Herman Franks was born on January 4, 1914 in Price, Utah. His playing career as a reserve catcher spanned parts of ten years with the St. Louis Cardinals (1939) Brooklyn Dodgers (1940-1941) Philadelphia A’s (1947-1948) & one game as a New York Giant (1949).
In that time he also put in three and a half years military service in World War II. Franks was a lifetime .199 hitter with three HRs 18 doubles & 43 RBIs in 188 games played. In 142 games at catcher he threw out 57% of would be base stealers.
In Brooklyn he played under manager Leo Durocher, earning Leo’s respect with an aggressive "do anything to win" style of play. After his playing days he was summoned by Durocher to coach for him with the New York Giants.
He became Durocher's right hand man, getting into the other teams heads any way they could. He especially hated arch rival Brooklyn Dodgers.
He would stick his head in the Brooklyn clubhouse and taunt players like Carl Furillo, telling them the Giants pitchers would be throwing at their heads today. Durocher especially hated Jackie Robinson & their banter on the field was merciless.
Franks played an important role in the 1951 Giants amazing comeback pennant run. After a poor start, the Giants were 50-12 to end the season, tying the Brooklyn Dodgers for first place.
It led to a famous three game Playoff, where Bobby Thomson hit baseballs most famous HR ever, the shot heard round the world, to wall off with the NL pennant.
Stealing Signs? According to legend, Herman Franks played a huge role in the Giants stealing signs in 1951 at the Polo Grounds.
50 years later, some former Giants players admitted to sign stealing, most vocally, Giants back up catcher, Sal Yvars. This was also the the main subject of the 2008 Joshua Prager book "The Echoing Green".
Franks was positioned in the Polo Grounds centerfield clubhouse some 500 feet away from home plate.
He had a telescope, zooming in on the opposing catcher’s signs. He would then activate a buzzer that a Polo Grounds maintenance man from the Bronx, had installed.
The buzzer was wired to the Giants bullpen & would ring. It was there where reserve catcher Sal Yvars would signal to the batter.
One ring from Franks meant a fastball was coming. Yvars would just hold a ball, do nothing. Two rings meant it was curve ball, &Yvars would throw a ball up in the air, so the batter would see it.
This entire sign stealing process would have to be done in a split second, in the time the pitcher wound up & threw the pitch. Even if the batter could see it & adjust, he would still have to hit it.
Some players admitted to using the sign stealing method, others totally denied it. Franks never admitted to any such actions, and in 2000 said he would always deny any accusations.
As a Giants coach he went to two World Series and won one World Championship. After Durocher left in 1955 so did Herman Franks.
He would return as a San Francisco Giants manager from 1965-1968, stepping down after four successful second place finishes. In those years the Giant won 90 games or better three times & came close winning 88 games in 1968.
In that period he managed Giants future Hall of Fame Players; Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry, Orlando Cepeda, & Juan Marichal.
Retirement: After baseball he was a successful businessman off the field. He was even part of a group bidding to buy the A.L. New York club in 1973 when CBS put the team up for sale.
He returned to baseball as the Chicago Cubs manager in 1977-1979. He took then to an 81-81 fourth place finish in 1977.
In 1978 Franks Cubs finished third at 79-83 & in 1979 they fell to fifth place before he was let go. Franks then served as the Cubs General Manager until 1981.
As an MLB manager lifetime he was 605-521 with a .531 winning %.
Passing: Franks passed away March 30th, 2009 at the age of 95 in Salt Lake City, Utah.