105 years ago today, the late Herman Franks was born in Price, Utah. If you’re not very familiar with him, I totally get it. There’s a bit of an interesting story behind the career of the former Cardinals catcher.
Franks’ playing career lasted for a total of 12 seasons, with an interruption of six years in the middle due to World War II. In the three years of action before and after his hiatus from baseball, Franks didn’t really make too much of an impact on the stat sheet.
Franks was a career .199 hitter, that was known more for being a solid backstop than for getting on base. As a result, he never played more than 65 games in his six seasons, and never had more than 139 at-bats in any of those seasons either. Herman slugged three homers, two triples, and 18 doubles for his career.
Franks made his professional debut in 1932 for the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League. Much like his big league career, Franks saw limited action that season, only playing in four games that first campaign. The next season he got more action, taking the field 16 times and hit .306 with one home run and three doubles. Playing shortstop against the Stars the day Franks hit his one homer, was the one-and-only Joe DiMaggio.
Herman became a member of the Cardinals farm system in 1935, and spent the next four seasons bouncing around various teams within the Cardinals organization. Franks was brought to Cardinals’ training camp in 1939 and made the Opening Day roster, ultimately getting a hit in his first at-bat on April 27th, 1939. Only 17 more appearances would come for Franks as a Cardinal, finishing his career in St. Louis with just one hit, that first AB of the 1939 season.
Before heading off to war in 1941, Franks played two seasons for the Brooklyn Dodgers including his only World Series action as a player, against the Yankees in 1941. This relationship with the Dodgers would come into play once his career resumed. After discharge, Franks joined the Philadelphia As for two seasons and then played just one game for the New York Giants before retiring and becoming a coach with Leo Durocher’s staff.
Franks was a member of the staff of the pennant-winning 1951 Giants, where he may or not have played part in a big moment in history. Herman’s extensive experience led many to believe that during the famous Bobby Thomson “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” that won the 1951 pennant for the Giants, Franks was perched in the Giants’ clubhouse in center field of the Polo Grounds using a telescope to steal signs and relay them to the dugout. None of which was ever confirmed by Franks himself, but was suspected by many over the years.
Herman went on to be the owner and general manager of the Salt Lake City Bees of the PCL in 1959, before rejoining the Giants in 1964 as a third base coach. The next season Franks would be promoted to manager, replacing the fired Alvin Dark. He remained Giants manager until the end of the 1968 season when he resigned after losing the pennant to the Cardinals.
Leo Durocher brought him to Chicago to be his pitching coach to close out the 1970 season, but Franks would end up out of baseball for six years. In 1976 the Cubs brought Franks back again, but this time to be their manager, which lasted until he resigned near the end of the 1979 season. Even after this, the Cubs made Franks their interim general manager for the 1981 season before he was ultimately replaced by Dallas Green in 1982.
Franks died on March 30th, 2009 in Salt Lake City. His story was one that as I was checking out some historical info, struck me as interesting. Herman was around baseball for so much of his life, and having always been a baseball history geek, I was surprised to not have ever learned about his playing career.
Hopefully, you’ve learned a bit about a career you didn’t know much about. If you did know of Franks, feel free to share below in the comments some other interesting players that may not have been household names that you’ve come across in your fandom, so we can all take our minds off how free agency has ground to a bit of a halt.
Happy Birthday, Herman.
Stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com.