New Brighton’s baseball legend
CLEVELAND — Terry Francona loves to talk about his dad. Their relationship went way beyond baseball.
One was a Cleveland Indians player, the other the team’s adored manager.
Father and son. Tito and the kid who became Tito.
John Patsy “Tito” Francona, who proudly watched his son, Terry, follow his footsteps to the major leagues, died Tuesday night at his home in New Brighton.
The Aliquippa native was 84 and had been recreation director in New Brighton until retiring in 1997.
Mr. Francona’s death cast a pall over Cleveland’s training camp in Goodyear, Ariz., as pitchers and catchers reported Wednesday. Terry Francona, who has been affectionately called “Tito” for years in a respectful bow to his dad, will leave the team for several days to be with family. Services will be private. “We’re all incredibly saddened by Tito’s passing,” Indians president Chris Antonetti said. “Not only was he a really good player in our franchise history, but he was a friend to so many of us. … Having Terry here for the last five years, one of the most meaningful things for me was to get to know his dad and build a friendshipwith him.
“He was such a warm, thoughtful, exuberant person that brightened every room he walked into. To have the opportunity to visit with him when he’d come into town, to hear his stories, to see how he and Terry connected was really meaningful. He will be missed by so many of us.”
After Terry Francona was fired in Boston following the 2011 season, he spent a year in broadcasting before he was hired by the Indians. In Cleveland, he was closer to his dad, who would occasionally drive in for games.
“It was such a deep bond and having a chance to talk to [Terry] today, he was able to reflect back and talk about so many great memories he shared with his dad that showed how deep that bond was,” Mr. Antonetti said. “He said, ‘I had the best mom and dad in the world and to have the chance over the past handful of seasons to share a lot of those moments with my dad, for him to come to Cleveland and watch every game on TV, with a chance to talk about them with him afterward, were memories that he will continue to cherish.”
Terry Francona was born during the first year his dad played in Cleveland. An outfielder, Mr. Francona that season batted .359 and finished fifth in American League MVP voting. He led the AL in doubles the following year, and in 1961 he was an AL All-Star and led the league in singles.
He made his debut in 1956 with the Baltimore Orioles and retired as a player after the 1970 season with Milwaukee.
The Indians ask that donations in Mr. Francona’s memory be made to Cleveland Indians Charities at http://mlb.mlb.com/cle/ community/donation_form.jsp.
Funds will be directed to youth baseball-oriented programs in Cleveland and New Brighton.
John Patsy “Tito” Francona in 2007