In spring training of 2012, Terry Francona was employed with ESPN. This was a year after his tenure as the manager of the Boston Red Sox ended, and a year before taking over the management of Cleveland.
Known for his poor sense of direction, ESPN decided to put him under Senior Editorial Tim Kurkjian during that spring.
Tim too have a poor sense of direction, but compared to Tito, it seem like Vasco da Gama. On their first night in Florida, they were scheduled to stay at a Disney property known as Fort Wilderness.
Instead of a hotel, it was made up of individual log cabins situated in the woods, equipped with bunk beds, reminiscent of accommodations for Cub Scouts.
Francona recalls that he initially thought it was a prank. He expected people to come out from hiding, yell ‘Surprise,’ and then move them to an actual hotel.
Unfortunately, this was not the case. When he called for room service, he was informed by the lady at the front desk that the only room service available at Camp Wilderness was the Coke machine seen at the time of checking in.
Ten minutes post their arrival, Tim received a call from Tito.
He invited him to his cabin for making some s’mores. That’s Tito Francona for you. He invariably finds himself at the center of events, emerging unharmed and mostly laughing, often at his own expense.
This characteristic makes him the most humorous, kind-hearted, down-to-earth, and adored individual Tim have ever encountered in baseball. Unfortunately, it’s anticipated that this week will be Francona’s final week as a manager of major league.
On this day, the Guardians are paying tribute to Francona with a video, “Thank You, Tito” T-shirts, and ticket offers for the final home game of the season.
It’s anticipated that he will retire post this season. His humble humor, extensive knowledge about baseball, and exceptional people skills are just a few aspects that assure his place in the Hall of Fame as a manager once he’s eligible.
Terry Francona Hall of Fame Career
Terry Francona’s managerial career spans 23 years, during which he has secured 1,948 wins with teams such as the Philadelphia Phillies, Red Sox, and Indians/Guardians.
In 2004, he led Boston to its first world championship since 1918, followed by another World Series win in 2007. In 2016, while in Cleveland, Francona nearly guided another team since 1948 to its first World Series.
His management style is straightforward. He treats all his players respectfully and ensures everyone feels valued. He communicates and connects with them, expecting their best efforts.
Terry Francona’s unmatched attention to detail and preparation for each game begins with a cribbage match. This unusual practice allows him to learn about his players beyond the baseball field.
Francona mentions learning a lot by observing how his players, like Dustin Pedroia and Josh Tomlin, approach a game like cribbage.
Watching their risk-taking and victories in the game allows him to gauge their reliability in critical baseball moments. Despite playing for enjoyment, this strategy provides Francona insights into his players’ personalities.
One notable incident involves Jonathan Papelbon, a player unfamiliar with cribbage, who once challenged Francona to a money match.
The winnings from this game were humorously reported by Terry Francona to have funded a finished basement in his home.
Francona’s interaction with his players is unique, marked by mutual teasing and camaraderie. One light-hearted incident involved him and Pedroia, whom Francona thought resembled ESPN’s John Clayton because of their similar appearances.
Francona arranged for Clayton to pretend to be Pedroia and give a pep talk to the team before a significant game. This prank led to a burst of laughter from the entire team, reinforcing their bond and camaraderie.
In eight years in Boston, there were many laughs and victories. Whenever something went wrong with his team or a player, Terry Francona faced the issue head-on. He was known for his ability to ease tense and stressful situations.
After a hard loss at Fenway, a Japanese reporter had difficulty asking a question in English about Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Terry Francona humorously asked if the reporter was from Western Pennsylvania, making everyone in the room laugh, including the reporter.
Francona’s understanding and care for people shined when he managed the Birmingham Barons in 1994. This was the year Michael Jordan, the famous basketball player, tried baseball.
Despite the challenge for everyone involved, including Francona and Jordan, Francona helped Jordan learn and respect the game. They became and remain great friends.
One night, after a game, they were near a basketball court. Jordan, unable to resist a challenge from some locals, gathered Francona and others to play basketball. Despite Francona’s hesitation and Jordan’s aggressive play, they ended the game safely.
The two would play Yahtzee for money during bus trips, where Jordan, unwilling to lose, would cheat to beat Terry Francona.
Despite earning only $29,000 a year as a Double-A manager, Francona enjoyed these moments and his time managing Jordan.
However, Francona’s early days managing the Philadelphia Phillies in 1997 weren’t filled with much laughter.
Starting his major league managerial career with the struggling Phillies, he was tasked with training a young team not just in the game, but also in professionalism.
One of Terry Francona’s favorite players was Wayne Gomes, a young and raw talent who always gave his best effort.
Gomesy enters a game aiming for a save. As he reaches the mound, his jersey is stained with mustard. Francona notices this and points out the mustard on his jersey, expressing his disapproval and confusion.
Gomesy explains that as he was entering, fans threw hot dogs at him, causing the mess.
Even years after this incident, recounting the event brings a pause and a remark from Terry Francona about the irony of the situation happening at home.
Francona’s humorous nature and his affinity for connecting with individuals and baseball itself are traits inherited from his late father, Tito.
Tito, who played as a left-handed outfielder and first baseman, maintained a .272 batting average throughout his 15 seasons in the major leagues, playing for nine different teams.
At the age of ten, Terry Francona had the opportunity to accompany his father on a ten-day road journey.
This experience allowed him to spend valuable time with his father and other players, creating memorable moments that he cherished as the best days of his life.
The recounting of these experiences further elaborates on a memorable spring training tour in Florida in 2012 with Francona.
Details of this journey shed light on Terry Francona’s personality traits, such as his emphasis on punctuality. His consistent early arrivals for dinner appointments during the trip are highlighted.
Despite initial reluctance, Francona insists on covering the dinner bills for the first four nights of the trip. On the fifth night, ensuring receipt of the dinner bill, a slight displeasure from Francona is noted.
He always insists on paying for dinner as he believes it’s his duty.
One spring day, he had a task to report on the Yankees for ESPN, a team he had intensely competed against for the last eight years.
He realized he had forgotten his suit. He had to make a quick purchase from Today’s Man, spending $89 on a pinstripe suit. After using it for the day, he discarded it.
In another talk, upon hearing that a dog was named after him, he jokingly guessed the dog must be making a mess all over the house, which was indeed the case.
During a visit to the Blue Jays camp, pitcher Ricky Romero informed them about J.P. Arencibia’s impersonation of Tim Kurkjian.
As the whole team gathered, Arencibia imitated Kurkjian in a performance that was both terrible and funny.
Francona, always looking for some fun, decided to prank Kurkjian on air. He secretly recorded an interview with Arencibia, who was pretending to be Kurkjian.
The taped interview was unexpectedly played during their live report, leaving Kurkjian both surprised and embarrassed.
It was so terrible that it was humorous. Francona found it so amusing that he couldn’t continue the broadcast as he was laughing too hard.
Terry Francona Health Issues
In a serious conversation about his health, Terry Francona recalled his prosperous baseball years and the subsequent onset of his health issues.
In his junior year of high school in Pennsylvania, he had an exceptional record. In 1980 at the University of Arizona, he won the Golden Spikes Award, a prestigious recognition.
His promising early career in the major leagues was marked by a .321 batting average as a part-time player with Montreal in 1982, until his health began to fail.
Francona described numerous surgeries leading to various health complications, including issues with blood flow.
If he doesn’t swim early in the morning, his body might lock up by the afternoon, making it nearly impossible for him to move or manage.
Due to these health concerns and now being 64 years old, he is contemplating retirement as his body can’t endure the stress of managing anymore.
He recounted his last game without any bitterness or regret. In spring training with the Brewers in 1992, despite his deteriorating physical condition, he was told he would make the team if he performed well in the final exhibition game.
After achieving an outstanding performance, including a grand slam, he was still released. He was not sent back to his home but to a different city, from where he had to make his own way back.
He resolved then that if he ever became a manager, he would ensure the proper release of players and their safe return home.
The warmth and care exhibited by Terry Francona earmark him as a Hall of Fame manager, along with his fantastic sense of humor.
Upon his retirement, Tim will hold onto the memory of his laughter and the generous way he treated everyone, not limited to his players or superiors.
His remembrance of production assistants’ names from a year at ESPN, a dozen years ago, still stands out.
Tim’s last delightful recollection of Francona involves a scooter he used for commuting around Cleveland as the Guardians’ manager.
Living close to Progressive Field, there was no need for a car, leading him to opt for a scooter. During a television segment about him, Tim had an opportunity to ride with him on his scooter.
Their ride resembled a scene from the movie characters Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne, minus the humorous element of frozen snot.
As Francona faced the camera, he humorously commented, “Now this really is ‘Dumb and Dumber.’” This epitomizes Tito – always having the best stories and lines, delivering them at the perfect moment, and ensuring they conclude with laughter.