Guardians' Terry Francona, sans scooter, reflects on leaving game

Terry Francona made it to the home finale, his last managing the Cleveland Guardians before retirement.

His beloved scooter didn't get there.

Just hours before Cleveland fans saluted the popular manager, who is leaving baseball after 11 seasons with the club, Francona revealed that the celebrated motorized scooter he rode to and from Progressive Field for the past several seasons was stolen for the second time.

"The hog has been officially put on ice," Francona said, using the pet nickname for his ride before Wednesday night's game against the Cincinnati Reds. "It got stolen again, but this time they stripped it."

Francona said the two-wheeled vehicle was swiped about 10 days ago. It was first stolen in January but recovered by Cleveland police.

"Been in mourning," he said. "They got it in the clubhouse under a blanket. Looks like they took a baseball bat to it."

Francona, 64, recently hopped on a substitute electric scooter, but the ride wasn't the same. He veered out of the way to avoid hitting some pedestrians, caught a pothole on a cobblestone street near his downtown apartment and crashed.

"I went over the handlebars," he said. "I mean over. It's amazing how much you can see of your life in that moment."

Jokes aside -- and it was fitting the moments before Francona's finale included some light-hearted one-liners from him -- the last home game in 2023 is a bittersweet celebration, but the Guardians sent Francona off with a 4-3 victory Wednesday night.

After the final out, Francona, who is retiring after 23 seasons, two World Series titles and the respect of virtually everyone in the sport, stood in line like he always has to shake hands and high-five his players.

He briefly walked down the dugout steps before turning, and with the help of a gentle shove from All-Star third baseman José Ramírez, Francona went back on the field to soak in an ovation to remember.

"Ti-to!" Ti-to!" they screamed.

He had no words.

"I was really touched," Francona. "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 that I lived through here with the people that I was with and that's what I care about."

It's hard for the Guardians and their fans to say goodbye to the longest tenured and winningest manager in the club's 123-year history -- one of baseball's all-time characters.

Although he hasn't officially announced his retirement, Francona is expected to do so formally early next week.

His departure will be a loss for baseball.

"For me, just to be here on his last home game means a lot," said Reds manager David Bell, who has known Francona for decades. "The thing I know about Tito is that everyone who has ever worked with him loves him. I'm sure this [is] emotional."

Francona didn't want a special ceremony for his final home game, but he relented to the team handing out 20,000 red "Thank You Tito" T-shirts.

"The most frustrating part is I can't wear the T-shirt because it's me," Francona cracked beforehand. "I mean, it's a nice T-shirt. I love it when we get free stuff, but I can't wear it."

Shortly before the first pitch, the team paid homage to Francona's run in Cleveland with a touching video tribute that chronicled his deep connection with the franchise (his dad, Tito, spent six seasons as an outfielder with the Indians) as well as his managerial stint.

Never wanting the spotlight on anyone but his players, Francona said the image of his father brought out emotions he tried to contain.

"It was really touching," Francona said. "I know I'm not the smartest person in the room by far, but I was smart enough to pick a place where I believed in the people and that only grew. Anybody that's ever spent 10 minutes with me knows how much I like it here."

When the video finished, Francona emerged from the dugout and tipped his cap at the cheering fans. He retreated for a moment before coming back out for a curtain call.

Francona wasn't sure what kind of emotions he would be feeling as Cleveland said goodbye.

"Probably more uncomfortable than anything," he said. "I know it's a nice gesture, not dismissing that part of it. My joy is what I do every day and who I do it with."

Francona has been slowed by major health issues in recent years, and he made the decision to step away after a tough, two-month stretch earlier this season. Francona insisted upon keeping the spotlight on his players during the season's final month and he spoke with them before the series opener so they weren't caught off-guard by anything in their final days together.

He'll cheer for the Guardians, just not from the dugout.

"I'm going to be rooting like hell for these guys," he said. "Might be in a rocking chair or something, hopefully, on a golf course. But I will never not root for these guys. I love these guys, man. This has been 11 years of good."

He has been a beloved figure in Cleveland and beyond.

"To be in this game that long and be respected and liked by everyone you have ever come across is amazing," said Bell, whose father, Buddy, played with Francona and hired him as a coach. "From a player's standpoint, I would love to play for Tito and I think most of his players do. To get the most out of your players but also to be well-liked by so many people, in this game that's everything.

"An incredible career."

Francona's teams were always in the playoff hunt despite having one of baseball's lowest payrolls. In 2016, the team came within one swing of winning their first World Series since 1948 before losing in seven games to the Chicago Cubs.

Before the finale, Francona reflected a bit on his managerial career, which began in Philadelphia in 1997 and ended after four years with his car's tires being slashed on fan appreciation day.

Asked what he'd miss most, Francona said, "Easy answer is the people."

And there's that short ride home.

"It's the greatest setup ever," he said. "I don't know too many places where after games, the police are either high-fiving or telling you, 'Hey, just hang in there or cut around this car.' I mean it, it's been nice."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.