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Let's Play Ball, Dad
Steve Wulf
March 22, 1982
Rookies Terry Francona of the Expos and Cal Ripken of the Orioles are chips off old familiar blocks
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March 22, 1982

Let's Play Ball, Dad

Rookies Terry Francona of the Expos and Cal Ripken of the Orioles are chips off old familiar blocks

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When Tito came home from the park, Terry would beg him to play catch. "He was exhausted," says Terry, "but all I wanted to do was to throw the ball. The only way he could get me to stop was to throw each ball harder until my hand started to hurt. Also, I was always pestering him to take me to the ball park early so we could throw."

Tito didn't mind, though. "He was fun to have around," Tito says. "When I would give a clinic, he'd come. He knew my speech by heart and we used to kid each other about it. 'There are five things to baseball,' he'd say to tease me in the car, 'hitting, running, fielding, throwing and hustling. If you can do all those things well, you can be another Mickey Mantle or Hank Aaron.' "

Tito first got an inkling that his son might be a big-leaguer in 1970, his last year in the majors. "I would stand on first base at County Stadium and look around the seats, and I'd see Terry sitting right behind home plate, chin on the rail, studying the pitchers," Tito says. "His friends would be running around the stadium, eating hot dogs, but Terry would just sit there." Sometimes, before a game, Terry would climb up the long rope to Bernie Brewer's house high atop the Milwaukee scoreboard. Mother and father quickly put a stop to that.

Not long after he left baseball Tito became director of parks and recreation for Beaver County, Pa. He watched Terry star for New Brighton High. After Terry's senior year, the Chicago Cubs drafted him in the second round, but their money offer wasn't very enticing and Terry decided to go to college, something he was inclined to do anyhow. So he went, sight unseen, to play for one of his father's old teammates, Jerry Kindall, at the University of Arizona.

In his junior year, 1980, Francona, a lefthanded hitter, led Arizona to the College World Series title in Omaha and was named college player of the year. Jim Fanning, now the Expo manager, but then Montreal's director of player development, recalls how Francona came into the Expos' picture: "He wasn't that high on our list. We were concerned that he had no power and that his running speed might not be good enough. I sent three guys to Omaha, and they saw him steal some bases and hit a home run. Suddenly he shot right up the list just before the draft. We didn't have a very high pick, so a lot of players were gone, but he was still available and we took him."

Fanning wanted to send his new acquisition to Class A ball, but Terry insisted he could play in Double A, at Memphis. "I still can't believe I had the nerve." says Terry. "I go into the meeting and I say, 'What's this garbage about sending me to A ball?' As it turns out, Mr. Fanning had said the garbage." But Fanning capitulated, and Terry went to Memphis and hit .300. "Mr. Fanning was right, though. I hit a weak .300."

Last year Terry opened the season at Memphis, and after batting .348 in 41 games, was called up to Denver. He found Triple A even easier, hitting .352 in 93 games, with 58 RBIs. On Aug. 19 he was promoted to the Expos, and on Sept. 13 he stepped into the lineup full time, in place of injured Leftfielder Tim Raines. He hit .274, played errorless ball and made five assists in 26 games. The Expos also won their first division title.

"He made all kinds of diving catches, great slides and never missed a cutoff man," says Fanning. "I'm trying to be conservative in my praise, but everything he does is right. Once in a sacrifice situation, with the infielders charging, he faked the bunt and hit the ball past short for a single. Another time, Bruce Sutter is pitching for St. Louis, and I tell Terry to take a look at the forkball before swinging at it. He lets one go by—and hits the next one just inside the rightfield foul pole for a home run."

That homer was only the third of Terry's pro career. His upright stance is a duplicate of Tito's, although he doesn't have even his father's limited power. He runs like his father, who was fast, but not very fast. "I also have my father's nose," he says.

Though one hesitates to say it, Terry also has magic. "At the end of last season, he was getting hits off the end of the bat, singles off knockdown pitches," says Expo Third Baseman Larry Parrish. "and I was hitting the ball right at people. So he comes over to me in the dugout before a game against the Phillies, takes my bat and starts rubbing it. He says, 'Now you've got a double off the wall and a chinker for an RBI in there.' The first time up, I doubled off the wall. I'm out the next two times, but then I hit a ground ball over Ron Reed's head for a single to score a run."

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