The son of ’50s and ’60s major league player Tito Francona, Terry was The Sporting News College Player of the Year at the University of Arizona in 1980, and was the Expos’ first-round draft pick in the 1980 free agent draft. A line drive hitter with little power, Francona played less than two seasons in the minors — after hitting .352 at Denver (American Association) in 1981, he earned a promotion to Montreal. With the Expos, he spent half of 1982 and half of 1984 on the DL with a recurring knee injury; the 1984 injury was particularly devastating, as Francona had been hitting .346 to that point. After hitting .267 in 1985, he was released to make room for impressive rookie Andres Galarraga at first base. He played single seasons with the Cubs and Reds in 1986-87, then signed a minor league contract with the Indians for 1988 and hit .311 after joining the parent club in mid-season.
Francona finished up his playing career in 1989 with the Milwaukee Brewers. Three years later he got his first job as a manager at Single-A South Bend, followed by a 1993 promotion to Birmingham, the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. In his first year with the club, the Barons won the Southern League crown. A year later his team was swamped by press coverage when NBA star Michael Jordan joined the team in an effort to start a baseball career. Although Francona wasn’t able to teach Jordan to hit, Baseball America still named him the “top managerial prospect” in the minors in ’94.
After compiling a 296-266 record in the minors, Francona was hired after the 1996 season to replace Jim Fregosi as manager of the Phillies. In his first year at the helm, the Phillies finished dead last in the NL East for the second straight year.
Francona’s Phils flirted with .500 the following season, but swooned after catcher Mike Lieberthal went down with a hip injury in late July. Despite another late-season meltdown in 1999 (caused in part by injuries to Scott Rolen and Curt Schilling) the youngest manager in the majors kept a calm, positive attitude. His reputation as one of the game’s rising young tacticians remained intact, and the 40-year-old skipper received a two-year extension through 2002.