CLEVELAND — Terry Francona loves to talk about his dad. Their relationship went way beyond baseball.
One a former Cleveland Indians player, the other the team’s adored manager. Father and son.
Tito and the kid who became Tito.
John “Tito” Francona, who proudly watched his son follow his footsteps to the major leagues, died at his home on Tuesday night in New Brighton, Pennsylvania. He was 84.
It’s with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of former Tribe great John Patsy “Tito” Francona, father of our current manager Terry Francona. Our thoughts are with the entire Francona family during this time. pic.twitter.com/www63kiltB
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) February 14, 2018
Francona’s passing cast a pall over Cleveland’s training camp in Goodyear, Arizona, as pitchers and catchers reported Wednesday. Terry Francona, who has been affectionately called “Tito” for years in a respectful bow to his dad, is expected to be away from the team until Sunday, the team announced Wednesday.
There will be private services to celebrate the elder Francona’s life. The funeral is scheduled for Saturday in New Brighton.
“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. There have been so many great things for the organization and for me personally. 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 friendship with 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 he was fired in Boston following the 2011 season, Terry Francona 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 Tito [Terry] today, he was able to reflect back and talk about so many great memories he shared with his dad showed how deep that bond was,” 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 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 afterwards’ were memories that he will continue to cherish.”
Terry Francona was born in 1959, the first year his dad played in Cleveland. All Francona did that season was bat .363 and finish fifth in AL 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.
Francona made his debut in 1956 with the Baltimore Orioles. He retired as a player following the 1970 season with Milwaukee.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.