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Tito Francona

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John Patsy Francona

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[edit] Biographical Information

Probably the only major league player whose middle name is "Patsy", Tito Francona had a long major league career with teams that did not excel. He never appeared in post-season play. He is the father of Terry Francona; Grant Jackson played with both Tito and Terry Francona. Tito's nephew Rich Pasquale was a college coach.

Signed by the St. Louis Browns for a $ 10,000 bonus in 1952, Francona missed the 1954 and 1955 seasons due to military service. He came up with the team in 1956 when it had moved to Baltimore and become the Baltimore Orioles. After playing for both the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers in 1958, he came to the Cleveland Indians in a trade on March 21, 1959 for Larry Doby. That was the second time he was traded for the future Hall of Famer Doby: on December 3, 1957, he had gone from Baltimore to the White Sox alongside Billy Goodman and Ray Moore in return for Doby, Jim Marshall, Russ Heman and Jack Harshman. He was to stay in Cleveland for six seasons, the longest stretch in his career that he was with one team.

In a huge step forward for his career, in 1959 under manager Joe Gordon he hit .363 with 20 home runs in 122 games, something that never could have been predicted from his earlier major league career. His season really took off during a doubleheader against the New York Yankees on June 7th. In the first game, he singled and homered while playing first base, then took over for Jimmy Piersall in centerfield in the nitecap. From that point on, he played regularly, keeping his batting average over .400 until early August. However, a badly sore hamstring kept him out of the last week of the season, and he fell 34 plate appearances short of qualifying for the batting title, even though he led Harvey Kuenn of the Detroit Tigers by 10 points, .363 to .353. He also claims that he lost a few hits that year because Chuck Tanner, who batted in front of him in the line-up, also had a bad hamstring and couldn't run at all. Tanner was forced out at second base on a number of plays that should have been base hits, including once on a line shot to right field ! Francona was 5th in the MVP voting in 1959 as the Indians finished just behind the Chicago White Sox in the pennant race. In both 1960 and 1961, he was in the top ten in the American League in batting average, and in 1960 he led the league in doubles. From 1965 through 1970, he played for five teams. In 1969, as a role player for the Atlanta Braves and Oakland Athletics, he hit .318 in 173 at-bats. He played his last game for the Milwaukee Brewers on September 29, 1970.

Based on "similarity scores", one of the most similar players (and a pretty good comparison) is his near-contemporary Jay Johnstone although Johnstone had more foot speed and was a better fielder.

Francona was named to "The Top 100 Greatest Indians Roster", as created by the Cleveland Indians in 2001. After his retirement, he had two open heart surgeries, in 1992 and 2001, and had both knees replaced in 2005. He still lives in his hometown of New Brighton, PA.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • AL All-Star (1961)
  • AL Doubles Leader (1960)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 1 (1959)

[edit] Further Reading

  • Tito Francona (as told to Tom Capezzuto): "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, May 1982, pp. 88-90. [1]
  • Russell Schneider: "Whatever Happened to... Tito Francona ?", in Brad Sullivan, ed.: Batting Four Thousand: Baseball in the Western Reserve, SABR, Cleveland, OH, 2008, pp. 57-58.

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