Francona set for home finale as Guardians manager before retiring
CLEVELAND (AP) — Terry Francona is down to one home game, a final bow.
Soon, a permanent offseason for a baseball lifer.
The winningest manager in club history, Francona, who won two World Series titles in Boston before coming to Cleveland and staying for 11 years, will lead the Guardians for the last time at Progressive Field on Wednesday night against the Cincinnati Reds.
The 2023 home finale will be a bittersweet celebration as the Guardians will honor the popular Francona, who hasn't officially announced his retirement but is expected to do so formally early next week.
“The worst kept secret ever,” Francona joked Tuesday night.
The 64-year-old has battled serious health issues in recent years and wants to move on before the game beats him up further.
Francona insisted upon keeping the spotlight on his players during the season's final month and spoke with them before Tuesday's game so they weren't caught off-guard by anything in their final days together.
“I just wanted to thank them,” he said. “I told them in spring training, it’s an honor for me to stand up in front of them and go through not just the good, but the difficult, and I wanted everybody in that room to know that I felt like it was an honor of a lifetime to be here for 11 years.”
Although Francona didn't want a special ceremony for his final home game, he relented to the team handing out 20,000 “Thank You Tito” T-shirts. There will also be a video tribute to Francona played on the scoreboard shortly before the first pitch.
“Once you give out T-shirts, man, you can’t be going back,” Francona cracked.
He's been a beloved figure in Cleveland.
Francona's teams were always in the playoff hunt despite having one of baseball's lowest payrolls. In 2016, the team came within one swing of winning their first World Series since 1948 before losing in seven games to the Chicago Cubs.
Francona said his run in Cleveland was everything he hoped. However, this season felt different for many reasons, and he spoke to team president Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff about his future to give them time to begin a search for his successor.
He won't give input on Cleveland's next manager.
"I don’t think that’s fair,” he said. “For 11 years I’ve been doing this the way I think is right. I don’t think that’s fair to them or to the next person to try to put my stamp on it. There might be somebody comes in completely 180 degrees different and it might be better. That’s the beauty of our game.”
It won't be easy to replace Francona, who played 10 seasons before beginning his managerial career with Philadelphia in 1997.
The Guardians will finish their season in Detroit with a three-game series starting Friday.
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB