Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Talking Frankly with Herman Franks

A left-handed hitter who threw right-handed, Herman Franks broke into baseball with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League in 1932, but he was soon acquired by the St. Louis Cardinals and joined their large farm system. All you really need to know about his playing career was that he played primarily as a backup and finished with a batting average of .199 with three home runs in 188 games over parts of six seasons. In 1949 Franks landed his first coaching assignment, as an aide to Leo Durocher with the New York Giants. He was a member of two National League championship clubs (1951, 1954) and one World Series (1954) title team through 1955. According to author Joshua Prager in his 2006 book The Echoing Green, Franks played a critical role in the Giants' Bobby Thomson's famous pennant-winning home run in the 1951 NL playoffs -- Baseball's Shot Heard Round The World. According to Prager, Franks was stationed in the Giants' centerfield clubhouse at the Polo Grounds, their home field, stealing the opposing catcher's signs through a telescope and relaying them through second-string catcher Sal Yvars (who was stationed in the bullpen) to the Giants' coaches and hitters. When asked where he was when Thomson hit his home run, Franks said, in 1996, that he was "doing something for Durocher" at the time.
Whatever his role may have been on that day, Franks was known as a devotee of Durocher-style, win-at-any-cost baseball, including intimidation through flying spikes and brush back pitching. Author Roger Kahn quoted Dodger 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 was so intense that he would engage Durocher in a fistfight in 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."
Franks' four seasons (1965-68) as manager of the San Francisco Giants, and produced four frustrating second-place finishes in the National League. The club won 95, 93, 91 and 88 games and finished 2, 1½, 10½ and 9 games behind the league champions. He then coached nd managed off and on for the Chicago Cubs over an 11-year period. Although Franks compiled a poor record as a player, he notched a winning record as a manager - 605-521, .537.
On his role in the Thomson home run: “They say that I stole Brooklyn’s signs that day and I’ve never admitted to anything. And I never will. There’s been a lot of talk about it since ’51. People don’t ever get tired of talking about it. I must have talked to this writer Prager more than 50 times. He even flew out here to Salt Lake City to interview me. Prager researched the hell out of that story, let me tell you. I read things in there I didn’t know. Sal Ivars has blabbed all over the place, but no one else has talked. Alvin Dark didn’t talk; I didn’t talk; Whitey Lockman wouldn’t say nothing about it. But, there are a lot of them still alive who did a lot of talking. When Bobby hit that ball it was one of the highlights of my baseball career.”
His relationship with the Brooklyn Dodgers’Carl Furillo: “Carl Furillo died a broken man; mad at the world. He got blackballed and was angry at the world. He couldn’t get another job in baseball and he blamed it on everybody but himself. He said a lot of bullshit about me. In those days, we all jawed back and forth. The Dodgers had some tough pitchers in those days, Don Newcombe especially, and everyone threw at each other and knocked each other down all the time. You protected yourself. They were fiercely competitive in those days, Brooklyn and the Giants. Those two teams hated each other. In those days, there was a league rule—if you talked to the other teams’ players out on the field, you got fined. It’s not like today where the players chum around with each other; not at all. Now they go out to dinner with each other after the game; they’re all buddy-buddy.’ It’s just different now.”

About steroids and managing the game today: “I am so sick of them talking about steroids. Barry Bonds is one of the best damn hitters I ever saw. He can flat ass hit. And he set all those records when there was no law against them, right? A lot of this bullshit wouldn’t go on if I was still managing. Maybe I couldn’t manage today’s game the way it is, I don’t know. I think the players are managing the managers today—agents telling the managers when they can pitch their pitchers, and all that kind of bullshit. That wouldn’t go with me. And the money—the most I made as a manager was $125,000, with the Cubs, which at the time made me one of the highest paid managers at the time. Now they get millions”
Bench jockeying: “Durocher was a helluva bench jockey, that’s well known. But, in those days you could holler from the bench. ‘Stick it in his ear,” stuff like that. ‘Knock him down!’ You don’t dare say that today. Hell, I seen Leo walk up to the plate and get knocked down four straight times. He never complained. Everybody hollered at each other!”
The 1965 Giants: “The best team I ever managed, except I didn’t have a shortstop or a second baseman. We couldn’t make a double play. If I had had that I would have won the pennant all four years. We tried out a bunch of shortstops and second basemen, but we couldn’t find anyone to fill the holes there. We had five hall of famers on that team—Gaylord Perry, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. I taught Gaylord Perry how to throw that spitball; that’s what made him. We won 90 games three times during those four seasons and finished second each time. Today you win 90 games and you’re in the playoffs.”
(Parts of this article are from Wikipedia and www.thisgreatgame.com)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Yo, Meathead!

So it seems as if after five weeks and four games, the NFL pundits are finally willing to cede some respect to the New York Giants. After starting the season anywhere from 4 to 10 in the experts’ power rankings even after winning last year’s Super Bowl (only one site I saw, a personal sports site, had the Giants ranked at the top at the beginning of the season), let’s see where the champs sit now. On ESPN.com—the Giants are #1. On Sports Illustrated’s web page—#1. CBS Sportsline—#1. Fox Sports—#1. NBC Sports? They have three columns of rankings, for their NFL TV team’s picks, the NBC Sports overall picks, and fan picks—and the Giants are #1 across the board.

Now, I don’t want to get too cocky—it’s true that Big Blue has had a pretty easy schedule so far. Some will argue that the Redskins were the only real challenge, and since it was the first game of the season, no one had any idea that the ’Skins had it in them to be good this year, for a change. Others will say that the Giants almost lost to the still-winless Bengals. Also true, but that game was in week 3, and the 0–2 Bengals were desperate for a win to salvage any hopes of making the playoffs this year. (Now that they have no hope, they also don’t have much fight.)

The Jints’ other games? The Rams? Hah! Also winless. The Seahawks? Well, no one knew how the ’Hawks would be this year. They started out with a bevy of injuries, but they supposedly had almost their full complement, including both starting wideouts, Bobby Engram and Deion Branch, when they played the Giants last Sunday. Meanwhile, the G-men were without their number-one receiver, Plaxico Burress, who went and got himself suspended for violating team rules, and, lest we forget, they are without the services of one of their best defensive linemen, Osi Umenyiora, for the season. The result? A 44–6 whupping of Seattle that gave the Giants’ their biggest point differential in a win since 1972 and their most yardage since 1964!

(As a side note, we invited some of our neighbors, Seahawks fans, over to watch the game. While I had a blast, the game wasn’t too much fun for them. Nevertheless, they had a good time—I hope!—with our hospitality, and especially with my wife’s velvet crumb cake!)

This week, on Monday night, the Giants play Cleveland, and next week, it’s San Francisco. I realize anything can happen in any game, but there’s a decent chance that New York will head into its first big challenge of the season, against the Cowboys, at 6–0. While the ’Boys look good, it’s hard to say they’re on the same level as the Giants, considering all the holes in the Dallas defense, and the Giants offense just looks great. I’m not predicting an unbeaten regular season, as the Patriots had last year, but barring injuries, I can see 13–3 or 12–4 for New York. After Dallas, the Giants will still have four more division games to play, including rematches with the Redskins and Cowboys, and though the Eagles are 2–3, they always play the Giants tough. As I stated in this column before, to the know-it-alls who gave the Giants no respect, don’t be surprised if they make another run at a title, as long as everyone stays healthy. After years of suffering through Dave Brown and Danny Kanell, it is satisfying to have a quarterback who looks as confident as Eli Manning, as well as a dazzling array of weapons on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. I’ll say it again—defensive end Justin Tuck is a monster!

SEASONINGS: By the way, I can’t say enough about how fantastic it is to have Joe Torre in the NLCS with the Dodgers after the Yankees shafted him last year. In case you didn’t notice, the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs this season, even with their astronomical payroll, while the Dodgers played great under Torre. I’m hoping they can make some progress against the Phillies, who currently lead the series 1–0, and make it back to the World Series for the first time since 1988. Although I feel bad for the Cubs, I just want someone—anyone!—to eliminate those darn Phillies! Good luck to Ed, who will have to suffer through another awful Rams season once the Dodgers are done, and could really use a Dodgers World Series title to salve the wounds of this year in football for him.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Can L.A. Dodge the SI Cover Curse?

I am so excited about the Dodgers being in the National League Championship Series that I can’t even tell you. I have waited 20 years for this to happen and tomorrow it is finally here. I was very hopeful of their chances against the Phillies until I went down to collect the mail this afternoon. When I saw Manny Ramirez on the cover of Sports Illustrated, I nearly lost control of my bowels.
Nothing will kill a team worse that the SI cover curse. You think the Chicago Cubs are cursed? Steve Bartman is their guardian angel and the legendary goat is a blessing compared to the Sports Illustrated cover curse. It has ruined careers, caused teams to fold like omelets and wreaked havoc on sports stars and their teams for well over 5 decades.
My only hope is that none of the Dodger players will see the SI cover. But, what are the chances of that? Joe Torre needs to hold a meeting and address the situation immediately. Why couldn’t they have put the Bosox or the Rays on their cover! This is the worst thing that could ever possibly happen.
This is an interesting article that appeared yesterday on the Sports Network:
An old rivalry will be renewed when the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers square off on Thursday in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park.
These teams have met in this round on three other occasions, but this will be their first playoff meeting since the Wheeze Kids Phils defeated the Dodgers, 3-1, to advance to the 1983 World Series.
Los Angeles, though, defeated the Phillies the first two times these teams squared off in NLCS play.
Unfortunately, the winner of the past three LCS matchups between these two has gone on to lose the World Series.
These teams split their eight meetings in the regular season, with each squad capturing a four-game sweep at home.
As an introduction to this NLCS matchup, let's take a look at the keys to winning the series for both clubs:
As has been the case since he arrived in Los Angeles, as goes Manny Ramirez, so go the Dodgers. Ramirez continued his strong play down the stretch into the NLDS, where he hit .500 in the sweep of the Cubs, belting two home runs with three RBI.
The Dodgers hope Ramirez can duplicate his numbers from last year's ALCS, when he hit .409 with a pair of home runs and 10 RBI for the Red Sox in their seven-game win over Cleveland. He is a lifetime .319 hitter in LCS play with 10 home runs and 23 RBI in 39 games.
If Joe Torre has his way he is going to pitch Derek Lowe three times this series. There were few pitchers hotter down the stretch than Lowe, who won six of his last seven decisions. He carried that strong finish into his Game 1 effort against the Cubs, who managed just two runs in six innings.
The lefty- heavy Phillies lineup has traditionally battered right-handed pitching. However, despite Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Pat Burrell all boasting averages better than .300 against Lowe, none of them has taken him deep.
Now if these two still aren't hitting this might not be much of a problem, but either way, who on the Dodgers' staff is going to face them late in a game? How about 20-year-old phenom Clayton Kershaw?
Kershaw has electric stuff and won his final three decisions of the year, but was not used in the NLDS. Torre could use Kershaw in a Game 4 start, but depending on the situation he may opt to use Lowe on short rest in that spot.
If the Philadelphia Phillies have one question heading into this series, it is what the heck is going on with Utley and Ryan Howard?
After going 2-for-11 in last year's sweep at the hands of the Rockies, Utley has again seen his bat go silent, managing just two hits in 15 at-bats against the Brewers. However, he had perhaps the biggest hit of Game 1, a two-run double that probably should have been caught by center fielder Mike Cameron.
The Dodgers could be the perfect team for Utley to break out against. He batted .355 with two homers against the Dodgers this year and is .339 lifetime against them for his career.
Howard, meanwhile, had another MVP campaign, basically strapping the Phils to his back in September. But, once again he is struggling here in October. Howard managed just two hits in 11 at-bats. Unlike Utley, though, he rarely got a pitch to hit and walked five times against the Brewers
Facing Lowe won't be an easy task for Howard, who is just 2-for-16 lifetime against him.
As much as Utley and Howard struggled in the NLDS, Rollins and Shane Victorino thrived. Rollins batted .375 with two runs scored, while Victorino hit .357 with a grand slam in Game 2.
If those two continue to get on base and Utley and Howard come around, this could be a short series.
Brad Lidge has made things interesting lately for Philadelphia. Rarely does he get a 1-2-3 inning, but he still hasn't blown a save and is a perfect 43- for-43 in save opportunities this season.
However, a lot of people still remember that mammoth home run Albert Pujols hit off of him in the 2005 NLCS. Could we have another moment like that should he have to get Ramirez out in a big spot?
Lidge has been bending an awful lot as of late, but until he breaks you can't complain.
10/08 10:53:52 ET