Tuesday, December 11, 2012

#267 Terry Francona - Montreal Expos

Topps usually distributes the cards in such a manner so that teammates are evenly spaced out, but when Joel Youngblood was traded to the Expos in August, I guess that goofed up their plans. So two cards after Youngblood's card we get Terry Francona's first solo card. The future manager was first seen on Topps in the '82 set sharing a prospects card with fellow Montreal mates Brad Mills and Bryn Smith.
As far as the picture goes, we see Francona in his lefthanded stance with another blurry background. 

Player: Terry Francona had a brilliant collegiate career at the University of Arizona and was drafted by the Expos in the first round in 1980. After hitting a combined .350 at AA-Memphis and AAA-Denver he was called up after the strike ended in August 1981. He was used primarily as a pinch-hitter his first two weeks and then filled in for an injured Tim Raines in LF in September. Francona hit .274/.317/.326 in 95 at bats and added 4 hits in 12 at bats in the NLDS. He didn't start any games in the NLCS against the Dodgers and was hitless in his only at bat.
Francona began 1982 on the bench as a pinch hitter and did not get his first hit until May 10th. A week later the Expos moved Tim Raines to secondbase and gave Francona the LF job and he responded with a three-hit game. He continued to hit well for the next month until he tore his knee up when his spikes got caught in the Busch Stadium warning track. Unfortunately, his injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. He hit .321 in his limited time, but only 3 of his 42 hits went for extra bases. With Raines back in left for the '83 season, Francona was mainly a pinch-hitter with periodic starts at firstbase or rightfield. He struggled to find his stroke, as his average hovered around the Mendoza line most of the year before a hot September raised it to .257.

The left-handed Francona started at first base in '84 and showed the hitting ability the Expos had longed for and was batting .346 when another knee injury wrecked his season in June. This time Francona was running down the first base line when he tried dodging a tag from Pirate pitcher John Tudor and felt his knee pop. His 136 OPS+ in 223 plate appearances was by far his career best and in fact the only time he was over 100.
The Expos were cautious with Francona the following year and limited him to a pinch hitting role but he ended up starting almost everyday in August in September. His production was disappointing as he posted a .267/.299/.349 line in 296 plate appearances. Francona left Montreal for the Chicago Cubs as a free agent in '86 and after a month at AAA was used as a pinch hitter. He batted an empty .250 in 124 at bats and after the season he left to play with the Reds. He was even less productive in Cincinnati as he batted .227 in a part time role.
Francona signed with the Indians for the '88 season and spent the first half of the year at AAA. Called up for the second half of the season, he DH'd against right handed pitchers and batted .311. As impressive as that seems Francona walked just 5 times in 222 plate appearances and had just 9 extra base hits. He played for the Brewers in '89 and batted just .232. Four hitless at bats and four weeks into the '90 season the Brewers released Francona. He spent the rest of the year playing for the Cardinals top farm team and retired after the season.


Flipside: Amazing to think that Francona could play 93 games for Denver in '81 and hit just one home run despite playing half his games in the thin mountain air.
Oddball:Francona toed the rubber in a 5/15/89 Brewers / A's game. Mopping up in the bottom of the 8th, southpaw Francona coerced fly balls from Terry Steinbach and Tony Phillips. With two outs he caught Stan Javier looking at strike three and kept the Brewers deficit to ten runs.
History: Francona's career started with great expectations and he had two seasons cut short by injuries while batting 300+. It's hard to say how his career would have progressed without the knee injuries. He didn't display any patience or hit for any power even when he was healthy. For his career he hit .274/.300/.351 in 10 major league seasons. It all worked out in the end as his managerial career has been much more successful than his playing career.


  1. Francona's playing career was a living, singles-hitting argument against the effectiveness of batting average as a tool for measuring offensive effectiveness! He was doing some pretty good things in 1984 though -- I remember the game in which he tore his knee. Pretty grim stuff...

  2. Yeah I've always felt making it in the big leagues as a left-handed thrower was pretty tough. Unless the lefty is a pitcher, the player better be a power hitting firstbaseman, or good enough to play outfield.