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Birth:
04 Jan 1914 1
Death:
30 Mar 2009 1
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Full Name:
Herman L Franks 1
Birth:
04 Jan 1914 1
Death:
30 Mar 2009 1
Residence:
Last Residence: Salt Lake City, UT 1
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Card Issued: Utah 1

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Baseball’s Herman Franks Dies at 95

  Herman Franks, who managed the San Francisco Giants to four consecutive second-place finishes in the 1960s but who was also remembered in connection with an elaborate sign-stealing scheme during the Giants’ dramatic 1951 pennant victory in their Polo Grounds years, died Monday at his home in Salt Lake City. He was 95.

Ernie Sisto/The New York Times

Herman Franks in 1965, his first year managing the Giants.

   

His death was announced by his family.

In a baseball career going back to the early 1930s, Franks was a major league catcher, a coach and manager with the Giants, a manager and general manager with the Chicago Cubs, and a scout.

“Is finishing second so evil?” The San Francisco Chronicle quoted Franks as asking when he resigned as the Giants’ manager after the 1968 season, having taken San Francisco to the No. 2 spot in two tight National League pennant races won by the Los Angeles Dodgers and in two runaways won by the St. Louis Cardinals.

In 1951, the New York Giants seemed destined to finished second behind the Brooklyn Dodgers, trailing them by 13 ½ games in mid-August. But they won the pennant in a playoff on Bobby Thomson’s three-run, ninth-inning homer off Ralph Branca.

Franks was a Giants coach that season, but he was in the center-field clubhouse at the Polo Grounds when Thomson connected. He never explained exactly what he was doing there at that moment. But Giants teammates said long afterward that, at the behest of Manager Leo Durocher, Franks was using a telescope that afternoon (and in the weeks preceding it) to steal the signs of opposing catchers so that Giants batters would know what pitch was coming.

Details of the operation were related by the sports columnist Dave Anderson of The New York Times, in his book “Pennant Races” (Doubleday, 1994), and by Joshua Prager in The Wall Street Journal in 2001 and in his book “The Echoing Green” (Pantheon, 2006).

After watching the opposing catcher wiggle his fingers, Franks was said to have had an electrician alongside him activate a buzzer in the Giants’ bullpen in right-center field, one buzz for a fastball and two for a curveball. Sal Yvars, a reserve catcher in the bullpen, would listen for the buzzes. If Yvars held on to a baseball, the Giants batter glancing at him knew a fastball was coming. If Yvars tossed a ball in the air, it meant a curve could be expected.

Yvars said years later that he flashed the tip-off for a fastball, as correctly predicted by Franks, just before Branca delivered his home-run pitch to Thomson. But Thomson told Prager that he had been concentrating so heavily that he had not looked at Yvars.

Herman Louis Franks, a native of Price, Utah, grew up in Salt Lake City. He made his major league debut with the Cardinals in 1939, played for Durocher’s pennant-winning Dodgers in 1941, for the Philadelphia Athletics and, in one game, with the Giants. He had a .199 career batting average as a backup over six seasons.

Franks managed the future Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda and Gaylord Perry as the Giants’ manager in San Francisco. He managed the Cubs from 1977 to 1979 and was their general manager in 1981.

Franks is survived by his wife, Ami; his sons Herman Jr. and Dan, and a daughter, Cynthia Wright, all of Salt Lake City; and seven grandchildren.

The controversy over the Giants’ sign-stealing and its presumed impact on perhaps the most dramatic pennant race in baseball history lingered long after the summer of 1951. But Franks was not eager to have the last word.

“I haven’t talked about it in 49 years,” he told The Associated Press in 2001. “If I’m ever asked about it, I’m denying everything.”

Former Chicago Cubs manager Herman Franks dies at 95

In some ways, Herman Franks personified the term "baseball lifer," spending 20-plus years as a scout, coach, manager and general manager after failing to distinguish himself as a player, a good-field/no-hit catcher who managed a .199 batting average and three home runs in six major league seasons.

He was no stranger to the salty language and coarse humor of a baseball clubhouse. But Franks was also a smart, worldly man with a knack for managing people and an eye for business, turning his modest baseball earnings into millions through shrewd investments.

Franks, who managed the Cubs for three seasons in the late 1970s but was best known for his work with the late 1960s San Francisco Giants, died Monday at his home in Salt Lake City. He was 95. The cause of death was congestive organ failure.

"Every day was an adventure for him," his son Dan Franks said.

Franks coached under Leo Durocher with the 1950s New York Giants and was known as an expert sign-stealer. Legend had him in the center-field scoreboard at the Polo Grounds with binoculars relaying signs to Giants hitters when Bobby Thomson ripped "the Shot Heard 'Round the World" to deliver the 1951 pennant.

Franks never confirmed it.

He took over as Giants manager in 1965 and guided a team with four future Hall of Famers to four straight second-place finishes, first behind Sandy Koufax's Dodgers and then Bob Gibson's Cardinals..

Franks was 238-241 in three sometimes stormy seasons with the Cubs (1977-79), feuding lustily with Bill Buckner and Dave Kingman before leaving late in the '79 season.

"That last week he managed was a total rodeo," said Bob Verdi, who covered those Cubs teams for the Tribune. "Herman was a character, but he knew baseball and he knew what he was doing."

Franks returned to the Cubs as interim GM in 1981.

Other survivors include his wife Ami, son Herman Jr., daughter Cyndi Wright and seven grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.

HERMAN FRANKS

Sept. 25, 1979

One day after resigning as Cubs manager, Franks, 65, called his players "whiners" and Bill Buckner "nuts" in a rambling interview. The final straw, Franks said, was the "constant whining" of reserve outfielder Mike Vail.

"I just got tired of being around him," Franks said. "There isn't enough money in the world to pay me to manage if I had to look at that face every day."

Franks said Vail "made me sick." He wasn't all that crazy about Barry Foote either, turned off by the beefy catcher's constant admonitions about doing things "the Phillies' way." But Franks saved his best shots for Buckner, whom he termed a phony.

"There haven't been many people in baseball who have fooled me, but I have to admit that Buckner was one of them," Franks said. "I thought he was the All-American boy. I thought he was the kind of guy who'd dive in the dirt to save ballgames for you. What I found out, after being around him for a while is that he's nuts. He doesn't care about anything but getting a hit. He doesn't care about the team. All he cares about is Bill Buckner.

"Most of the problem was that he just couldn't handle (Dave) Kingman's success this season. Buckner wanted to be the big guy. And when Kingman had the great year, Buckner couldn't take it."

No one made an exit quite like Herman Franks.

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