Red Sox honor Francona's CBHOF induction
While at Arizona, he won 1980 College World Series MVP Award
Before their Sept. 14 day game with the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox paid tribute to manager Terry Francona’s induction into the College Baseball Hall of Fame.
A video saluting his college career at the University of Arizona -- one that culminated with Francona being voted Most Valuable Player for the 1980 College World Series-winning Wildcats -- was shown, and Mike “Gus” Gustafson, executive director of the College Baseball Foundation, presented Francona with a framed portrait by noted Texas artist Robert Hurst.
Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan -- who was enshrined last year for his outstanding career at the University of Alabama -- was standing alongside Francona during the pregame ceremony. “I should have been voted in a year earlier,” Francona, who likes to needle Magadan, said.
The skipper is known for his dry wit, but his demeanor turned serious when discussing his college coach, Jerry Kindall, a 2007 CBHOF inductee who accepted the award on Francona's behalf this July.
“He taught me so much about respect for the game and respect for people,” said Francona of his former coach.
The feeling is mutual. In a recent phone interview, Kindall marveled that “There is no deceit, no pretension, no ego in Terry Francona. He would have been a success at anything he tried.”
There are deep roots in the Kindall-Francona relationship. Terry’s father, Tito, was Kindall’s Cleveland Indians teammate in the early 1960s.
“We really covered the ground on the right side of the infield,” Kindall said.
Tito Francona was a smooth-fielding, left-handed first baseman and Kindall -- a "bonus baby" Cubs shortstop who once was told he would replace Ernie Banks -- developed into a far-ranging second baseman.
When it was time for Terry to look for college programs after a highly successful high school career in New Brighton, Pa., a small borough outside of Pittsburgh, Tito phoned Jerry in Tucson.
“Remember that little urchin in the sandpail?” Tito asked. “Well, he’s hitting over .600 in high school, and I think you should take a look at him.”
Kindall, who had won his first College World Series title with the 1976 Wildcats, was glad to oblige. Soon, he became virtually a second father to the long-haired, 18-year-old Terry, who had a penchant for Coors Light and had never lived away from home.
“There was no fall baseball at the time,” Kindall said. Living without the structure of high school classes posed a challenge, and most players went through an inevitable period of homesickness. “My wife and I invited them to our home in groups of two and four,” Kindall recalled. The bonding of a future championship team had begun.
During his three-year college career, Terry Francona started every game, ensconcing himself in the third spot in the lineup.
Kindall recalled with a chuckle Francona’s self-deprecating wit.
"How can I ever hit that left-hander?” he once asked. “I will be lucky to get a walk.”
Then he would hit the ball so hard that Kindall, coaching third base, would almost feel sorry for the third baseman ducking out of the way of a line drive.
Then in his final year --1980 -- Francona hit .401 in the regular season and .458 in the College World Series, as the Wildcats stormed out of the losers’ bracket to win five games in a row and the coveted title. He was named MVP of the CWS and also won the Golden Spikes Award, amateur baseball’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. Shortly thereafter, he started his pro career as a first-round draft choice of the Montreal Expos.
Unfortunately, injuries curtailed his promising pro career, but he knew that he wanted to stay in baseball.
“It was all I ever wanted to do,” Francona said.
He learned his Arizona lessons of practicing hard and bouncing back from adversity And now, in addition to his outstanding managerial laurels that includes the best record ever in postseason play (22-9), Francona can add the honor of being a College Baseball Hall of Fame member.
He remains very loyal to his alma mater and often returns at his own expense to the varsity-alumni games. It is that kind of loyalty that the College Baseball Foundation encourages.
Earlier this summer, three other 2011 inductees into the CBHOF were also honored by Major League teams: Duke University shortstop Dick Groat (the only man in history to be elected to both the college baseball and basketball halls of fame) by the Pirates; Arizona State outfielder Oddibe McDowell by the Rangers; and Cal State Fullerton third baseman Tim Wallach by the Dodgers.
There have now been six classes inducted into the college shrine, and Gustafson says that the groundbreaking for the actual Hall of Fame building and an accompanying baseball field should begin next summer in Lubbock, Texas, which isn't far from the campus of Texas Tech University.
“Why Lubbock? Why not Lubbock?” Gustafson asks. It has long been a hotbed for amateur baseball, and recent Lubbock-area players who made the Major Leagues include pitchers Greg Minton and Donnie Moore and Oakland A’s 2010 perfect-game twirler Dallas Braden.
Lee Lowenfish last wrote for MLB.com about Branch Rickey Day and the honoring the signer of Jackie Robinson in Rickey’s home town of Portsmouth, Ohio.