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Let's Play Ball, Dad

March 22, 1982
March 22, 1982

Table of Contents
March 22, 1982

NCAA Tournament
Montreal Canadiens
Rookies
The Waiting
Sarajevo
Track & Field

Let's Play Ball, Dad

Rookies Terry Francona of the Expos and Cal Ripken of the Orioles are chips off old familiar blocks

On a secluded diamond behind the centerfield wall of Municipal Stadium in West Palm Beach, Fla., the visiting Baltimore Orioles are taking batting practice before their March 8 exhibition game with the Montreal Expos. Cal Ripken, the Orioles' third-base coach, winds and throws the ball to Cal Ripken, the Orioles' third baseman. Cal Ripken, the third baseman, lines what would have been a double to left center, and Cal Ripken, the coach, throws another pitch.

This is an article from the March 22, 1982 issue Original Layout

"This is a scene that's been repeated many times, although seldom in the majors," observes Ken Singleton, a Baltimore outfielder, who is standing behind the cage. "A father pitching to his son." Singleton pauses a moment. "I guess it goes to show that what goes around, comes around." Cal Ripken, the third baseman, hits one into the swamp behind leftfield of the practice diamond, and Cal Ripken, the coach, smiles.

Later, in the seventh inning of that day's game, Terry Francona of the Expos lines a single to the opposite field off Oriole Reliever Tippy Martinez. Up in the stands, the Francona family cheers. The next batter grounds to second, and Francona gets caught in a long, involved and very entertaining rundown, which ends with him sliding unsuccessfully into first base. "Never a dull moment," says Tito Francona, Terry's father. "Something is always happening around Terry." Adds Terry's sister, Amy, "Oh, he just likes to get dirty."

The game seems to be in a family way this season, thanks mostly to these two rookies, Cal Ripken Jr., 21, and Terry Francona, 22, each born in the best season of his father's career, each about to make a name for himself. They are at the head of a bountiful baseball freshman class that also includes Cleveland Catcher Chris Bando, brother of Brewer executive Sal; Los Angeles Outfielder Ron Roenicke, brother of Oriole Outfielder Gary; and St. Louis Outfielder Gene Roof, brother of former Catcher Phil. Some other top rookies are pictured on these pages: pitchers Dave LaPoint of St. Louis, Bob Stoddard of Seattle and Luis Aponte of Boston; leftfielders Chili Davis of San Francisco and Tom Brunansky of California; and Second Baseman Steve Sax of Los Angeles.

The young Ripken and Francona both grew up around ball parks—Ripken in the minors, Francona in the majors. As talented as they are, the nicest thing about them is that they're both genuinely nice, which is a tribute to those unsung heroines, Vi Ripken and Roberta Francona, who raised them while the dads were going from town to town.

John Patsy (Tito) Francona, an outfielder-first baseman, was traded eight times in a 15-year major league career. He went from Baltimore to Chicago to Detroit to Cleveland to St. Louis to Philadelphia to Atlanta to Oakland to Milwaukee. In 1959 he hit .363 for the Indians. In April of that year, Terry was born, and soon afterward he displayed his designer's genes.

"He couldn't have been more than a year and a half old," Tito recalls. "We had this little plastic bat and ball. He picked the bat up and I began throwing him the ball, and—I'm not kidding—he started hitting it consistently."

When Terry was six and his father was playing with the Cardinals, he fell in with some of the older children among the offspring of members of the club. "Bob Skinner had four kids, and they used to take the team's broken bats and sell them in the stands," says Terry, who doesn't exactly remember doing what he's about to relate, although he has heard the story so often that he knows it by heart. "Gee, I thought, if they can make that much money off of broken bats, think how much I could make selling the good ones. So I grabbed a handful of bats, and not just any bats. They were game bats that belonged to guys like Tim McCarver, Julian Javier, Bill White, Mike Shannon. The next thing I know, I've got about $50 in my hand. My father, who gave me a dollar to spend every time I went to a game, sees me with all this money and asks me where I got it. I didn't think I'd done anything wrong, so I told him. He was so embarrassed. He had to go up to each one of the players and apologize. Now I realize that players kill for game bats."

In those days Terry was literally a kid in a candy store. He used to stuff his pockets with the gum and candy that was set out in the clubhouse for the players. He thought the goodies were free, when, in fact, the clubhouse manager was noting every item and giving Tito the bill.

When he was 10, Terry was the bat-boy for the Oakland A's. His favorite players were Catfish Hunter and Tommie Reynolds, and he got Blue Moon Odom to help him with a fifth-grade book report. "Once a player asked me to go into the clubhouse to get him some chew, and I accidentally locked myself in," says Terry. "I was so embarrassed I stayed there the whole game, and he never did get his tobacco."

When Tito came home from the park, Terry would beg him to play catch. "He was exhausted," says Terry, "but all I wanted to do was to throw the ball. The only way he could get me to stop was to throw each ball harder until my hand started to hurt. Also, I was always pestering him to take me to the ball park early so we could throw."

Tito didn't mind, though. "He was fun to have around," Tito says. "When I would give a clinic, he'd come. He knew my speech by heart and we used to kid each other about it. 'There are five things to baseball,' he'd say to tease me in the car, 'hitting, running, fielding, throwing and hustling. If you can do all those things well, you can be another Mickey Mantle or Hank Aaron.' "

Tito first got an inkling that his son might be a big-leaguer in 1970, his last year in the majors. "I would stand on first base at County Stadium and look around the seats, and I'd see Terry sitting right behind home plate, chin on the rail, studying the pitchers," Tito says. "His friends would be running around the stadium, eating hot dogs, but Terry would just sit there." Sometimes, before a game, Terry would climb up the long rope to Bernie Brewer's house high atop the Milwaukee scoreboard. Mother and father quickly put a stop to that.

Not long after he left baseball Tito became director of parks and recreation for Beaver County, Pa. He watched Terry star for New Brighton High. After Terry's senior year, the Chicago Cubs drafted him in the second round, but their money offer wasn't very enticing and Terry decided to go to college, something he was inclined to do anyhow. So he went, sight unseen, to play for one of his father's old teammates, Jerry Kindall, at the University of Arizona.

In his junior year, 1980, Francona, a lefthanded hitter, led Arizona to the College World Series title in Omaha and was named college player of the year. Jim Fanning, now the Expo manager, but then Montreal's director of player development, recalls how Francona came into the Expos' picture: "He wasn't that high on our list. We were concerned that he had no power and that his running speed might not be good enough. I sent three guys to Omaha, and they saw him steal some bases and hit a home run. Suddenly he shot right up the list just before the draft. We didn't have a very high pick, so a lot of players were gone, but he was still available and we took him."

Fanning wanted to send his new acquisition to Class A ball, but Terry insisted he could play in Double A, at Memphis. "I still can't believe I had the nerve." says Terry. "I go into the meeting and I say, 'What's this garbage about sending me to A ball?' As it turns out, Mr. Fanning had said the garbage." But Fanning capitulated, and Terry went to Memphis and hit .300. "Mr. Fanning was right, though. I hit a weak .300."

Last year Terry opened the season at Memphis, and after batting .348 in 41 games, was called up to Denver. He found Triple A even easier, hitting .352 in 93 games, with 58 RBIs. On Aug. 19 he was promoted to the Expos, and on Sept. 13 he stepped into the lineup full time, in place of injured Leftfielder Tim Raines. He hit .274, played errorless ball and made five assists in 26 games. The Expos also won their first division title.

"He made all kinds of diving catches, great slides and never missed a cutoff man," says Fanning. "I'm trying to be conservative in my praise, but everything he does is right. Once in a sacrifice situation, with the infielders charging, he faked the bunt and hit the ball past short for a single. Another time, Bruce Sutter is pitching for St. Louis, and I tell Terry to take a look at the forkball before swinging at it. He lets one go by—and hits the next one just inside the rightfield foul pole for a home run."

That homer was only the third of Terry's pro career. His upright stance is a duplicate of Tito's, although he doesn't have even his father's limited power. He runs like his father, who was fast, but not very fast. "I also have my father's nose," he says.

Though one hesitates to say it, Terry also has magic. "At the end of last season, he was getting hits off the end of the bat, singles off knockdown pitches," says Expo Third Baseman Larry Parrish. "and I was hitting the ball right at people. So he comes over to me in the dugout before a game against the Phillies, takes my bat and starts rubbing it. He says, 'Now you've got a double off the wall and a chinker for an RBI in there.' The first time up, I doubled off the wall. I'm out the next two times, but then I hit a ground ball over Ron Reed's head for a single to score a run."

Francona's role with the Expos isn't clear yet. Tito, for that's what Terry's teammates now call him, will share time in rightfield with Tim Wallach and squeeze in some games behind Warren Cromartie at first. But he'll be around. "He's a breath of fresh air," says Fanning. "Just the other day, I broke him of the habit of calling me Mr. Fanning."

Tito is basking in the reflected glory. "This has been a renewal for me." he says. "It was like going to sleep for 10 years, and now the phone's ringing again. All players have some ego, and this is a nice way to be remembered."

Terry and Tito may look and play alike, but Cal Ripken Jr. bears little resemblance to Cal Ripken Sr. Big Cal is actually little Cal and vice versa. At 6'4", Cal Jr. is five inches taller than Cal Sr. This causes some complications when, as is often the case, their underwear gets mixed up in the clubhouse laundry. Cal Sr. now writes his number instead of his name on his personals.

Ripken the Elder was a good minor league catcher when Gus Triandos was a fixture behind the plate in Baltimore. In 1960, his fourth year in the pros, Ripken batted .281 with 74 RBIs at Fox Cities (Wis.), which was managed then by Earl Weaver. "I remember Cal introduced me to his wife, who was pregnant with Cal Jr. at the time," says Weaver, who is now, of course, the Oriole skipper. "Do you want me to say it? All right. I knew the kid was a ballplayer even then."

Ripken was called up to Rochester in Triple A the next year, but injuries ruined any chance he had of making the majors. Harry Dalton, then the Orioles' farm director, offered him a job managing at Leesburg, Fla., in 1961, and from there Ripken embarked on a 13-year nine-team tour of duty as a minor league skipper, the longest in the history of the Oriole organization, surpassing Weaver's 11-year stint. The Ripkens went from Leesburg to Appleton, Wis., to Aberdeen, S. Dak., to Kennewick-Richland-Pasco, Wash., back to Aberdeen, to Miami, to Elmira, N.Y., to Rochester, N.Y., to Dallas-Fort Worth, to Asheville, N.C.

There's an interesting coincidence involving the Ripkens and Franconas, and Aberdeen, S. Dak. and Aberdeen, Md. Cal Sr. was born, raised and still lives in Aberdeen, Md. and managed for three years in Aberdeen, S. Dak. Tito met his wife while playing for the Pheasants in Aberdeen, S. Dak., and Terry was born there. While in the Army, Tito was stationed in Aberdeen, Md.

Wherever his father managed, Cal Jr. memorized the roster and idolized the players. His favorite was Doug DeCinces, whom he now replaces at third base. Cal Jr. says, "I guess I was 12, and this was in Asheville. Doug would play catch and pepper with me. He taught me how to take a ground ball." One evening DeCinces and Cal were playing pepper just before the game. They were the only people on the field. Somebody fired a gun from behind the fence in centerfield, and a bullet hit the ground near Cal. "Doug picked me up in his arms and carried me into the dugout," says Cal, "but it happened so quickly I didn't have time to feel scared." That is known in baseball parlance as a save.

In 1976 Cal Sr. joined the Orioles' coaching staff, and invited Cal Jr. to come out to Memorial Stadium. "I didn't want to go," says Cal Jr. "I was always scared I'd be in the way. Dad finally talked me into it." And Cal Jr. put on a show. "He was 15," says Weaver, "and he was hitting them into the concrete seats." "I always could hit my father," says Cal Jr.

In his senior year at Aberdeen High—in Md., that is—Cal Jr. was 7-2 with an 0.70 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 60 innings. He was also a shortstop and batted—he's a righthander all the way—.492 with 29 RBIs in 20 games. The Orioles drafted him in the second round. "At first, I didn't want to play for the Orioles because I thought there might be a conflict with my father in the organization," says Cal Jr. "But then I realized that I'd always wanted to be an Oriole."

In rookie ball, he ran into a few snide comments about nepotism, but in Miami the next year, he hit .303 and put such charges to rest. In the meantime, he was growing another two inches. In 1980 he hit 25 home runs with 78 RBIs for Double A Charlotte, and last year, before being called up on Aug. 8, he had 23 homers and 75 RBIs for Triple A Rochester. He batted only .128 in 23 games, mostly at shortstop, for Baltimore, but he has been customarily a slow starter. This winter he led the Puerto Rican League with 49 RBIs—he had 40 before anyone else had 20—and batted .314.

The Orioles had enough faith in Cal to trade DeCinces to California for Outfielder Dan Ford over the winter, and third base is his to keep or lose. "He's the kind of kid you want coming out of your organization every three or four years," says Orioles Pitching Coach Ray Miller, Cal's manager in Puerto Rico the last two years. "He's very intelligent, too, like a young Singleton. He's a low-key guy whose voice doesn't carry, unlike his father, but he'll make people notice him. I just wish he were my kid."

As for the father, well, Cal Sr. is downplaying the father and son stuff. "People don't understand how I can be a coach and a father at the same time," he says. "Why can't I? Hey, Eddie Murray is my son, Rich Dauer is my son. I have lots of sons."

Singleton, who, by the way, still cherishes his Tito Francona baseball card, says, "See what happens when you play pitch and catch with your son? My dad would throw with me when he was tired, and I'll do the same for my sons. They're five and three." In about 18 years, look for the name Singleton.

PHOTOCal Jr., the third baseman, and Cal Sr., the third-base coach, will be conferring often.PHOTOTito's fatherly advice is worth listening to: He hit .363 in 1959, when Terry was born.THREE PHOTOSLaPoint (below left), 22, led the American Association in strikeouts (129) last year. Brunansky (right), 21, batted .332 with 22 homers and 81 RBIs in 96 games for Salt Lake City. Davis, 22, batted .350 and paced Phoenix with 40 steals.PHOTOStoddard, 24, was 2-1 with Seattle after leading the Pacific Coast League in ERA.TWO PHOTOSAponte (above), 27, saved 15 and won seven for Pawtucket and did well in a brief tour with Boston. Sax, 22, is making the big leap from Double A where he hit .346.