Next Wednesday is the last home game for the Cleveland Guardians baseball team in 2023.
It’s a sad day.
Tito Francona, 11 years manager of the Cleveland Guardians (previously that other name), will (likely) be retiring as manager of the team.
He hasn’t said “I’m retiring” but we all know it’s coming. The team is giving away “Thank You Tito” shirts. It’s coming.
When he was hired, I remember my Dad and I thinking “This is the guy who broke the curse for Boston! Maybe we have a chance!” Sadly, Dad (and Taffy) both died before that happened, and Tito was never able to break the Curse of Colavito. We got close, a number of times, especially 2016, but that year we lost to the Billy Goat Curse and the Cubbies won.
Baseball is a super fuckin’ superstitious lot. I remember, in either 1995 or 1997, the team all wore their socks up high for first baseman Jim Thome’s birthday (he was known for that look). They ended up kicking serious ass, so everyone decided it was a good luck charm and kept doing it.
They lost the World Series in 1995 (Atlanta Braves), 1997 (Tampa Bay Devil Rays), and again in 2016 (aforementioned Chicago Cubs).
Those have been the only trips in my life.
The last time they won? My father had just been (1948). The time before that? Taffy was born (1920). Sometimes I joke that I’m the curse and we should have won in 1977.
But I don’t really believe in a curse. Sure, I used to joke that the world would end if the Cubs and the Guards ever went mano-a-mano for the whole thing, and honestly looking back at what happened since the Cubs won (Trump, COVID…) I think maybe I was right. But a curse isn’t a real thing. Superstitions and lucky streaks aren’t real things (hush, Joe DiMaggio fans).
What’s real is that Tito Francona gave me a lot of hope.
Mike Hargrove was a great manager, don’t get me wrong, but he encouraged a sort of egotistical baseball. Back then, we had Albert Belle and Jose Mesa, and I gotta tell you, those guys were assholes. But we also had Sandy Alomar Jr (a man who’s current jersey I wear to games), a sweet and kind man who was also one of the best catchers Cleveland has ever known.
Tito came in and I saw things change. There wasn’t room for ego on his team. Pitcher Trevor Bauer (yes, the guy accused of rape and assault who can’t find a single MLB team to play for anymore) got punted off Cleveland so fast one day, it made your head spin. It happened right after Bauer pitched a hissy fit and chucked a ball from the pitcher’s mound into the bleachers past the outfield.
Tito did not suffer drama kings at all. He crafted a culture of gentleman baseball players. Men who were kind, who played hard, who rarely (if ever) got into a fight, and who trusted him implicitly. Tito was the manager who only got thrown out for just causes, like shitty calls that could hurt people. And from that, I have yet to hear a former player say a single bad thing about the man.
For me, seeing that he is leaving as Cleveland manager breaks my heart a little.
Sure, he’s never broken our curse (hush), but he gave us a strong, spunky team where we all knew the management would back up the players when push came to shove (rather literally in the case of Sarbaugh the current third base coach!), and where the guys were the sort of men you want kids to look up to. He gave a blue collar city a reason to be proud of a team’s achievements.
In 2017, Cleveland won twenty two games in a row. That doesn’t just come from collecting a lot of great players, that comes from careful cultivation of a team.
That’s what Tito did for Cleveland. Even this year, which is hands down the worst we’ve had in pretty much a decade, our closer Emmanuel Clase has forty saved games. That’s the most in baseball! Yes, Clase has the most blown saves, but when you do the math, you would see that’s because he’s had to work the most. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Clase zoom past Mesa’s 46 saves in a season one day. After all, Clase’s only been the closer a couple years.
Tito got us José Ramírez, one of the best players in the game. Even this shitty season, fans know José is the man. He’s only been in one fight his entire career, and man did he nail Anderson. The call “DOWN GOES ANDERSON!” will remain a fan favourite for Cleveland for a long time.
But Tito’s health is pretty shit right now, and he absolutely needs to step down and get better.
I would love to keep him forever, but I know that cannot be. I’m sad he couldn’t get that ring for Cleveland, or for himself. He’s the winningest manager in all of baseball, and that would just be the icing on the cake.
I went to a game in September, when the Guards were in town, and my wife and I held up a sign “WE ❤️ TITO” that I made, because we heard it was his last season. I don’t know if he saw it, but I hope he did and knows that all Cleveland fans recognize what he did, and what it meant.
Losing Tito is losing one of the few ties I have with baseball and Dad and Taffy. Sandy Alomar is really the biggest one, but Tito… Man. He may have only got us to one series, but he did great things.
So Tito, even though the odds are you won’t ever read this post, please know in your heart of hearts that you are appreciated and respected.
Don’t go too far, you’ll always be family.