Herman Franks: Links to Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Jackie Robinson, Connie Mack

On November 11, 1965, Wille Mays was informed that he was chosen 1965 National League MVP, with a .317 batting average, 52 home runs, 112 RBIs, and a personal best 11.2 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), 185 OPS+, with a .317/.398/.645 slash line and 1.043 OPS. A testament to Mays’s true greatness can be found in his 1965 Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA), created by Tom Tango (2008) per this fascinating November 11, 2021 blog by Jorge Colón Delgado https://www.beisbol101.com/woba-la-metrica-que-debes-conocer/

Herman Franks realized that Willie Mays “could do it all.” Let’s compute Mays’s 1965 wOBA:

(.69 x 76 BB + .722 x 0 HBP + .888 x 101 singles + 1.271 x 21 doubles + 1.616 x 3 triples + 2.101 x 52 HR)/(558 AB + 76 BB – 16 IBB + 2 SF + 0 HBP) = 282.92/620 = .456. So, a .400 wOBA is Excellent; .370 = Great; .340 = Above Average; .320 = Average; .310 = Below Average; .300 = Poor; .290 = Awful. In 1968, the MLB wOBA composite average was about .290, in the “Year of the Pitcher.” https://www.fangraphs.com/players/willie-mays/1008315/graphs?statArr=50&legend=1&split=base&time=season&ymin=&ymax=  Mays’ MLB career wOBA was excellent: .409.

Despite Mays’ remarkable 1965 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers (97-65) edged San Francisco (95-67) by two games and won the 1965 World Series over Minnesota. Herman Franks managed San Francisco to four straight second-place finishes (1965-68). He was a mentor and financial advisor to Mays by the mid-1960s. “I bonded with Willie his [1951] rookie season with the New York Giants,” noted Franks (to the author). “We became very close, then, and this continued in the 1950s and 1960s, including 1954-55 with the Santurce Crabbers, in Puerto Rico.”  

Joe Gibbon, the lefty reliever from Hickory, Mississippi, who pitched for Franks, with San Francisco (1966-68), maintained that [team captain] Willie Mays was the “real manager” of those San Francisco teams—and that “Mays, not Herman Franks, called the shots.” https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/joe-gibbon/

Who was Herman Franks, and why should we honor a gentleman who barely qualified for a big-league pension after posting a .199 career batting average with the 1939 St. Louis Cardinals, 1940 and 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers, 1947 and 1948 Philadelphia A’s, and 1949 New York Giants? The author corresponded with Franks and conversed with him by phone in 1998 and 1999 when an 85-year old Franks wrote the Foreword to the author’s book titled: The Santurce Crabbers.

Perhaps the readers will find this of interest on Mr. Franks (January 4, 1914-March 30, 2009):

  • Had one at-bat for Brooklyn in the 1941 World Series at Yankee Stadium
  • Served as a Physical Education Instructor in the U.S. Navy, 1942-to-1945
  • Was Jackie Robinson’s teammate with the 1946 Montreal Royals and fellow All-Star
  • Played for the legendary Connie Mack, manager of the 1947-1948 Philadelphia A’s
  • Became Leo Durocher’s right-hand man with the 1951-1955 New York Giants
  • Spent 1953-54 winter managing Magallanes Navigators, Venezuelan Winter League
  • Managed the 1954-55 Santurce Crabbers (47-25) to a Puerto Rico Winter League title and February 1955 Caribbean Series crown (5-1 W-L) in Caracas, Venezuela
  • Was Roberto Clemente’s Santurce skipper, 1954-56, and managed Orlando Cepeda (1955-56) in the latter’s initial Puerto Rico Winter League campaign
  • Scouted for the New York/San Francisco Giants, 1956-to-1964
  • Tried, with an investment group, to purchase the New York Yankees (early 1970s)
  • Managed San Francisco (1965-68) and the Chicago Cubs (1977-79)
  • Served as Interim General Manager, 1981 Cubs, during that “strike season.”

Franks’s SABR bio by Maurice Bouchard is at: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/herman-franks/ He was born in Price, Utah, and passed away in Salt Lake City at age 95. His playing weight was 187 pounds on a 5’10” frame. Franks batted left-handed and threw right.

The 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers and U.S. Navy Military Service (1942-45)

Mickey Owen and Franks caught for the 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers, 100-54 under skipper Leo Durocher, a hard-nosed manager known for this quote: “Nice guys finish last.” (Franks also split time with the 1941 Montreal Royals, in the International League.) The 1941 Dodgers had two 22-game winners—Kirby Higbe and Whitlow Wyatt; NL batting champ (Pete Reiser, .343) and HR-RBI leader (Dolph Camilli: 34-120). Franks earned a $4,000 salary in 1941. (As a 1939 rookie with the St. Louis Cardinals, his annual salary was $2,400.) In 1941, St. Louis finished second to the Dodgers, with a 97-56 mark.  

On October 1, 1941, Franks hit into a 4-6-3 double play with two on and one out at Yankee Stadium in the ninth for his only World Series at-bat. He entered the game in the seventh after Mickey Owen departed for a pinch-hitter. (Owen tripled in a run in the visitor’s fifth.) Joe Medwick singled off Red Ruffing to start the ninth, but Cookie Lavagetto, who later coached under Franks in the majors, popped up to catcher Bill Dickey. Pee Wee Reese singled to the left, followed by Franks’s double-play grounder to Joe Gordon, who flipped it to Phil Rizzuto, with Johnny Sturm getting the throw from Rizzuto to end the game, 3-2, in the Yankees favor.

As a Physical Education Instructor, Franks was stationed at NAS (Naval Air Station), Pensacola, Florida (World War II). He managed the 1942 NAS baseball squad to a 26-13 mark, winning over the minor-league Atlanta Crackers. Opponents included colleges/universities, i.e.,  Georgia Tech. Franks played the first month of the 1942 minor-league season with the Montreal Royals before his Naval Service. In 1944 he was transferred to Norfolk NAS and managed their team, followed by a 1945 stint in Hawaii when he managed Barber’s Point NAS team. https://www.baseballinwartime.com/player_biographies/franks_herman.htm

1946 Montreal Royals managed by Clay Hopper

Brooklyn dispatched Franks to Montreal, their top farm club, managed by Clay Hopper, from Greenwood, Mississippi, the 19th winningest minor-league skipper with 1,916 wins between 1929 and 1956 (1,916-1,675, .534). Hopper told Branch Rickey Sr.—later that 1946 season—“Jackie Robinson is ready to hit big-league pitching.” (Hopper is incorrectly portrayed by some as a racist; one article listed him as: Clay Helton.)  Webster Franklin—who graduated from Pillow Academy in Greenwood, Mississippi, and from the University of Mississippi—was related to Hopper, through Webster’s aunt, Marie. Hopper supplemented his managerial salary as a cotton broker in the off-season, and was honest and hard-working. He managed Puerto Rico OF Carlos Bernier, 1956 Hollywood Stars (85-83). Bernier stole 48 bases, and batted .283. Stars hurler Luis “Tite” Arroyo (7-5, 2.81 ERA), from Peñuelas, Puerto Rico, recalled “Hopper was a good manager and a decent human being who encouraged me to make it back to the majors.”

Franks’ .280 batting average, 14 homers, 67 RBIs earned him 1946 International League All-Star Catcher designation. In today’s world, this is a .280/.424/.495 slash line, .919 OPS, and .391 wOBA. Jackie Robinson, League batting champ (.349), with a .349/.468/.462 slash line and .929 OPS got the nod at second base. His Montreal wOBA was .407. Newark’s Bobby Brown, that League’s All-Star shortstop, recalled that “Jackie Robinson was going to help the Brooklyn Dodgers win a bunch of NL pennants” and that “Herman Franks was an astute catcher and someone who understood the nuances of the game.” Brown’s 174 hits tied him for the league lead with Rochester’s Danny Murtaugh. (Brown was Yogi Berra’s roommate with the Yankees.) Franks’ minor-league stats are at: https://www.statscrew.com/minorbaseball/stats/p-83452936

Montreal defeated the Newark Bears four games-to-two (semis); bested Syracuse, four games-to-one, in the finals. The Royals upended the Louisville Colonels, four games-to-two, in the Junior World Series, winning the last three at home, after Louisville took two-of-three, in Kentucky.

Franks and Connie Mack (1947 and 1948) to the 1949 New York Giants

Franks resigned as player-manager of the 1947 St. Paul Saints to join the Philadelphia A’s, managed by Connie Mack, since 1901. “I wanted to secure my major league pension,” said Franks. “Playing for Mr. Mack gave me the chance to earn a big-league pension and learn from one of the greatest baseball minds in the first half of the 20th century.” With the A’s, Franks went 3-for-15 in 1947, followed by 22-for-98 in 1948. After his release from the A’s, he had a cup of coffee with the 1949 New York Giants, going 2-for-3, a .667 batting average! His big-league stats are at: https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/f/frankhe01.shtml With the 1949 Giants; he met teammate Monte Irvin, a 30-year old rookie, who had helped the 1948-49 Almendares Scorpions win the first (February 1949) Caribbean Series, an event hosted by Havana, Cuba.

1951 New York Giants late-season surge under Leo Durocher

The “Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff” is documented in sources, including https://sabr.org/research/article/durocher-the-spymaster-how-much-did-the-giants-prosper-from-cheating-in-1951/ Franks and the author never discussed “spying allegations” which evolved in 1951, e.g., an elaborate sign-stealing scheme. “Per Prager, Durocher installed coach Herman Franks in the manager’s office of the Giants’ clubhouse beyond center field in the Polo Grounds to steal opposing catchers’ signals. Franks would look through a telescope and relay the sign through an electrical-buzzer system to the Giants’ bullpen in deep right field, from where the sign would be flashed to the Giants’ hitters.” Joshua Prager, The Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard Round the World (New York: Vintage Books, 2006)

Table 1, published in the SABR mentioned above article, summarizes the New York Giants late-season surge, which resulted in a 96-58 W-L record, identical to Brooklyn. The end result was the Giants winning the best-of-three tie-breaker series on Bobby Thomson’s three-run homer, October 3, 1951, aka “The Shot Heard Round the World.”

1953-54 Magallanes Navigators

Franks managed Magallanes to a 39-37 record, second-place behind 48-30 Pastora Milkers. His top hurler was New York Giants prospect Ramón Monzant, 14-6, 2.88 ERA. Conversely, 35-year old Vidal López came off the bench for Franks as a pinch-hitter. In his prime, López was known as the “Babe Ruth of Venezuela” for his pitching and hitting prowess. Giants’ prospects Ray Katt (catcher) and Billy Gardner (IF) played for Franks. Pastora had four excellent starters, including ex-New York Yankees LHP Tommy Byrne (12-3). Vern Benson, Pastora’s shortstop, recalled that 19-year old Luis Aparicio played the same position with Gavilanes. “Aparicio backed me up in the [1954] Caribbean Series in San Juan,” recalled Benson. “It was a good, competitive league.” Benson recalled workhorse hurler Emilio “El Indio” Cueche, with Gavilanes. Cueche (13-10) hurled 208 innings, the equivalent of 432 in a 162-game season!

Ex-Negro Leaguers such as Piper Davis, Dave Pope, and Sam Jones played for Gavilanes. Jones was just 2-5, with a 5.06 ERA, but Franks liked his pitching approach and demeanor and encouraged Santurce Crabbers owner Pedrín Zorrilla to sign Jones for the 1954-55 winter season.

1954-55 Santurce Crabbers, best Winter League Team of That Era

The author, Jorge Colón Delgado, and others have written extensively on the 1954-55 Crabbers, a “trabuco” (powerful team) with an OF of Roberto Clemente (LF), 1954 NL MVP Willie Mays (CF), Bob Thurman (RF); an IF of George Crowe (1B), Ronnie Samford (2B), Buster Clarkson (3B), Don Zimmer (SS); Valmy Thomas and Harry Chiti, catching; and three superb starters: Pitching Triple Crown Winner Sam Jones, Rubén Gómez, and Bill Greason. Luis R. Olmo and Alfonso Gerard provided OF depth; José St. Claire, aka Pepe Lucas, was a reserve 1B and PH.

Table II lists primary regular season hitting stats for 1954-55 Santurce position players and hurler Rubén Gómez, who pinch-hit, pinch-ran, and could play the OF. Mays won the batting crown (.395); Clemente scored the most runs (65); Clarkson-Thurman were one-two in RBIs (61-60).

Table II: Santurece 1954-55 Regular Season Hitting, Position Players and Rubén Gómez

Willie Mays1726368157123310.395.773
Roberto Clemente2736594946380.344.473
Alfonso Gerard82112822070.341.414
Bob Thurman22933747414603.323.572
Rubén Gómez6692171071.318.455
Buster Clarkson24036768115610.317.546
Don Zimmer#1031229501124.283.359
George Crowe17721504012401.282.508
Luis R. Olmo7382030290.274.397
Pedro J. Arroyo111300001.273.273
Ron Samford166224541060.271.307
Artie Wilson69131701050.246.275
Harry Chiti6441520140.234.313
Valmy Thomas1671735330101.210.263
Pepe Lucas##8071620380.200.350
William Figueroa96121921070.198.240
Manuel Traboux261500020.192.192

Mayagüez released #Zimmer in late December 1954. ##His “Pepelucazo” on February 17, 1951—a walk-off homer against Caguas—gave Santurce their first league title.

Source: Jorge Colón Delgado, Santurce Cangrejeros 1954-55: La Maquinaria Perfecta, Historical Sport Research, 2007, 110.

Franks led Santurce to a 47-25 W-L record and first-place. They won their “City Champ” (regular season) Series versus the San Juan Senators, ten games to eight. In the finals, Santurce downed Caguas, four games-to-one, and won five of six Caribbean Series games in Caracas, Venezuela, February 10-15, 1955, to win that event. Seven Crabbers, including Franks, made the All-Star Team: Franks—MGR; Chiti (C), Clarkson (3B), Zimmer (SS), Mays (CF), Greason (P), and Sam Jones (P). Zimmer was the Series MVP with a .385 batting average, three homers, and four RBIs. Mays had a .440 batting average (11-for-25) after starting 0-for-12. He cracked a decisive 11th inning walk-off homer off Ramón Monzant, with Clemente on first base, to give Santurce a 4-2 win, behind Sam Jones, in Game Three. Clemente’s seven runs scored topped the list of players from Cuba (Almendares), Panamá (Carta Vieja), Magallanes and Santurce.

Some Thoughts from Herman Franks

Franks returned to manage Santurce in 1955-56, and a strong first-half (25-11) was followed by .500 baseball (18-18) the other portion due to some injuries, player illness, and better play by Caguas, who won the final series versus the Crabbers. Mickey Owen managed the 1955-56 Ponce Lions. He enjoyed visiting Franks that winter season, some 14 years after they were 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers teammates. “Herman and I have several things in common,” noted Owen. “We finally got our [respective] major league pensions by playing well into our 30s—Herman with the A’s; and yours truly with the Red Sox. And I led Caguas to the February 1954 Caribbean Series crown, and Herman got it done the next winter with the fine Santurce team.”

Here are some excerpts from Franks’s Foreword in the author’s Santurce Crabbers book:

“I met Pedrín Zorrilla (owner of the Santurce Crabbers) through his association with the New York Giants. He was responsible for the Giants acquiring Rubén Gómez, and he made many trips to New York visiting Rubén and the owner of the Giants, Horace Stoneham. Pedrín was one of the finest men I ever met in or out of baseball. We ended up being very dear friends, and our family is still very close today [1999] to the Zorrilla family.”

“Willie Mays was the best baseball player I ever saw; he made unbelievable plays all the time. Clemente belonged to the Brooklyn Dodgers and was with Montreal that (1954) season, and at the end of the season, he was eligible for the major league (Rule 5) draft. The New York Giants, whom I coached for in 1954, didn’t have a chance to draft him as we had won the pennant and World Series. Branch Rickey of Pittsburgh came to Puerto Rico looking for ballplayers. Pedrín and I told him to draft Clemente, and you know his story at Pittsburgh. If I had to pick a ballplayer outside of Willie Mays, it would be Roberto.”

“Pedrín asked me to manage Santurce in 1955-56, and we had another good team with Roberto Clemente, Bob Thurman, Bill White, Don Zimmer, and many other good players. I stayed in touch with Pedrín since he was a scout for the New York and San Francisco Giants while I was a coach and manager of the Giants. Then the Chicago Cubs hired me as their manager in 1977, and Pedrín became a scout for the Cubs for a few years. I miss my good friend, Pedrín. However, we talk to his widow, Diana, all the time, and that helps.”

Coincidentally, three NL MVP recipients—Mays (1954 and 1965), Clemente (1966), and Cepeda (1967) were a trio of Crabbers managed by Franks in Puerto Rico, something he was proud of. Vern Benson, who managed Bob Gibson with the 1961-62 Crabbers, was happy when Gibson was the 1968 NL MVP and Cy Young Winner, pitching for St. Louis, Franks’ first MLB team.

Table III includes Santurce Crabbers skippers leading to over 40 regular-season wins in 25 years, 1947-48 – 1972-73. Shorter (60 games or fewer) seasons from the mid-1970s to the present and during the league’s first few seasons made it impossible to win that many contests.

Table III: Most Regular Season Wins by Santurce Managers

ManagerSeasonW-L record, slotPCTPost-Season
Frank Robinson1968-6949-20 (first).710Lost semi-finals to San Juan.
George Scales1950-5148-30 (second).615Won post-season and Caribbean Series.
Earl Weaver1967-6847-22 (first).681Won semi-finals; lost finals to Caguas
Herman Franks1954-5547-25 (first).653Won post-season and Caribbean Series.
Vic Harris1948-4947-33 (tied-2nd).588Lost finals to Mayagüez.
Frank Robinson1972-7345-25 (first).643Won post-season but not Caribbean Series.
Earl Weaver1966-6745-26 (second).634Won post-season; no Caribbean Series.
Vic Harris1949-5045-35 (ried 2nd).563Lost semi-finals to Mayagëz.
Herman Franks1955-5643-29 (first).597Lost finals to Caguas.
Ted Norbert1956-5743-29 (first).597Lost finals to Mayagüez.
Buster Clarkson1952-5342-30 (second).583Won post-season and Caribbean Series.
Vern Benson1961-6242-38 (third).525Won post-season and Inter-American Series.
Preston Gómez1964-6541-28 (first).594Won post-season; no Caribbean Series.
George Scales1951-5241-31 (third).569Won semi-finals; lost finals to San Juan.

Source: Thomas E. Van Hyning, The Santurce Crabbers: Sixty Seasons of Puerto Rican Winter League Baseball, McFarland, 1999, 204-205.

Santurce won 16 league titles thus far, eight via imported (Stateside and Cuban) managers; eight-under Puerto Rico-born skippers. Herman Franks was the third Santurce skipper to win a league crown, per Table IV, and Preston Gómez was the one Cuban manager.

Table IV: Santurce’s 16 League Titles and Finals Opponents, 1950-51 – 2019-20

ManagerSeasonOpponentOpposing MGRResult
George Scales1950-51Caguas CriollosLuis R. Omo4G to 2G
Buster Clarkson1952-53San Juan SenatorsJohn Riddle4G to 2G
Herman Franks1954-55Caguas CriollosBen Geraghty4G to 1G
Monchile Concepción1958-59Caguas CriollosVic Power5G to 2G
Vern Benson1961-62Mayagüez IndiansBill Adair4G to 0G
Preston Gómez1964-65Mayagüez IndiansBill Swift4G to 2G
Earl Weaver1966-67Ponce LionsLuis Arroyo4G to 2G
Frank Robinson1970-71Caguas CriollosNapoleón Reyes4G to 3G
Frank Robinson1972-73Ponce LionsCarlos M. Santiago#4G to 2G
Mako Oliveras1990-91Mayagüez IndiansTom Gamboa5G to 3G
Mako Oliveras1992-93San Juan SenatorsLuis “Torito” Meléndez5G to 1G
Mako Oliveras##1999-00Mayagüez IndiansAl Newman5G to 2G
Eduardo Pérez2014-15Mayagüez IndiansLino Rivera4G to 2G
Ramón Vázquez2015-16Mayagüez IndiansPat Kelly4G to 2G
Ramón Vázquez2018-19Mayagüez IndiansStephen Morales4G to 0G
José “Tony” Valentín2019-20Mayagüez IndiansRobinson Cancel4G to 1G

#Frank Verdi resigned November 25, 1972; Carlos M. Santiago became interim manager.

##Mako Oliveras replaced Ken Griffey Sr., who resigned, the latter part of the regular season.

Source: https://www.beisbol101.com/equipos-campeones-y-sub-campeones/

Special thanks to Herman Franks for his time, expertise, kindness, and writing the Foreword to the author’s Santurce Crabbers book. Thanks to Luis “Tite” Arroyo, Vern Benson, Dr. Bobby Brown, Webster Franklin, Joe Gibbon, and Mickey Owen for their insights. Jorge Colón Delgado edited the blog, furnished photos, and wrote an outstanding blog on wOBA.

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