The Tito Translator
Pitchers, catchers, position players and cliches have all reported to Spring Training. That last group is already in mid-season form in the early portion of the preseason schedule.
MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince captured plenty of the spring cliches heard annually, and it got me thinking. There are some cliches or phrases that are a little more common in certain places. Here in Goodyear, we’re getting our daily dose of Tito-isms, for example.
There are plenty of reporters well-versed in Franconaspeak, but I thought it’d be helpful for you the reader to have a handy guide available to understand the meaning behind his many go-to lines. You could even create a Tito Bingo card and play along at home during press conferences.
Here are a few squares for your Tito Bingo board:
1. “Oh boy.”
This one is often followed by, “I wasn’t ready for that.” Mom always said there was no such thing as a stupid question, but when Tito drops an “Oh boy” on you, you wonder if mom might’ve been wrong. This one can have two meanings. First, it can simply mean that you caught the veteran manager off-guard with your question. He has a good sense of what questions he’ll hear each day, but one out of left field might generate an “Ohh, boy” as he collects his thoughts. The other explanation is that, yes, you just asked a really stupid question.
2. “To your point…”
This one is also in response to a reporter’s question. This will typically come in the second part of an answer. The first part is how Francona feels about the issue that was addressed in the question. When he says, “To your point” and continues on, it usually means he didn’t necessarily agree with your take, but he sees where you’re coming from. Hey, at least it wasn’t a stupid question.
3. “I’m not going to make out my [lineup/rotation] on [insert date].”
This is when a reporter has put the ol’ cart ahead of the horse. You want to know who’s going to hit leadoff? It’s best to ask closer to an actual game. Who’s going to be the No. 3 starter? Hey, somebody might get hurt tomorrow and change the plans. Rather than throw out lineups or rotation orders that could change depending on injuries, additions or other outside factors, Tito will say this to politely hint that you’re getting a little too far ahead of yourself.
4. “Guys get to their levels.”
You’ll hear this one during Spring Training and during the season. It’s usually in response to a discussion about a slumping hitter, or a hitter who is coming off a season with two drastically different sections. A player’s season batting average is called an average for a reason and, more often than not, that average should fall within an expected range by the end of a season. Some guys go through peaks and valleys. Some guys stay consistent. One way or another, “guys get to their levels.”
5. “I think [insert player name] will come back with a vengeance.”
Jason Kipnis was the posterboy for this phrase in 2015. Following Kipnis’ rough ’14 showing — one impacted by injuries — Francona insisted that the second baseman would “come back with a vengeance.” When Kipnis roared out of the gates in 2015 and made the All-Star team, Tito went back to his predication a few times: “I said he’d come back with a vengeance, and he did exactly that.” This year, I would wager that catcher Yan Gomes will star in Come Back With a Vengeance 2.
6. “I wouldn’t say ‘surprised.'”
A default question a lot of times for reporters — and I’m definitely guilty of this one, too — is asking, “Were you surprised that [so-and-so did whatever he did]?” It’s usually about a breakout showing or career year. Example: “Were you surprised by Francisco Lindor’s power in 2015?” Well, guess what? Francona will rarely admit to being “surprised,” because that makes it sound like he had low expectations. He is a manager and he expects the best out of his players. So, even if he was surprised, he wasn’t surprised. Got it?
7. “He’s a baseball player.”
Well, aren’t they all baseball players? Every person who wears a Cleveland Indians uniform is indeed a baseball player, but some of those baseball players are “baseball players.” Just the other day, Francona used this one to describe Mike Napoli. Tito even took it to a new level: “He’s a down-and-dirty baseball player.” What does it mean? It means the player in question has great instincts, that he does more reacting than thinking, and he does so well, when he’s out on the field. He’ll get his uniform dirty and do whatever it takes to put the team first and his own stats second. Another go-to descriptor for a “baseball player” is that he’s “conscientious.” Tito used that one for Michael Bourn all the time. Once, I asked Francona, “When you say he’s a ‘baseball player,’ what do you mean exactly?” He replied: “You know, he’s just a baseball player.” And I nodded.
8. “I’m just happy that there’s people smarter than me who are working on it.”
When Major League Baseball institutes a new rule, or if there is a league-wide issue under debate and potentially in need of change, Francona often slips into self-deprecating mode in his quotes. A lot of times, it means Francona wants to gather more information before expressing an opinion. Do not be fooled. Francona is plenty smart and plenty of MLB’s decision-makers will seek his input, given his wealth of experience and success in the game, while discussing changes for rules or other areas. Francona would just rather those people handle the bulk of the answers, so he’s “happy they’re smarter” than him.
There is the old, familiar cliche that a “ball was coming out of his hand good.” Well, Francona has his own variation. Often, when he’s asked about a pitcher who had a good game or threw a good bullpen session, the manager will say that pitcher looked “crisp” It’s also a way of avoiding the nitty-gritty details of what a pitcher was doing mechanically. Francona is, after all, a former hitter. If you want specifics on the in-depth nature of the pitcher in question, it’s best to go to pitching coach Mickey Callaway. And, more often than not, Callaway will agree. That guy did look crisp.
10. “What day is it?”
Ding! Ding! Ding! You must have just asked Francona if a player has reached [milestone X] in his rehab from [insert injury]. Each day, the manager meets with his training and medical staff, along with the coaches, to go over a variety of schedules. And, if you know anything about baseball, it’s Groundhog Day out here. I’m not sure what day it is, either. Once, I wrote multiple stories with “on Wednesday” in each one, and my editor finally e-mailed me and said, “You know it’s Sunday, right?” Nope. I didn’t know that. Once you are able to remind Tito what day it is (if you remember correctly yourself), he can then proceed to give you the player’s timetable in question.
11. Tito nickname generator
How Francona develops a nickname is not always as simple as adding a “y” to the end of a name. For many years, I had a coach refer to me as “Jordy,” for example. With Tito, he might replace an “r” with an “s,” or replace an “s” with an “r.” Two examples of those are Klubes (see: Corey Kluber) and Gomer (see: Yan Gomes). They “y” is common for his coaches: Millsy, Sarby, and Mickey and Sandy, by default. Or, maybe Francona will just call you by a letter. There’s “G” for Jason Giambi or “Q” for assistant hitting coach Matt Quatraro. Others on the Indians are ‘Berto (Roberto Perez), ‘Los (Carlos Santana), Kip, Frankie (Francisco Lindor) and, most recently, Nake (as in, Naq, for Tyler Naquin). Mossy, Bourney, Mikey and Murph are missed.