Terry Francona downplayed his expected retirement all the way up to his last game in Cleveland, but Guardians fans got the chance to applaud their longtime manager Wednesday.
While the Guardians have not publicly confirmed Francona's retirement, he made his intentions pretty clear earlier this month when he told reporters "it's time." The team certainly treated its game against the Cincinnati Reds like a farewell, starting with a tribute video before the game.
Francona received a standing ovation, and multiple curtain calls, from a crowd wearing "Thank You Tito" T-shirts.
Francona spoke to reporters before the game, more or less confirming he'll retire at the end of the season by mentioning he had told the Guardians players in the clubhouse:
"Once you give out T-shirts, man, you can't be going back. That's not good ... It's like the worst-kept secret ever, but I think it's respectful to them to tell them. And I jsut wanted to thank them. I told them in Spring Training, it's an honor for me to stand up in front of them and go through not just the good, but the difficult. And I wanted everybody in that room today to know I felt like it was an honor of a lifetime to be here 11 years."
As MLB.com explains, Francona has been purposefully evasive about confirming his retirement in order to avoid the spotlight for the final week of the season, while still being candid about his thoughts.
Unfortunately, Wednesday came with some bad news from Francona, who revealed his beloved scooter had been stolen and stripped, via the Associated Press:
"Been in mourning," he said. "They got it in the clubhouse under a blanket. Looks like they took a baseball bat to it."
On the bright side, the Guardians won the game 4-3.
When Francona retires, it will be the end of the one of the greatest managerial careers of a generation. In 23 seasons spent with the Guardians, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies, Francona has accrued a 1,948-1,670 record as a manager, as well as a reputation for strong leadership, baseball knowledge and self-deprecating modesty.
He will always be known for his World Series titles in 2004 and 2007 with Boston, with the first famously breaking the team's 86-year championship drought. Francona managed some of baseball's most colorful personalities that season, but kept them together even when their backs were up against the wall in the ALCS. He nearly ended another drought for Cleveland in 2016, but was on the wrong end of the Chicago Cubs' own curse-breaking extra-inning Game 7 win.
After Wednesday, Francona will manage what are expected to be his final games in a three-game road series against the Detroit Tigers.