'Thank you, Tito': Francona leaves lasting mark ahead of impending retirement

As the skipper's 23-year managerial career draws to a close, others reflect on his impact

September 25th, 2023

They say you never know the value of something in your life until it’s gone. That’s why big decisions require time, introspection and contemplation. Luckily for Terry Francona, he’s always had an instinct to know when it’s time to say goodbye to something.

Francona grew up in a baseball family. His father, Tito, was already in the Majors when he was born in 1959 and continued his career until 1970. This sport is all Francona knew. Walking through big league clubhouses and meeting professional players was second nature to him as a child. It was an environment he thrived in and would continue to for decades.

Seven years after his father finished his last year in the big leagues, Francona was drafted in the second round of the 1977 MLB Draft by the Cubs out of New Brighton High School. But with the encouragement of his father, he knew he wanted to go to college. So, he went to the University of Arizona and was drafted in the first round by the Expos just three years later.

From 1981-1990, Francona bounced around from team to team, played in a handful of Minor League systems and eventually decided in 1991 that it was time to move on from the only thing he knew. It was a decision he was concerned about making. He had heard the horror stories of people who regretted leaving the game and didn’t want to make the same mistake.

“I’m like, ‘Man, who loves baseball more than me? Nobody,’” he recalled.

Although doubt crept into the back of his mind, Francona had that instinct that it was time to call it quits. And when he came home after making the decision, he put his equipment bag in his closet at his house and he never went back to open it.

You never know a good thing until it’s gone. You never know the value of something until it’s gone. That’s why you need to be smart in decision making. Terry Francona has always been good with that.

“I never looked back. I never missed playing,” Francona said. “I think I had given everything I could and I knew it and it was getting hard. I never looked back. … And that’s probably where I’m at now.”

That same intuition is once again sounding off in Francona’s head 33 years later. After transitioning from player to coach to Minor League manager to Major League manager of three different MLB clubs, Francona is ready to put his baseball cap in his closet and shut the door.

“I know how I feel about doing the job a certain way and I don’t think that I can necessarily do that anymore,” Francona said. “And that bothers me.”

No, Francona has not officially announced his retirement just yet, simply because he doesn’t want the spotlight in the final week of the regular season. But because he wants to be fair to the media and anyone else who’s wondering about his future, he’s been candid in his answers, alluding to the fact that this is his final managerial season. We’ll just have to wait until after the final game for him to say the words, “I’m retiring.”

The Guardians will do their part to try to honor him (while respecting his wishes to not be a national spectacle these last few days of the season) by having a video tribute on the scoreboard at Progressive Field on Wednesday in what will likely be his last home game. The first 20,000 fans will receive “Thank you, Tito,” shirts and those looking for tickets in the upper deck can purchase some for just $11 in honor of the 11 seasons he spent in Cleveland.

Eleven seasons with one team as a manager in today’s game is nearly unheard of. Twenty-three seasons as a manager in Major League Baseball with two World Series rings and three pennants are what prompts everyone to say he’s a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. It’s a presence so rare in baseball that his absence will leave a tremendous void not only in Northeast Ohio, but across the game. There will be no one who provides a perfect blend of leadership, humor and baseball acumen quite like Francona. Just ask some of his colleagues.


Francona was just days away from being admitted into the ICU at the Cleveland Clinic in 2020. He was battling stomach problems and eventually blood clots and yet he knew he needed to drag himself into the ballpark.

The team was dealing with a situation where two players broke COVID-19 protocols in an unprecedented season. Francona had been away from the team to try to deal with his health issues, but never hesitated when it came to the idea of making sure he handled the most serious situations in his clubhouse. He never wanted to put another coach in that situation. So, he got to the ballpark and handled it before he was inevitably sent to the hospital days later.

“He is one of the toughest individuals that I’ve ever been around,” Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “I can’t think of many people who would be able to get through what he got through, one, and then be able to do that and do his job as well as he does. I know I couldn’t do it.”

Francona has always had a pulse on when to step in and when to back away, whether that be when he was battling health scares (in a handful of seasons during his managerial career, including ’20 and ’21, when he missed significant chunks of time) and he handed the reins over to the rest of his coaching staff or when he’s trying to get the most out of his players. It’s an art that the Guardians front office has marveled at over the last 11 years.

“I think that’s one of the things that makes Tito so extraordinary is as high as anyone’s expectations might be for him and how he does the job, his expectations for himself are higher,” Antonetti said.

Francona has managed every type of team one could imagine. He’s had veterans, he’s had superstars and over the last two years, he had the youngest roster in the Majors. No matter what he’s given, he’s figured out how to connect with whoever is in the room and learns how to get the most out of each player.

“That’s the pinnacle of that job,” former Guardians catcher Austin Hedges said. “When it comes to leadership, when it comes to poise, when it comes to how to handle rookies, how to treat veterans, how to instill confidence in his players, when he’s sitting in his seat over there in that dugout, you know there’s a guy who has your back no matter what and cares about you and you can really feel that on a daily basis.”

“He wants to get to know you,” former Cleveland reliever Dan Otero said. “I think that’s why he’s probably had so much success. No matter if it’s your first day in the big leagues or your 15th year, you’re still treated the same way. I think that’s a great trait to have in this game, because age is just a number when you’re out there. You still have to go compete and execute, and he realizes that.”

Francona led the Red Sox to a World Series title in his first season with the club in 2004 to end the Curse of the Bambino. In his first year managing the then-Indians in 2013, he led the club to 92 victories, 24 more than it had the year prior, marking the largest year-to-year improvement the organization had ever seen. His work in Cleveland led to him boasting the most wins by a manager in franchise history. And his impressive managing over the last 10 years led to three Manager of the Year Awards.

“The definition of leader in the dictionary should just be Terry Francona,” Hedges said. “Leader.”


If you ever see Guardians replay coordinator Mike Barnett with a weird bald patch on the back of his head, you know Francona snuck up behind him with some clippers.

If you ever see Francona with a look of shame on his face after a few moments of silence in a press conference, you know he’s about to admit to an embarrassing situation he recently found himself in.

If you ever see Kevin Cash’s lowly offensive stats from his playing career plastered on the left-field scoreboard at Progressive Field when the Rays come to town, you know Francona was behind it.

“He’s one of the reasons I’m actually managing. I mean that,” said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, who played for Francona in Boston in 2009. “He showed me that you’re allowed to really enjoy coming to the field every day. There’s a way to play hard and play tough and play competitively and also have a good time. Like truly have a good time.

“You walk in the door, and the second you walk in the door, he’s ripping on you about something. You’re like, ‘What the [heck], what is going on right now?’ But he does it in such a productive way. He just makes you feel like you can do pretty much anything, is what he does.”

Francona filled the quiet days of Spring Training with hilarious stories year after year. Remember when he went skydiving? Or when he broke his tooth on uncooked pasta? Guardians starter Triston McKenzie still laughs every time Francona honks the horn of his scooter as he passes by on the way out of Progressive Field every night.

He was on baseball’s biggest stage, addressing the media before Game 7 of the World Series when he broke into a story about how he had a nightmare that someone broke his ribs, only to wake up and find that the TV remote had been jammed into his rib cage. He could hardly see it, considering he had peanut butter smeared all over his glasses after falling asleep in the middle of dunking pretzels into the delicious spread.

The list can go on and on. But it’s not just some comedy routine. It’s a mix of charm, a desire to have fun and an unbelievable understanding of how to disarm the level of stardom that comes with his presence (though he’d never admit that) and the pressure of the big leagues. This recipe has led to a comfort among players that isn’t always felt in a clubhouse.

“It’s how he doesn’t come off as larger-than-life. Because he is,” Hedges said. “He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He’s the guy. But that can be intimidating to a lot of people. That’s Terry Francona. He’s willing to laugh at himself and keep things light. It shows you you can always laugh at yourself a little bit and keep things light. It doesn’t make him this larger-than-life type guy so you can actually be on the same playing level as him.”


Francona has lived and breathed baseball from the moment he was born. He has an innate ability to know when to address his clubhouse and when to just let certain situations play out. He knows when to show emotion and when to be even-keeled. You could ask anyone around the league -- not just the players on his roster -- and they’ll likely name something that they’ve learned from Francona, even from afar.

“I see a guy that’s revered by his players, the organization,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “A guy that’s in charge. He’s got a great presence. Anybody you've ever talked to that’s been around him, whether a player, or coach or just a baseball guy, you don't ever hear anything said on the negative side. He’s just a great human being and I think that as much as his skills at managing, that's probably even more important to talk to people about when it comes to Tito.”

“He's a guy, whenever they ask him about our relationship, he always says he was tough on me as a player. I don't think so,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who played for Francona in Boston from 2005-08. “I think he made me better. He made me realize a lot of things.”

There’s a reason Francona can sit down and play cards with Cleveland’s clubhouse manager or why he has pictures of players’ kids in his office as if they were his own grandchildren. There’s a reason he has an unbreakable bond with Antonetti and his family. There’s a reason the visiting clubhouse manager from Camden Yards made the trip with the Orioles over the weekend and stopped by Francona’s office before he officially calls it quits. There’s a reason that he and Cash hate to play each other in the postseason because they have such a close relationship. And there’s a reason that there’s never a negative word said about Francona in any of his clubhouses.

“I’d watch when guys were struggling and you could always tell he was pulling for you, and players don’t always feel that with their managers,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I just don’t know a player who wouldn’t play hard for him.”

“Every single person that’s ever played for him leaves wanting more time around him,” Baldelli said.

Although it seems as though baseball has fully embraced every second that Francona has been involved in this game, maybe there’s more to uncover. If that saying really is true, that you never know a good thing until it's gone, then Francona’s legacy is only going to grow stronger.

“[His presence] is one of those things you’re not going to realize until he’s gone,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “Because he is such a big personality. … He will be missed for his leadership, but also I think fans will understand that he’s brought a lot more to the game for his team than they even understand on a day-to-day basis.”