Friday, September 1, 2023

An homage to Tito

Editor's Note: The Snooze Button Generation blog would like to thank the outpouring of kind words and donations to the GoFundMe fundraiser for Fred Stevens. Last month's post detailing Fred's health situation garnered a lot of attention, and Fred is making some much-welcomed progress! ... Now, this month's blog:

Thank you, Tito.

Inspirational. Practical. Smart. Adaptable. A Role Model.

Those are the first words that come to mind when I think of Cleveland Guardians manager Terry "Tito" Francona, who will be retiring at the end of this season after 11 seasons with the Guardians/Indians.

As Terry Pluto in pointed out, only the Dodgers (.613), Yankees (.565) and Cardinals (.559) have a higher winning percentage than the Guardians under Francona (.557). It's been a wonderful run of baseball for Cleveland fans, and it's bit disconcerting to see the 64-year-old retire.

Tito will be in the Hall of Fame as a manager. In his first year as manager for the Boston Red Sox in 2004, he helped break the Sox's 86-year-old championship as they won the World Series. They had come back from an 0-3 deficit in the ALCS to beat the Yankees, and then the Red Sox won the World Series again in 2007.

Our Cleveland Indians got the Worlds Series in 2016 under Tito, had a 3-1 lead over the Cubs, but couldn't seal the deal. I didn't fault Tito at the time because he was an absolute magician getting them that far. In fact, he probably was the main reason they were there in the first place.

In 2016, Tribe fans had the attitude that it was a surprise we were there and we were ecstatic for that. Plus, LeBron had just lifted our own curse with the Cavs' championship. Tito seems to often have his hand with lifting curses as the Cubbies won for the first time in 108 years.

A baseball season is like life or teaching. It's a long grind. There are constant decisions. We get up and down, and, at the end of the day, we're only in charge of so much.

Although I never met Tito and am just a fan, it appears that he connects with his players. He makes decisions to the best of his ability, and players and fans have total trust in him. It happens. But it's rare that he makes a blunder. He has been a major asset to the Tribe and Northeast Ohio. He even rides a scooter from his downtown apartment to the games:

As a kid who liked playing sports but wasn't on a high-school team, I quickly related to managers and coaches. While I feel I have a strong analytical sports mind, I never played at an elite level. After spending seven seasons covering the NBA, I concluded that a good, or bad, NBA coach only adds plus, or minus, five wins per season.

With all apologies to Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr or whomever you think is an awesome coach, it's likely not going to make a major difference. In Major League Baseball, however, it's probably more like a plus, or minus, 10 games. Tito maxed out those 10 games many, many years with the Tribe.

Even in this current, difficult year with practically a minor-league roster, he's still getting the most out of his guys, and he's a wizard when it comes to in-game moves. Yeah, we all know how important analytics are in baseball nowadays, but there's a human factor, too. Tito is good at all of it.

I'm fearful that the next era of Cleveland baseball will not nearly be as enjoyable as the Tito years. How could it be?

The new balanced schedule prevents the Guardians from beating up on Central Division opponents, like they did for 10 of 11 of Tito's years. Plus, no one, absolutely no one, will be able to fill his shoes. The guy who takes over — I vote for Sandy Alomar — will have a lot of pressure on him.

Sandy, of course, was part of the Indians' powerhouse teams in the '90s, when they went to the World Series in '95 during the first time they were in the postseason since 1954. In all reality, those '90s powerhouse teams when Jacobs Field opened will go down as the golden age of Cleveland baseball.
Of course, those powerhouse '90s teams never won the World Series, blowing Game 7 in the late innings against the Florida Marlins in '97. In many ways, those '90s teams were the opposite of Tito's teams. While those '90s Indians overpowered opponents with offense, Tito's teams finesse their victories with pitching, defense, speed and superb attention to detail.

Perhaps baseball purists respond more to the Moneyball-style success of the Tito era. But the city of Cleveland responded more to the powerhouse '90s teams.

Heck, the Indians had.a streak of 455 consecutive sellouts from June 1995 to April 2001. The demand for tickets was so high that in five straight seasons, all home games were sold out before opening day.

By the way, that sellout streak was a record at the time, but it was surpassed by the Red Sox (794 ending in 2013) and Giants (530 ending in 2017). Boston's streak — it must be noted — comprised of Tito's entire stay in Boston with three additional years.

The Guardians owner recently said that Tito will stay on in some sort of capacity as a front-office consultant. That's great, and all, but it is far from the same as knowing when to let a pitcher come out for the seventh inning or when to have faith in Josh Naylor vs. lefties.

Tito made so many constant right moves and was such an admirable individual, he is — without a doubt — the best manager, or coach, in Cleveland sports history in my lifetime. I doubt there will ever be any coach more impressive.