Remembering Herman Franks, Baseball Purist and Symbol of Optimism

William CombattiContributor IMarch 31, 2009

Popularity awards for being the oldest team without a World Series championship were not even part of the thought processes for many teams of old.


The Boston Red Sox with Carl "Yaz" Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, and Fred Lynn during the 70’s and players like Ernie Banks and Fergie Jenkins with the Cubs had yet to endure another 30 years or more of “almost-made-it” seasons before becoming the lone team to remain the oldest (cursed, if you will) still waiting on a baseball championship before Boston created their magic a few seasons back.


However, “seeing" that “Shot, Heard Around the World” took on a different meaning in one baseball player's life.


Those cursed monikers didn’t become status symbols until recent times. The 1977-1979 seasons for the Chicago Cubs were a step toward saving the franchise from continuous embarrassment. 


However, not even Bill Madlock’s exciting Ivy wall outfielding heroics and, although disappointing, a 23-22 loss after 10 long innings to the Phillies in May couldn’t take Chicago-Land and Wrigley-dwellers away from what still continues to haunt what would like to be forgotten today.  


Sour-graping comments about how it's “not the winning it’s the day out here at Wrigley… ahem…is what its all about.” perhaps somehow was passed on by the one time skipper of two seasons, Herman Franks, who seemed to take it all in stride during his time as manager.


Franks coined the philosophy that, "everyday was an adventure, and he enjoyed it all, living for each of those moments was how he lived," his son Daniel Franks reported.


Herman Franks, who was one of the last in a long line of baseball “purists,” passed away Monday at his home in Salt Lake City, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Franks was 95.


The former San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs manager Herman Franks

was at the helm of the Giants from 1965-1968, leading the team to four straight second-place finishes, and skippered the Cubs from 1977-1979.


Franks lived “the life,” inside and out of baseball for a long time, died due to congestive heart failure while surrounded by family, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, speaking to Franks' son, Dan.


Born in 1914 in Utah, Herman Franks played catcher in parts of six Major League seasons, batting a career .199 in 188 games. He cut his teeth under some of the best though, learning and coaching with the New York Giants under Leo Durocher.


According to Dan Franks, "Dad started his major league career at 17 and even now, being the team-guy and manager of men, that he enjoyed being around, was still going to reunions even as late as a few years ago."


Franks revealed in a 2006 book that he was involved in stealing Brooklyn Dodgers' catcher's signs with a “glass,” or scope from an outfield window during the famous 1951 game at the Polo Grounds that decided the National League pennant when Bobby Thomson hit "The Shot Heard Around The World" off Ralph Branca.


Herman Franks compiled the best overall record in the Major Leagues during his four seasons as manager of the Giants and skippered clubs with Hall of Fame players Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, and Orlando Cepeda.


Giants’ special assistant, Joey Amalfitano, whom Franks became close to, told The Chronicle, "He was like a second dad to me, a team mentor and professional example. His live-and-let-live philosophy was to not get in the way of players, let them work, workout and see how they do. Turn them loose.


However, he was always subtle enough to still be good at putting his arm around somebody and also kicking them in the [rear], when necessary."  Amalfitano claims that Ernie Banks was a Cub and Kofax a Dodger, but Franks poignantly stated, “this guy was.. a… Giant”


Franks is survived by his wife, Ami, three children (Dan, Herman Jr. and Cyndi Wright), and seven grandchildren. According to the paper, funeral arrangements are pending.