Archive for the ‘Managers’ Category

(In tribute to Dallas Green, who died March 22, 2017, at 82, I am posting here a story I did that was published in the Dec. 31, 2007, farewell edition of The Cincinnati Post.)

When Lou Piniella was chosen to manage the Reds, the ball club called a press conference at Riverfront Stadium on Nov. 3, 1989.

It was unusual for me, sports editor of The Post, to attend. I usually worked from the newsroom. But I went to the stadium that day.

The Reds were a troubled franchise. Pete Rose, who had managed them since 1984, had been banned from baseball. His interim successor, Tommy Helms, had departed bitterly, saying he never would work for club owner Marge Schott again.

Piniella, who had worked for New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, made a strong impression. He spoke convincingly about why the Reds would succeed.

When Piniella finished, I approached Schott. I had been named sports editor in August, a few days before Rose’s banishment, and hadn’t met Schott.

“I’m Mark Tomasik, new sports editor of The Post.”

“Nice to meet you, honey,” Schott said. “I hope you’ll bring some class to The Cincinnati Post.”

From March 1989 to December 1997, I had the privilege of working for The Post, most of that time as its sports editor. It was an era of big personalities and big stories in local sports: Rose, Schott, Piniella, Sam Wyche, Paul Brown, Boomer Esiason, Bob Huggins, Pete Gillen, Rick Pitino and dozens more.

The Post already had a lot of class when I arrived. Our sports section regularly was voted best in Ohio and one of the top 10 in the nation.

The staff talent was deep, diverse. Its best attribute: aggressiveness. Most big breaking-news local sports stories of that era were reported first by The Post.

The newsroom culture was to pursue news hard. So when I came to work at 5:30 the morning of Oct. 18, 1989, and was greeted by a story across Page 1 of the Enquirer headlined, “Dallas Green offered Reds’ manager’s job,” I knew what to expect.

Within minutes, the managing editor was at my door. “We have to have something that matches or advances that story for our Page 1,” he said.

“I don’t have any reporters at this hour,” I replied.

Our Reds reporter was in San Francisco, where that night an earthquake had rocked the Bay Area, led to more than 60 deaths and halted Game 3 of the World Series. I wasn’t going to call at 2:30 a.m. Pacific time and ask him to chase the Green story.

“I’ll take care of it,” I told the managing editor.

The Post had a source list of phone numbers for many of the biggest names in sports. Green, who lived near Philadelphia, was on the list.

Just before 7, with deadline an hour away, I dialed Green’s number. He answered. I identified myself and began to explain the call.

Green responded with a string of profanities, and hung up.

“He’s not talking,” I told the managing editor.

“You’ve got to find a way to get the story,” he said.

I waited 30 minutes.

I dialed again.


“Please don’t hang up,” I pleaded. “I need your help.”

Green paused. I told him what the Enquirer was reporting and asked him to deny or confirm.

“You want to know why I was so upset when you called earlier?” he said.


“My daughter lives in San Francisco. That mean anything to you? We’ve been trying to contact her all night. We haven’t been able to get through. We’re worried sick. When the phone rang, we were hoping it was her.”

My impression of Dallas Green changed that instant.

“I haven’t been offered the Reds’ job,” he said. “Is that what you need?”

Yes. We printed it. Page 1. All editions.

Two weeks later, Piniella was named manager.

_ _ _

Copyright: Copyright (c) 2007 The Cincinnati Post

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In a classic clash of individual free will versus organizational authority, Al Hrabosky challenged the rules of manager Vern Rapp, creating a controversy that threatened to divide the Cardinals during spring training in 1977.

al_hrabosky3Forty years ago, Rapp, the Cardinals’ first-year manager, had declared no Cardinals player could have a beard, moustache, long sideburns or long hair. Hrabosky, the Cardinals’ top relief pitcher, had earned the nickname “Mad Hungarian,” in part, because of an intimidating look that featured a Fu Manchu moustache.

Bristling at what he considered unnecessarily rigid rules and convinced a clean-shaven look hampered his effectiveness as a pitcher, Hrabosky ripped Rapp in comments to media.

For Rapp, who never had been in the big leagues until replacing the popular Red Schoendienst as manager, Hrabosky’s outburst was a critical test of his ability to command the respect of the team.

Spirit of St. Louis

A St. Louis native, Rapp was a catcher in the Cardinals’ system from 1946-50 and from 1953-54. He was a Cardinals minor-league manager from 1965-68 before moving to the Reds organization.

After the Cardinals fired Schoendienst, they hired Rapp because of a no-nonsense reputation.

Before leaving for 1977 spring training at St. Petersburg, Fla., Rapp, 48, revealed his edict on hair.

“Rapp’s tonsorial order took priority over a lot more important matters among St. Louis fans,” The Sporting News reported. “The two daily newspapers were swamped with letters, most of them in favor of the manager.”

In explaining why he implemented the ban, Rapp told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “I’ve had those codes on teams I’ve managed since 1965. It’s to give the players a feeling of being responsible to the profession they’re in. The dress and hair codes reflect their character and personality to the public. It’s a big way they can start developing pride.”

Rapp’s rules

Most Cardinals players reported to spring training clean-shaven and with haircuts. Third baseman Ken Reitz “was asked by the manager to get his hair trimmed and did, but not enough to suit Rapp,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

“There are a couple of others who still didn’t get their hair trimmed enough at the sides, but they will,” Rapp said.

The first player to challenge the rule was outfielder Bake McBride, who attempted to keep a goatee.

When Rapp ordered McBride to shave, McBride responded, “You’re going to make enemies.”

Said Rapp: “I didn’t come down here to win friends.”

Hrabosky, ever the showman, invited the media to film and photograph him as he shaved his Fu Manchu and beard.

The hair code wasn’t the only change introduced by Rapp. He issued daily step-by-step mimeographed instructions to the players, gave them identical team exercise suits to wear, required them to attend a demonstration by coach Sonny Ruberto on how uniforms should be worn and scheduled workouts before and after lunch.

After the Cardinals were beaten, 10-0, by the Mets in their spring training opener, “Rapp sent his players on a 15-lap tour from first to home,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Hate mood

Hrabosky initially tried to use his unhappiness with the hair code as motivation to pitch well.

“I want to prove to Rapp that I’m his No. 1 relief pitcher,” Hrabosky said. “I want to be his No. 1 stopper. I wanted to be in a hate mood and Rapp put me there by taking away my beard and moustache. But, look, I super-like Vern. I want to help him, help the ballclub and help myself. He has aroused something in me to fight back.”

A few days later, though, Hrabosky directed his frustration at Rapp.

Al apologizes

On March 20, Hrabosky told the Associated Press: “My mental outlook is atrocious. There’s more dissension on this club than I’ve ever seen.”

That same day, Hrabosky told United Press International his teammates were being stifled by Rapp. “The guys are just standing still,” Hrabosky said. “The reason is they’re afraid to move.”

Informed of Hrabosky’s comments, Rapp told the Post-Dispatch, “I just don’t understand it.”

Before the Cardinals left for their March 21 exhibition game against the Red Sox at Winter Haven, Fla., Rapp called a team meeting.

“I wanted to get everything out in the open,” Rapp said. “I wanted the players to know that I am the manager of this team. They fully realize this and they are willing to accept it.”

Hrabosky stood up at the meeting and apologized.

“I’m man enough to admit I was wrong … I’m going to keep my mouth shut and do what I have to do,” Hrabosky told the Post-Dispatch. “I offended Vern. I feel I threatened his helm. As a team member, I felt I had no right to say what I did.”

Catcher Ted Simmons, the only other player to speak at the meeting, urged his teammates to conduct themselves professionally. Said Simmons of Rapp: “He is the manager and that’s that. If he wants you to stand on your head, then you should do it.”

Family feud

The Cardinals opened the regular season on April 7 and beat the Pirates, 12-6, at Pittsburgh. Hrabosky pitched 2.1 innings and helped protect the win for starter John Denny.

Afterward, a jubilant Hrabosky was asked by The Sporting News to reflect on his spring training criticism of Rapp. “Maybe I was a little selfish and a little childish about the matter,” Hrabosky said. “I accept it now.”

Peace, though, wasn’t long-lasting.

In May, Rapp suspended Hrabosky for insubordination after the pitcher refused the manager’s request to meet.

In June, McBride, who remained unhappy with Rapp, was traded to the Phillies.

In July, with Hrabosky beginning to grow facial hair and threatening to file a grievance with the players’ union, Cardinals owner Gussie Busch ordered Rapp to discontinue the hair code.

Hrabosky led the 1977 Cardinals in saves (10) and games pitched (65) but his ERA was 4.38. After the season, he was traded to the Royals.

Rapp was fired in April 1978 and replaced by Ken Boyer.

Previously: The pitfalls of Cardinals rookie manager Vern Rapp

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In a union of legendary rivals who represented baseball at its best, Stan Musial hired Warren Spahn to be a manager in the Cardinals organization.

spahn_musialFifty years ago, on Feb. 25, 1967, a month after he was named Cardinals general manager, Musial bypassed Sparky Anderson and selected Spahn to be manager of the Class AAA Tulsa Oilers.

Anderson had managed the Cardinals’ Class A St. Petersburg club to a league championship in 1966 and reportedly was the top internal candidate for the Tulsa opening.

Spahn, who never had managed, was the recommended choice of Tulsa owner A. Ray Smith.

Though Cardinals executives such as farm director George Silvey had input, Musial, as general manager, had the final decision regarding who to hire as manager for the Cardinals’ top affiliate.

Matchup of marvels

In Spahn, Musial chose the candidate who had been his respected nemesis during their Hall of Fame playing careers.

Spahn, who pitched 21 seasons in the major leagues, primarily with the Braves, is the all-time leader in career wins (363) among left-handers. Musial, who played 22 seasons in the major leagues, all with the Cardinals, is the all-time leader in total bases (6,134) among left-handed batters.

Their matchups spanned the 1940s to 1960s. Musial has a career .318 batting average and .412 on-base percentage against Spahn, according to the Web site retrosheet.org. Musial has more hits (104), doubles (23), triples (6) and walks (50) versus Spahn than any other player. Only Willie Mays (18) hit more home runs against Spahn than Musial (17) did.

In his 1964 book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” Musial called Spahn “the best National League pitcher of my era.”

“Spahnie was more than a student of pitching,” Musial said. “He was a scientist.”

Musial concluded: “It was a great challenge to hit against this cunning guy … and I’m proud to have done well.”

Pressure on Stan

If not for Bob Howsam’s departure, Musial and Spahn might never have worked together and Anderson might not have left the Cardinals.

On Jan. 22, 1967, Howsam resigned as Cardinals general manager and became executive vice president and general manager of the Reds. Musial, a Cardinals vice president, took on the additional role of general manager.

One of Howsam’s cronies was Tulsa manager Charlie Metro, who was waiting in the wings in case Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst faltered. Metro followed Howsam to the Reds, accepting a job as a scout.

With spring training close to opening, Musial and the Cardinals had to scramble to find a replacement for Metro in Tulsa.

Spahn, 45, was residing on his 2,800-acre cattle ranch in Hartshorne, Okla., about 120 miles from Tulsa. He made it known he wanted to get back into baseball. Smith was thrilled by the possibility of having a baseball icon manage his club, so the Oilers owner went to work on trying to convince Musial to make it happen.

On Feb. 20, 1967, Musial said Smith’s request was under review and that he hoped to announce a choice soon, The Sporting News reported.

Smith told the Associated Press that Musial had been pressured to select a candidate from within the Cardinals’ organization, “but we fought a hard fight” for Spahn.

Though Anderson was “first choice for the position,” according to The Sporting News, Spahn got the Tulsa job. Anderson was assigned to manage the Cardinals’ Class A club at Modesto, Calif.

Rookie manager

Spahn’s hiring was announced by Smith at a news conference at Tulsa’s prestigious Southern Hills Country Club.

“The Oilers and Tulsa are mighty lucky to get a man of Spahn’s caliber,” Smith said.

Said Spahn: “I’ve always wanted an opportunity to manage. The ranch is great, but it’s more like a plaything. I’d like to manage in Tulsa for 10 years. Naturally, I’m for a major-league job someday, but first I’ve got to earn that.”

Tulsa opened the 1967 season with a roster that included pitchers Tracy Stallard and Wayne Granger; catchers Pat Corrales and Sonny Ruberto; infielders Elio Chacon, Bobby Dews and Coco Laboy; and outfielder Danny Napoleon.

Other managers in the Pacific Coast League that season included Chuck Tanner of the Seattle Angels, Whitey Lockman of the Tacoma Cubs, Bob Skinner of the San Diego Padres and Mickey Vernon of the Vancouver Mounties.

Under Spahn, Tulsa had a dismal 1967 season (65-79), though he did receive high marks for helping to develop starting pitchers Mike Torrez (10 wins) and Hal Gilson (15 wins). Silvey noted that Spahn “must have helped Torrez quite a bit. Mike has added a curve and he’s faster.”

Meanwhile, Anderson led Modesto to a 79-61 record and a league championship in 1967. After the season, Anderson joined the Reds as manager of their Class AA Asheville club.

Anderson “was so upset at being bypassed (for the Tulsa job) that he quit the Cardinals organization,” The Sporting News reported.

Two years after leaving the Cardinals, Anderson was named manager of the Reds and went on to build a Hall of Fame career.

Ups and downs

In 1968, Spahn took Tulsa from worst to first. The Oilers finished 95-53 and won the league championship.

Spahn managed Tulsa in 1969 (79-61), 1970 (70-70) and 1971 (64-76) before he was fired by Cardinals general manager Bing Devine.

“Devine said I had been here five years and there were young prospective managers in the organization who needed to move up,” Spahn said.

Though Spahn went on to work as a coach and instructor with other organizations, Tulsa would be the only team he would manage.

Previously: How Charlie Metro miffed Stan Musial

Previously: Cardinals boosted managing career of Sparky Anderson

Previously: Warren Spahn and his Cardinals connection

Previously: Why the Cardinals fired Warren Spahn

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After being fired from his job as Yankees manager in 1966, Johnny Keane was looking forward to rebuilding his career in 1967. The Angels had hired him to be a special assignment scout. Keane hoped that role would position him to become a big-league manager again and provide him the chance to replicate the success he had when he led the 1964 Cardinals to a World Series title.

johnny_keane3The spirit was willing, but the body was not.

Fifty years ago, on Jan. 6, 1967, Keane, 55, died of a heart attack at his home in Houston.

Code of honor

Keane, a St. Louis native who studied for the priesthood at St. Louis Prep Seminary, abided by a principled personal code of fair play, dignity and loyalty.

In August 1964, Cardinals owner Gussie Busch violated that code by firing Keane’s friends _ general manager Bing Devine, business manager Art Routzong and player personnel director Eddie Stanky _ and plotting to replace Keane with Leo Durocher. Unwilling to continue working for Busch, Keane resigned following the Cardinals’ World Series triumph over the Yankees. Soon after, Keane became Yankees manager, inheriting a club of aging, injury-prone players.

When the Yankees finished with a 77-85 record in 1965 and followed that by losing 16 of their first 20 games in 1966, Keane took the fall.

Some believed the emotional toll of Keane’s departures from the Cardinals and Yankees within a span of 19 months contributed to his death.

In a less romanticized view, St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports editor Bob Broeg, knowing Keane’s toughness and resiliency, wrote, “There is a tendency among the poets in the press box to suggest (Keane) died of a broken heart. Possibly, but not probably.”

Career Cardinal

Keane devoted most of his professional career to the Cardinals, working for them in four decades. He joined their farm system as a shortstop in 1930. His development was curtailed in 1935 when he was struck in the head by a pitch from Sig Jakucki and suffered a fractured skull. Three years later, Keane became player-manager for the Cardinals’ farm club in Albany, Ga. He spent 21 seasons as a manager in the St. Louis farm system and had winning records in 17 of those years.

Keane was a candidate to become Cardinals manager in 1951, but the job went to Marty Marion. Twice after that, Keane rejected offers to become a Cardinals coach because, “I wanted to go up as a manager,” he told The Sporting News.

In 1959, Keane, on the advice of Devine, reconsidered his stance and made it to the major leagues for the first time as a coach on the staff of Cardinals manager Solly Hemus. Keane replaced Hemus in July 1961 and led the Cardinals to a 47-33 record. The Cardinals also produced winning records in Keane’s three full seasons as their manager: 84-78 in 1962, 93-69 in 1963 and 93-69 again in 1964.

My way

With players such as Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Tony Kubek sidelined by injuries, the Yankees under Keane went from champions to also-rans. When the Yankees decided Keane no longer should be their manager, they offered to make a deal with him to prevent the move from being announced as a firing. Keane refused to go along with the scheme.

“Yes, that’s what happened,” Keane said to Chuck Fierson of the Oneonta (N.Y.) Star. “The Yanks told me that, if I said I was retiring because of my health, they would give me a job in the front office. But my health is OK and I don’t want a front office job. Besides that, I didn’t like the idea of making up excuses.”

Three months later, in July 1966, the Braves fired manager Bobby Bragan. Keane was their choice to replace him, according to columnist Dick Young in The Sporting News.

Keane, though, didn’t want to step in until the season was completed. “He preferred to start fresh,” Young said. Billy Hitchcock, a Braves coach, was named interim manager. When Hitchcock led the Braves to a 33-18 mark to finish the season, the interim tag was removed from his title and Keane was out of the picture.

True gentleman

By December 1966, Keane, eager to get back into baseball, was grateful to receive the offer to scout for the Angels.

To prepare for his role, Keane bought a new car on Jan. 6, 1967, so that he’d have a reliable vehicle to take him on scouting trips.

After dinner that evening, Keane told his wife he was feeling ill. At 10:30, Keane collapsed and died.

Dr. William Sutton, Keane’s physician, said Keane “had been under treatment for heart trouble and high blood pressure, but had not suffered a previous heart attack,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Reacting to news of Keane’s death, Ken Boyer, third baseman for the 1964 Cardinals, said Keane was the type of person “you would be proud to have for a brother or father.”

Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford said Keane “was the first person to visit me in the hospital after my operation last season _ and that was after he had been dropped as manager.”

Michael Burke, Yankees president, noted that Keane “won everyone’s respect” and “his own self-respect and quiet sense of personal dignity was never compromised.”

Said Stan Musial, who played his final three seasons for Keane: “Johnny was one of the finest guys in baseball. We was a gentleman and a real credit to the game.”

Faithful friends

The funeral for Keane was held in Houston three days after his death. Among the pallbearers were Devine, Routzong and two of Keane’s coaches from his Cardinals staff, Vern Benson and Howie Pollet.

Milton Richman of United Press International wrote that Keane “had more friends than he knew” and that Keane and Devine “were almost like brothers.”

Keane was survived by his wife, daughter and two grandsons.

Three months after the funeral, Young reported that, although Keane had been employed by the Angels for only one month, the club honored him by paying his widow the year’s salary Keane would have received as special assignment scout.

Previously: Johnny Keane to Gussie Busch: Take this job, shove it

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In a move made as much for its public relations value as for on-field leadership, the Cardinals, in effect, hired two managers to replace Rogers Hornsby.

bob_ofarrellA week after Sam Breadon created an uproar when he traded Hornsby to the Giants rather than give in to his contract demands, the Cardinals’ owner attempted to quell the controversy by naming one of the club’s most popular players as manager.

Ninety years ago, on Dec. 27, 1926, Bob O’Farrell, a Cardinals catcher and recipient of the 1926 National League Most Valuable Player Award, was chosen as Hornsby’s successor. At the same time, Bill McKechnie, former Pirates manager, was hired as Cardinals coach and assistant to O’Farrell.

O’Farrell, 30, had no experience managing. McKechnie, 40, had managed the Pirates for five seasons (1922-1926) and led them to a NL pennant and World Series championship in 1925. The Pirates produced winning records every year under McKechnie and finished no lower than third place. He was fired when the defending champion Pirates placed third, 4.5 games behind the first-place Cardinals, in 1926.

McKechnie had been considered a candidate to replace Hornsby, but Breadon opted instead for a manager who already was well-liked by fans and players.

Like latter-day Cardinals catchers such as Tim McCarver, Ted Simmons and Yadier Molina, O’Farrell was smart, talented and respected.

O’Farrell batted .293 with 30 doubles for the 1926 Cardinals, handled the pitching staff superbly and led NL catchers in putouts. In the 1926 World Series against the Yankees, O’Farrell hit .304 and threw out Babe Ruth attempting to steal, ending Game 7 and sealing the Cardinals’ championship.

Who’s the boss?

Few could have predicted the Cardinals would be seeking a manager in December 1926.

Hornsby, a second baseman who won the NL batting title in six consecutive seasons (1920-25) with the Cardinals, became their player-manager in 1925, replacing Branch Rickey.

After Hornsby, 30, led the Cardinals to their first pennant and World Series crown in 1926, he demanded a three-year contract. Breadon offered a one-year deal. When Hornsby persisted, Breadon traded him, incurring the wrath of Cardinals fans. The St. Louis Chamber of Commerce was so upset that it asked Breadon to withdraw his membership in the group.

Breadon offered O’Farrell a one-year contract to be player-manager. The catcher called Hornsby and sought his approval. Hornsby assured O’Farrell he wouldn’t be disloyal if he accepted the offer. Breadon was relieved when he did.

Likeable leader

In the St. Louis Star-Times, James Gould wrote, “The naming of O’Farrell undoubtedly will be as popular a choice as could be made under the circumstances … None is better liked by his teammates.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called O’Farrell “the only man perhaps who was sure to be received pleasantly by the fans and the players.”

Breadon was “as jubilant as a 2-year-old” when he got both O’Farrell and McKechnie, the Star-Times reported.

“The offer I made to O’Farrell was positively the only one I made to anyone since Hornsby was traded,” Breadon said. “… He is absolutely the only man who could be chosen for the post. But the greatest joy of all was the signing of McKechnie.”

Breadon told the Star-Times that McKechnie “ought to help O’Farrell guide the Cards to their second pennant.”

Unfair to O’Farrell

O’Farrell told the Post-Dispatch “I never dreamed” of inheriting a World Series championship team. “I consider Hornsby the greatest manager I ever saw and just as he let the club play its own games I will let the fellows do their own thinking.” O’Farrell said. “You can’t think for 25 men.”

Hornsby, who also had no managing experience when he got the job, said O’Farrell was “a fine choice” and “he ought to make a good manager.”

Noting his proven skill in working with pitchers, The Sporting News suggested O’Farrell “probably knows more about the pitching part … in a day’s workout than Hornsby would learn second hand in a year.”

With his focus on managing, O’Farrell was limited to 61 games in 1927. Splitting the catching chores with Frank Snyder and Johnny Schulte, O’Farrell hit .264 with 10 doubles.

As manager, O’Farrell delivered high-caliber results. His 1927 Cardinals produced a 92-61 record _ better than the 89-65 mark of the 1926 championship club _ but St. Louis finished in second place, 1.5 games behind the Pirates.

Afterward, Breadon replaced O’Farrell with McKechnie and gave O’Farrell a pay raise to remain on the team as a catcher.

His tenure, though, was short-lived.

In May 1928, O’Farrell was traded to the Giants. McKechnie led the Cardinals to the 1928 pennant.

Previously: Rogers Hornsby tops Albert Pujols among Cards’ best

Previously: How Red Schoendienst became Cardinals manager

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As a utility player with the Cardinals, Tito Francona was thinking about his future. The idea of becoming a manager appealed to him.

tito_franconaIn its July 2, 1966, edition, The Sporting News wrote that Francona “explained that he had learned a lot on the sidelines that should help him in his hoped for career as a manager.”

Francona, who played 15 seasons in the big leagues, including two (1965 and 1966) with the Cardinals, never did get to fulfill his dream of becoming a manager. After 1970, his final season as a player, Francona returned to his native Pennsylvania and became a parks and recreation director in Beaver County, according to his biography by the Society for American Baseball Research.

It was Francona’s son, Terry, who would become a manager, winning World Series championships with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007 and an American League pennant with the Indians in 2016.

Like his father, Terry also was a big-league player, primarily a first baseman and outfielder, who played 10 years (1981-90) in the major leagues, mostly with the Expos.

Terry was 5 years old when his father was acquired by the Cardinals from the Indians in a cash transaction on Dec. 15, 1964, two months after St. Louis had won the World Series championship.

Introducing Tito Francona to Cardinals fans in The Sporting News, writer Neal Russo reported that being a referee of high school and college basketball games during the winter kept Francona in good physical condition. “So do his two youngsters, son Terry, nearly 6 years old, and daughter Amy, as frisky a 3-year-old as any you’ll see at the Kentucky Derby,” Russo wrote.

Bound for Browns

John Francona was born in Aliquippa, Pa., about 25 miles north of Pittsburgh, in 1933 and was nicknamed Tito _ which, in Italian, means Giant _ by his father.

In 1952, at 18, Francona signed an amateur free-agent contract with the St. Louis Browns. “They were at the bottom (of the American League) and I figured I’d have a better chance of moving up fast with them,” Francona told The Sporting News in 1964.

Francona never made it to St. Louis with the Browns. The franchise relocated to Baltimore in 1954 and became the Orioles. Francona made his big-league debut with the 1956 Orioles.

In 1959, Francona had his best big-league season, batting .363 with 145 hits in 122 games for the Indians. In 1961, his lone season as an all-star, Francona batted .301 and had career highs of 178 hits and 85 RBI for the Indians.

A left-handed batter, Francona sprayed the ball to all fields. The Indians, though, were seeking more power from a corner outfielder. After the 1964 season, in which he hit .248 in 111 games, Francona was put on the trading block.

The Indians offered to trade Francona, catcher John Romano and pitcher Gary Bell to the Twins for catcher Earl Battey, pitcher Dick Stigman and outfielder Jimmie Hall, The Sporting News reported, but the proposal was rejected. The Indians also talked with the Cubs about a deal involving Francona and others for outfielder Billy Williams, but that also fell through.

Unable to package Francona in a major trade, the Indians sold his contract to the Cardinals for cash. After nine seasons in the American League, Francona would be playing in the National League for the first time.

Quality move

The Cardinals envisioned Francona, 31, as a pinch-hitter and backup to Mike Shannon in right field and to Bill White at first base. His acquisition generally was seen as a shrewd move by general manager Bob Howsam.

“Tito’s not too old and the St. Louis ballpark was made for good left-handed hitters,” said Phillies pitcher Jim Bunning.

Said Phillies first baseman Roy Sievers: “Tito can do a lot of things well. He’s agile. He can do a good job in the outfield and he’s an excellent backup man for Bill White at first base … The short porch in right field at Busch Stadium will help him a lot.”

Francona hit .259 in 81 games for the 1965 Cardinals. He batted .265 as a pinch-hitter.

Used in the same role by the Cardinals in 1966, Francona hit .212 in 83 games. He hit .171 as a pinch-hitter.

Goodbye to good guy

In spring training 1967, Bobby Tolan, 21, beat out Francona, 33, for the role of left-handed pinch-hitter and backup outfielder and first baseman.

On April 10, a day before the Cardinals opened the 1967 regular season, Stan Musial, in one of his first transactions as general manager, sold Francona’s contract to the Phillies.

Noting that the Cardinals received an amount greater than the $20,000 waiver price in the deal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, “The indication is that the Cardinals felt Francona had to play regularly to be of help with his bat and the Redbirds have several younger ballplayers to move in at first or the outfield.”

In 1969 and 1970, Francona played for an Athletics team that included infielder Tony La Russa and catcher Dave Duncan. In 2004, La Russa was manager and Duncan was pitching coach of a Cardinals team that played in the World Series against manager Terry Francona’s Red Sox.

La Russa told the Post-Dispatch then that he and Tito Francona had roomed together on road trips with the Athletics.

“Some guys treated me like I shouldn’t be there … but not Tito,” said La Russa, who was a light-hitting reserve infielder. “He was just a terrific roommate and a very, very helpful guy.”

Previously: George Kernek: Cardinals’ choice to replace Bill White

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