Former Brooklyn Dodger Herman Franks Died

Herman Franks, a backup catcher for a number of teams including the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1940 and 1941, died at his home in Salt Lake City, Utah, March 30, 2009. He was a successful manager but will always be suspected of being the Giants "Spy in the Sky" during the 1951 playoffs against the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was the oldest living Major League manager.

A graduate of the University of Utah, Franks was a backup catcher for St. Louis (1939), Brooklyn (1940-41), Philadelphia Athletics (1947-48) and NY Giants (1949). A left-handed hitter who threw right-handed, Franks broke into baseball with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League in 1932 and was purchased by the St. Louis Cardinals where he had 17 times at bat in 17 games.

He was drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers, where he served as a second-string catcher in 1940-41 and began his close association with the Dodgers' manager Leo Durocher. He caught two years for Brooklyn and played the only game of his career in the outfield. He played in 65 games in 1940 and 57 games in 1941, the highest totals in his career. He also had a time at bat in the 1941 World Series when the Dodgers lost four games to one to the New York Yankees.

He served in the military for 3 1/2 years during World War II and then became the playing manager of the Dodgers Triple-A farm club St. Paul in the American Association. In August he resigned to resume his major league playing career with the Philadelphia Athletics where he appeared in 48 games in 1947 and 1948.

In 1949 he rejoined Durocher as a coach and was a member of National League championship club in 1951 and the World Championship New York team in 1954.

Author Joshua Prager in his 2006 book "The Echoing Green," wrote Franks played a critical role in the Giants' Bobby Thomson's famous pennant-winning home run in the last of the ninth in the third game of the 1951 playoffs against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

According to Prager, Franks was stationed in the Giants' center-field clubhouse at the Polo Grounds, their home field, stealing the opposing catcher's signs through a telescope and allegedly relayed them through second-string catcher Sal Yvars who was in the bullpen. Yvars then supposedly passed them on the the Giants' coaches and hitters.

Bobby Thomson steadfastly denied that he received information on the pitch from Ralph Branca that he hit into the left field seats to win the pennant.

Franks was known as a advocate of Durocher's win-at-any-cost baseball, including intimidation by flying spikes and brushback pitching. Author Roger Kahn quoted Dodger Brooklyn outfielder Carl Furillo that Franks would poke his head into the Brooklyn clubhouse to taunt Furillo that Giant pitchers would throw at his head during that day's game.

Furillo, whose hatred for Durocher simmered for many years before he would eventually engage Durocher in a fistfight in front of the Giant dugout filled with enemy players, said of the Giants, in Peter Golenbock's book Bums, "They were dirty ballplayers ... They all wanted to be like Durocher, to copy Durocher. That Herman Franks, he was another one."

When Durocher left the Giants, Franks scouted for the Giants for a dozen years, he became he manger of the Giants' Salt Lake City club in 1961. He was credited with straightening out Willie Mays financial problems that were in disarray when Franks joined the San Francisco club in 1965.

He managed the Giants to four straight second-place finishes in 1965-66-67-68, winning 95, 93, 91 and 88 games, and finished 2, 1½, 10½ and 9 games behind the league champions. After leaving the Giants he became a successful businessman and formed a group that unsuccessfully attempted to buy the Yankees in 1972.

He came out of retirement to manage the Chicago Cubs in 1977-78-79 as a favor to his friend, general manager Bob Kennedy. He was the interim general manager of the Cubs from May through November 1981 and offered to continue in the role permanently, but but the job was given to Dallas Green.

Although Franks compiled a poor record as a player (a batting average of .199 with three home runs in 188 games over parts of six seasons), he notched a winning record as a manager - 605-521, .537.

Third-Oldest Dodger
Franks was the third-oldest living Dodger at the time of his death. Born January 4, 1914, he trailed only a trio of infielders: Tony Malinosky, who will be 100 in September and infielder Lonny Frey, who will be 99 in August, and infielder George Cisar who will be .

The top 10:

99 -- Inf Tony Malinosky
98 --  SS Lonny Frey
96 -- OF George Cisar
94 -- C Mike Sandlock
93 -- C Ray Hathaway

92 -- OF Tommy Holmes
92 -- C Bobby Bragan
91 -- RHP Roy Pfund
90 -- OF-2B Luis Olmo
90 -- RHP Cy Buker

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