1 of 5 | Cleveland Guardians manager Terry Francona looks up at the crowd during a tribute in his honor prior to a game against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday at Progressive Field in Cleveland. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 28 (UPI) -- Manager Terry Francona was reluctant to be celebrated, but later said he "was really touched" by tributes from the Cleveland Guardians and fans after his final home game, a 4-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds.
Francona spoke about his emotional sendoff Wednesday at Progressive Field in Cleveland. The longtime MLB manager, who hadn't admitted previously that he planned to retire, held a meeting with players to acknowledge what he called the "worst-kept secret ever."
Guardians fans sported "Thank You Tito" T-shirts during the victory. The Guardians showed a tribute video for Francona on the outfielder scoreboard before first pitch. Players and fans gave him a standing ovation at the conclusion of the video.
"I think it has to be," Francona, 64, told reporters, when asked if this was his final season. "Once you give out T-shirts, you can't be going back. That's not good. It's like the worst-kept secret ever. I think it was respectful to tell them. I just wanted to thank them."
Francona called his 11-year tenure with the Guardians the "honor of a lifetime."
Players swarmed to hug Francona in the postgame handshake line. Fans bathed the skipper in another long standing ovation after the final pitch.
"I was like 'Come on, man. Enough,'" Francona told reporters. "I think that's why they were doing it just because they knew I was kind of feeling it.
"Believe me, down deep, I was really touched. I guess what I'm just trying to convey is the 11 years here are what is the best part. It's not like the last day. It's everything I lived through here with the people I was with. That's what I care about."
Francona, who played 10 seasons as a first baseman, pinch hitter and outfielder, started his managerial tenure in 1997 with the Philadelphia Phillies. He went on to manage the Boston Red Sox for eight seasons.
The three-time Manager of the Year honoree and two-time World Series champion, who has battled health issues in recent years, started his tenure as Guardians manager in 2013.
His 1,948 victories rank No. 13 in MLB history.
Ace pitcher Shane Bieber allowed five hits and one run over six innings to lead the Guardians to Wednesday's victory. First baseman Josh Naylor, second baseman Tyler Freeman, shortstop Brayan Rocchio and third baseman Jose Tena drove in runs for the Guardians.
The Guardians (75-84), who split their two-game series with the Reds (81-78), will battle the Detroit Tigers (74-83) in a season-ending three-game series this weekend. The first game of the series will start at 6:40 p.m. EDT Friday in Detroit.
Cleveland Guardians manager Terry "Tito" Francona looks up at the crowd during a tribute in his honor prior to the Guardians game against the Cincinnati Reds at Progressive Field in Cleveland on September 27, 2023. This was Francona's last home game as he will soon retire after 11 years as Guardians manager. The Guardians beat the Reds 4-3. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo