Federal City Flashback: Terry Francona Wins Golden Spikes Award
By Ricky Keeler
Over the course of this year, we are going to take you back to some of the key moments in the Nationals’ franchise history. Some of those moments are going to be from when the team was not in the Nation’s Capital, but rather up north, in Montreal. As I mentioned in my welcome piece on Thursday, District On Deck is looking to bring more Expos and even have more Senators’ coverage as well.
Today, we take you back to January 3, 1981. On this day, a current MLB manager won the Golden Spikes Award for being the top amateur baseball player in the country. No, it’s not current Nationals’ manager Matt Williams. It’s former Red Sox, now Cleveland Indians’ manager Terry Francona.
Before Francona broke the “Curse Of The Bambino” by winning two World Series championships as a Red Sox’ manager, the outfielder was drafted by the then Montreal Expos with the 22nd pick of the 1980 MLB Draft.
During his time at the University of Arizona, Francona’s squad won the College World Series (CWS) in 1980 over Hawaii. He was named to the All-Tournament team and was the Most Outstanding Player of the entire tournament. During that season, he hit .401 at the plate and had a .458 batting average in the CWS down in Omaha.
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The Expos started him in AA Memphis during the 1980 season, but he was in the majors in no time. He made his pro debut against the Houston Astros back on August 19, 1981. He would play the final 34 games of the season, including the postseason.
In October of 1981, Francona had four hits in 15 at-bats during the five game NLDS series with the Philadelpha Phillies, a series Montreal would win. They would go on to lose the NLCS in five games to the eventual World Series Champion, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
During the ’82 season, the son of Tito Francona would hit .321 (career-best in any season) in 42 games and was the starting left fielder at one point. He hit .343 in May and .321 in June before injuring his knee in a June 16 game vs. the St. Louis Cardinals. He would be out for the rest of the season.
In 1983, Francona played in 120 games, the most of any season, but struggled at the plate, hitting .257 with three home runs and 22 RBI’s. He would hit seven of his 16 career homers during his five seasons with the Expos.
As the seasons went on, Francona got more playing time in the infield as he played some first base. But, in 1984, another injury in June ended a promising season as the then 25-year-old twisted his knee, thus ending his season while he hit .346 over a 58-game stretch.
After one more season in Canada, the Expos decided to release Francona in April of 1986. He would be signed by the Chicago Cubs a month later. He would play with four more teams (Reds, Indians, Brewers, and Cardinals) before his career ended after the 1990 season.
All in all, Francona was a .290 hitter during his five seasons playing at Olympic Stadium, but the injuries will always make you wonder what if when you consider he only averaged 73 games per season.
Even without the great Major League accolades, the now 55-year-old has made a great career at a manager and has helped turn the Cleveland Indians around when he led them to the AL Wild Card game in 2013, the year he won his first AL Manager of the Year Award.