The Cleveland Indians introduced Terry Francona as the 42nd manager in team history Monday, and 78-year-old Tito Francona attended the press conference too. A major leaguer like his son, Tito Francona played several places from 1956-1970, but he said that the Indians in particular were special to him.
After being born in Aliquippa, Pa., and raising his family in New Brighton — which is about a 90-minute drive to Municipal Stadium in Cleveland — Tito made the AL All-Star team with the Indians in 1961.
Because of success, geography and comfort, Tito told reporter Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Indians have always meant a little more:
"I played for nine different teams in the big leagues and Cleveland was the best place I ever played," said Tito. "Cleveland was my home team. There was always a great atmosphere there and it was only 90 miles from home."
Though he made only one All-Star team, Tito was an above-average slugger for the Tribe, Braves, Cardinals, Athletics and Orioles over multiple seasons. He also played for the Phillies, Tigers, Brewers and White Sox in one season apiece. He finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 1956 with the O's, and fifth in AL MVP with the Indians in '59. He had 125 career homers and led the league in doubles in 1960. He also finished in the top 10 in batting average twice.
Tito Francona says he hasn't given his son much advice about managing, but adds that getting away from the Red Sox was the right thing for him. In Boston, "everything about baseball is blown out of proportion," he said.
Cleveland, despite a 64-season World Series title drought, is in many ways the perfect spot:
"He didn't take this job just to take a job," Tito said. "It's not about the money. He's excited about it and I'm very happy about it."
The Indians signed Francona to a four-year deal, which has to be one of the longest contracts ever given to a new manager in franchise history.
"He's a player's manager," said Tito. "He's always been that way. I think the players are really going to like him."
After growing up in New Brighton, Terry Francona enjoyed a 10-year career with five different teams, including the Indians and two other teams that his dad also played for. He was more of a singles hitter — he had 48 career pinch hits, going 5 for 10 in 1981 when the Montreal Expos made the playoffs — and he had a good reputation on defense.
Cleveland was always close by for Terry after his playing days ended, too. He took a job in Cleveland's front office in 2001 after getting fired as Phillies manager. Despite his Indians roots, his choice to return in 2013 surprised many of his friends, Terry Francona said:
They were 68-94 this year and have lost 93 or more games in three of the past four seasons.
"They don't know me very well," was Francona's response. "I like a challenge and I'm not afraid of a challenge."