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John ‘Tito’ Francona, at 84; father of former Sox manager

John “Tito” Francona (right) threw the ceremonial first pitch before the start of the AL Division Series in Cleveland against the Boston Red Sox in 2016. His son, Terry, manager of the Indians, joined him for the moment.Paul Sancya/Associated Press/File

John Patsy ‘‘Tito’’ Francona, a much-traveled outfielder who played in the Major Leagues for 15 years, often towing along his young son, Terry, who would later lead the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years, died at his home in New Brighton, Pa., Tuesday night. He was 84.

Mr. Francona, who batted and threw lefthanded, was a journeyman for much of his career but he had a productive string of six seasons with the Cleveland Indians. His son is now the manager of the Indians.

Mr. Francona’s best year was his first with the Indians, in 1959 after arriving there in a trade with the Detroit Tigers for outfielder Larry Doby, who had broken the color barrier in the American League. Mr. Francona batted a remarkable .363, with a career-high 20 home runs, and would have won the batting title but he fell a handful of plate appearances short of qualifying. Nonetheless, he finished fifth in AL MVP voting.

He led the AL in doubles the following year, and in 1961 he was an AL All-Star and led the league in singles.


After leaving the Indians, Mr. Francona bounced around the league, playing for a total of nine teams by the time he retired. His son later affectionately talked about following his father from ballpark to ballpark, almost from the time he could walk. He would run errands for his father and other players, then play catch with them or fetch balls before the game.

The ballplayers started calling him “Little Tito.’’

Mr. Francona, his son would say, made it simple: If he didn’t mess up, he was welcome to tag along.

“I think I only had to leave him behind once,” Mr. Francona told The Boston Globe. “He loved being at the park. And it gave him a great advantage. I remember the first time I walked into Yankee Stadium. It was like, ‘Whoa.’ Very intimidating. But by the time Terry started playing, he had already seen it all.”


Although he spent much of the latter part of his career as a part-timer, Mr. Francona told the Globe in 2004 that he had no regrets, save one: “I always seemed to be one year too late or one year too early” in his moves, missing out on a championship. He went to St. Louis in 1965, the year after the Cardinals won the World Series and he left in 1966, the year before they beat the Red Sox to win it again.

Boston’s title in 2004, therefore, was particularly sweet to the elder Francona.

Mr. Francona had made his debut in 1956 with the Baltimore Orioles, finishing tied for second with slugger Rocky Colavito for AL Rookie of the Year, won by slick-fielding shortstop Luis Aparicio.

He ended his career with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970. In all, he played in 1,719 games with 5,777 plate appearances. He had a career batting average of .272 with 125 home runs and 656 runs batted in.

In 2001, he was named one of the top 100 greatest Indians.

‘‘We’re all incredibly saddened by Tito’s passing,’’ Indians president Chris Antonetti said. ‘‘Not only was he a really good player in our franchise history but he was a friend to so many of us.’’

A year after Terry Francona was fired in Boston following the 2011 season, he was hired by Cleveland. His father, who had grown up in New Brighton, near Pittsburgh, would frequently drive in for games.


‘‘He was such a warm, thoughtful, exuberant person that brightened every room he walked into,’’ Antonetti said. “To have the opportunity to visit with him when he'd come into town, to hear his stories, to see how he and Terry connected was really meaningful.’’

Antonetti said he talked with Terry Francona Wednesday.

‘‘He was able to reflect back and talk about so many great memories he shared with his dad and showed how deep that bond was,’’ Antonetti said. ‘‘He said, ‘I had the best mom and dad in the world and to have the chance over the past handful of seasons to share a lot of those moments with my dad, for him to come to Cleveland and watch every game on TV, with a chance to talk about them with him afterwards,’ were memories that he will continue to cherish.’’

Material from the Associated Press was used in this obituary.