CLEVELAND – Terry Francona stepped away from baseball, at least temporarily, on Tuesday, ending a 23-year managerial career that began in Philadelphia, peaked with two World Series titles in Boston and concluded with an 11-season stay in Cleveland.
Guardians president Chris Antonetti said the 64-year-old Francona would have a role with the team moving forward but did not specify what it would entail.
“I need to go home and get healthy and see what I miss about the game,” Francona said. “I don’t foresee managing again.”
Slowed by serious medical issues in recent years, Francona intends to spend more time playing with his grandkids, getting healthy (shoulder replacement surgery is scheduled for next week) and enjoying an extended offseason after a 40-plus-years grind.
He’d been reluctant to say he’ll retire, leaving open the possibility of a return.
“I came here for the right reasons,” he said. “I’m leaving for the right reasons and what was in between was really good.”
A beloved baseball lifer, Francona, who was an outfielder for 10 seasons in the major leagues before injuries forced him to retire as a player, made a lasting imprint on the game for over four decades.
Known to everyone as “Tito,” his father’s name, Francona led with charm, humor and an uncanny ability to connect with people.
“There is no one like him,” said Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, who played for Francona in Boston. “There’s one Tito. I just wish I had more time with him.”
In typical fashion, Francona had asked the Guardians not to make a big deal about his possible retirement over the final month of the season to keep the focus on his young team, which was unable to overcome a slew of injuries in 2023 and defend its AL Central title.
Cleveland finished 76-86 — just the club’s second losing record since Francona took over as manager in 2013.
Following Sunday’s season finale in Detroit, Francona hugged each of his players as they came off the field.
“I just needed to tell them ‘thank you,’” Francona said. “We didn’t accomplish what we set out to this year, but they didn’t shortchange anybody in effort and they’re such good kids.”
Cleveland said goodbye to Francona last week, with the team sending him off with an emotional video tribute before the home finale. Fans wore red “Thank You Tito” T-shirts and chanted his name during the ninth inning of a 4-3 win over Cincinnati.
After the final out, Francona came out of the dugout for a curtain call and tipped his cap toward the Progressive Field crowd for the last time.
The Guardians now have to find his replacement, who will have a monumental challenge in filling Francona’s shoes.
He is both the winningest (921 victories) and longest-tenured manager in the club’s 123-year history. With 1,950 wins, Francona is 13th on the career list, sandwiched by Casey Stengel (1,905) and Leo Durocher (2,008), two other colorful managers who like Francona endeared themselves to fans and players.
Every manager on the list ahead of Francona is a Hall of Famer except for Dusty Baker and Bruce Bochy, who remain active and likely will be enshrined one day.
Francona’s rise as one of the game’s best managers was somewhat unexpected.
Things didn’t go particularly well for him in Philadelphia, where he had four straight losing seasons from 1997-2000, got constantly booed in a demanding, sports-crazed city and had the tires on his car slashed on fan appreciation day.
He was an unlikely choice to get Boston’s job, and he immediately claimed legendary status by winning the World Series in his first season.
The Red Sox overcame a 3-0 deficit in the AL Championship Series and then swept St. Louis to end an 86-year championship drought and exorcise the “Curse of the Bambino,” a perceived hex on the team after it traded Babe Ruth to the rival New York Yankees.
When his tenure with the Red Sox ended in 2011 amid some controversy, Francona took a year off and worked in broadcasting before he was hired in Cleveland, where his dad spent six seasons and he himself played 62 games in 1988.
Despite budget-conscious payrolls, Francona kept the Guardians competitive each season, helped them develop what has been termed a “pitching factory” and guided the team, then known as the Indians, within one swing of winning the World Series in 2016.
Francona was named AL Manager of the Year three times with Cleveland.
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB