was helping,” Francona said.
In those moments, it was easy for Francona to consider retiring at the end of this season. But Francona said he did his best not to think in that manner. In the meantime, he tried to help Alomar from afar, but mostly wanted to stay out of his way.
“I thought [Alomar] was tremendous,” Francona said. “The biggest thing I told him was, 'Don’t look over your shoulder. Don’t try to do what you think I would do.' That makes it too hard. His wealth of knowledge is not just as a first-base coach helping the runners or helping our catchers; he understands the game extremely well.”
Now that Francona is cleared to return home to Arizona and begin light activities, he fully expects to be back in his managerial role next season. He said it was difficult not to feel guilty during this past season, knowing he couldn’t physically do his job, but is ready to be back at the helm in 2021 with the organization that took such great care of him over the past few months.
“I don't think I need to get sick to know that I'm a lucky person and value the relationships I have and things like that,” Francona said. “I understand, and I love where I'm at. Everybody that's around me knows that. I love the people I work with and work for. And that doesn't change; it just probably continues to grow stronger. But I want to be able to hold up my end of the bargain.” (M Bell - MLB.com - Oct 7, 2020)
July 21, 2021: Terry picked up his 721st career win as the Indians manager. That ties Mike Hargrove for the second-most wins in franchise history. He's on the heels of taking sole possession of first place, as he needs just eight more to pass Lou Boudreau (728) for the most victories all time by a Cleveland skipper.
Sept 7, 2021: Indians manager Terry Francona underwent his second surgery since he stepped away from the team. He already had hip surgery and recovered well enough to get back to the ballpark to watch a few innings with front office personnel in the suites. Now, he’ll be starting the process of bouncing back from a staph infection in his left foot that’s been troubling him since last offseason.
The surgery was to fix his left big toe that had become infected during the offseason. Tito will need months to recover from the surgery.
“I think it’s the right thing to do because he’ll be able to have time in the offseason when he’s not up against the clock trying to get to Spring Training, and you know, if there’s any setbacks, here he is in Spring Training trying to function the way he does, so I thought it was the right thing to do. This is a big step today and he’ll get through this and he’s kind of on the rehab period and I think it’s going to work well. Get around the holidays and Thanksgiving, all should be good and that’s what I’m praying for and hoping for, for sure.” (M Bell - MLB.com - Sept 7, 2021)
March 14, 2022: When Cleveland manager Terry Francona announced that he had to take a leave of absence that led to him missing the final two months of the 2021 season, he appeared defeated.
Francona had just gone through a year of stomach problems and dangerous blood clots. Then, as the new year arrived, he underwent a surgery on his left foot to try to keep a staph infection at bay until he could get another procedure at the end of the season.
Francona was determined to try to grind his way through the year without leaving his team for the second consecutive season, but he couldn’t make it through the end of July.
“He laughed and said, ‘I didn’t think you’d get through Spring Training,’” Francona said. “I was like, 'Thanks for telling me.’ He said, ‘I was just waiting for you to pull the plug.’”
Francona had no other option but to do just that. He struggled to get to the mound to make pitching changes. He couldn’t get out to the dugout during pregame activities because of the number of steps it would take to get there from his office. His boot (and the pain in his foot in general) caused him to limp, which prompted more hip pain than he already had, as well as back discomfort. And his stomach problem from 2020 returned; he just chose not to tell anyone.
“Everything was hard from like waking up in the morning,” Francona said. “You've got to put a baggie over your foot to take a shower. You’ve got to sit on a stool besides all the other things, the blow drying and all the other stuff I have to do. It takes time. Nothing was easy. When the game was over, I would look at the stool and I was like, 'I've got to go get a plastic garbage bag and I’ve got to tape it.' Everything was hard and it kind of wore on me.”
Like in 2020, Francona realized things were starting to get out of hand when his mood and attitude would take dramatic shifts. And it was then that he realized he needed to step away. “You know one of the biggest things I’ve found was I was getting short with people,” Francona said. “In this job, you’ve got to be patient, and I was losing my patience.”
Francona announced his leave of absence and immediately went in for hip surgery. The procedure went smoothly, and within a week or two, he already started to feel better. But the staph infection in his foot was a completely different animal.
After having that procedure, Francona was required to go without putting weight on his leg for weeks before slowly working his way into everyday activities. Even if the progression was slow, it was still positive, meaning the opportunity to return to his beloved position was on the table for 2022. And by the time Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled around, he decided to commit to being Cleveland's manager again.
“When you miss a couple years in a row, and you start to get to a certain age, you start to question maybe a little bit,” Francona said. “I don’t want to let people down, either. It’s not just about me, and I was feeling like, ‘Hey, I need to be able to answer the bell here.’ So I worked pretty hard. There’s only so much you can do though with a toe. It’s not like you can do pushups. You can’t go jogging. So it’s kind of hard.”
Francona focused on his physical therapy and got himself in a position to report to camp around the same time that the Minor Leaguers did earlier this month, with two shoes on his feet rather than a boot. He’s more mobile than he was last year at this time, but he knows his situation is constantly fluid. The only thing that Francona is focused on now is remaining healthy to best lead his team in his 10th season in Cleveland. When he manages his first game in 2022, he’ll do so as the winningest skipper in franchise history, as the victories the team had last year under interim manager DeMarlo Hale get credited to Francona’s record.
“I’m not very comfortable with that,” Francona said of how he’ll be collecting his wins. “I swear to you, I didn’t do this for that. I love what I do. I just want us to play well and play the game right and have our guys act right. That’s what I get a big kick out of." (M Bell - MLB.com - March 14, 2022)
- Nov 15, 2022: Tito was named the American League Manager of the Year. It’s the third time Francona has won the honors -- all with Cleveland (2013, ’16). Only Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and 2022 National League winner Buck Showalter have won four. Francona received 17 first-place votes and nine second-place votes.