Saturday, June 13, 2015

Francona Missed H.S. Graduation to Report to Browns

John Patsy "Tito" Francona was inducted this week in the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League Hall of Fame.  At that banquet, Tito told a story about the circumstances of his being signed by the St. Louis Browns in 1952.  It seems he signed with the Browns the very day before he graduated high school.  And baseball - and the Browns' management - proved to be a harsh mistress.

He was ordered to skip graduation ceremonies and report directly to the Browns' Class B farm team!

Tito giving batting tips to some local little-leaguers
The decision to forgo cap-and-gown and don pinstripes was a good one for Tito.  He went on to have a successful major-league career as a first baseman-outfielder including being elected by Cleveland baseball writers as the 1959 Man of the Year, and an appearance in the second 1961 All-Star game.

Tito played two years in the Browns farm system before the team was sold to Baltimore: one year with the York White Roses and one year with the Aberdeen Pheasants.   At Aberdeen, Tito met his future wife, a local girl named Roberta Jackson.  Terry Francona, their son and current manager of the Cleveland Indians, was born in Aberdeen in 1959.

Here is a scorecard featuring Tito as an Aberdeen Pheasant. Note that Roger Maris (misspelled Maras), is in the lineup that day as a right-fielder for the Fargo-Moorhead Twins.

Yep, that's THE Roger Maris!
The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League was founded in 1907 for high school sports. Its Hall Of Fame includes Stan Musial and Arnold Palmer.

Other famous Aberdeen Pheasants that later came up to be major leaguers include Don Larsen, Bob Turley, Don Lenhardt, Perry Currin (all very recent attendees at the annual St. Louis Browns Fan Club and Historical Society banquet) and Blackie Schwamb.

Although Tito did not make it up to the big leagues in time to be a Brownie, he did eventually make it to Sportsman's Park as a St. Louis Cardinal (and batted cleanup in the last game, May 8th, 1966). Tito also played with Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago (AL), Detroit , Atlanta, Philadelphia, Oakland and Milwaukee.

Tito Trivia

  • was traded twice for the same player: Larry Doby.  Once by the Orioles, and once by the Tigers.
  • shares the record (with Paul Bako) of being the player who played in the most contiguous states.  Francona played for teams in seven contiguous states: MO, IL, WI, MI, OH, PA, MD.
  • is the only player signed by the Browns to have played into the 1970s.

Read more: a member of the St. Louis Cardinals ts/hssports/otherhighschoolsports/8542448-74/wpial-francona-basketball#ixzz3cyUWtJcO 

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