Unique Facts About The Late Tito Francona

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Just as pitchers and catchers reported to their respective spring training destinations in either the Cactus League of Arizona or the Grapefruit League of Florida, the baseball world received news that no doubt dampened the usual enthusiasm of the beginning of a new season. Tito Francona, a fifteen year Major League veteran and the father of current Cleveland Indians manager Terry, passed away on February 13 at age 84.

Although his son has become more well-known because of several World Series Championships and pennants, Tito actually enjoyed a better career on the field. In addition to being a solid left handed hitter and center fielder or first baseman, Tito also had quite a few distinctions regarding his tenure in the Big Leagues.

For one, he was traded on two separate occasions for Larry Doby, the first black player to appear in the American League. The Baltimore Orioles sent Francona to the White Sox in 1957, and two years later the Detroit Tigers shipped him to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Doby once again.

Also, Francona was the last amateur free agent ever signed by the St. Louis Browns, which acquired him in 1953. The following season that organization became the Baltimore Orioles.

Another interesting detail is that his real name is John Patsy Francona, leaving him as the only player in the history of the game ever saddled with that unusual middle name. Fortunately, he and his wife chose not to assign that name to their son Terry, who did follow in his father’s shoes by becoming a Big Leaguer.

As part of the squad who had for just the 1969 season been the Seattle Pilots, Francona was the first player ever released by the Milwaukee Brewers. His last at bat came during that 1970 season against Catfish Hunter of the Oakland Athletics, who struck him out in five pitches.

Over a decade prior to that in 1959 for the Indians, Francona boasted the highest batting average in all of baseball. His .363 c!lip was ten points higher than that of Harvey Kuenn, who was credited with the batting title because Francona fell 24 plate appearances short of qualifying.

Even though he played for nine different teams over his fifteen year career, Francona never once reached the postseason. Tito did, however, get to experience the World Series 47 years after he retired, when he delivered the ceremonial first pitch in the 2017 Fall Classic between his son’s Cleveland Indians club and the Chicago Cubs.