Baseball legend Herman Franks dies at 95

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Price native and East High standout Herman Franks became one of the first Utahns to make a Major League Baseball roster.

But the colorful, often-gruff, baseball man, who at age of 95 died of congestive organ failures Monday night at his Salt Lake City home, was most known for his work as a manager of the San Francisco Giants and for coaching four future Hall of Famers: Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry.

"He wasn't the most talented ball player around, but he was smart, and knew how to handle a team," said his son, Dan Franks, of Salt Lake City. "He enjoyed every minute of it, and baseball gave him some lifelong associations, which he cherished. He just loved the game."

Franks was born in 1914 to Italian immigrant parents. He moved to Salt Lake City with his mother where he starred athletically at East High.

In baseball circles, Franks was perhaps best known as a mentor to Mays, and in 1998 Franks told The Salt Lake Tribune he believed the player known as the "Say Hey Kid" was the best in Major League Baseball history.

"Willie Mays was Herm's guy," said Marc Amicone, general manager of the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees. "Herman Franks was part of a special group of guys who helped baseball become the American Pastime. Baseball was his life, and there aren't too many of those guys left."

Mays and Franks were partners in several business ventures, including a department store in West Valley City called Thrift City, and Franks often advised Mays on financial matters.

"We were good friends, good friends with the whole family, really," Mays told the San Francisco Chronicle . "He helped a lot of guys out in business. He was friendly with most everybody he knew."

Monsignor Joseph Mayo of Salt Lake City's Cathedral of the Madeleine, who became Franks' close friend in his later years, said Franks was a living legend who "used to regale everybody with his baseball stories until his final days ... He had his marbles all the way to the end."

Franks managed the Giants for four years, from 1965 to 1968, and guided the National League team to four second-place finishes. After a nine-year absence from the game at a national level, he managed the Cubs for three years, from 1977 to 1979.

He finished with a 605-521 record as a major league manager.

Dan Franks said his father, who became an astute businessman, left the managerial jobs on his own terms.

"He was a tough, direct, blunt guy. He could be brusque, and sometimes people took that the wrong way," Dan Franks said. "But he was also softhearted and generous, and a loving father, and he always wanted to help people out."

Franks coached under Leo Durocher after his playing days as a catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals and Cubs, among other major league teams, and developed part of his managerial style from that legendary baseball figure.

"He was fun to be around," said Amicone, noting that Franks spoke to a group of youngsters during a Major League Alumni Clinic just last summer at Franklin Covey Field. "He had great baseball stories, because he knew everybody."

Dan Franks said his father was also proud of his association with the great Jackie Robinson, who broke the baseball color barrier. They were teammates in Montreal in 1946.

"He made it a long way coming out of Price, Utah," Dan Franks said.

Locally, a sports complex near SLC's Liberty Park bears Franks' name, and he was admitted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame in 1974.

Mayo said Franks always made it a point to credit Catholic Bishop Duane G. Hunt for buying him a bus ticket to Houston where he got his first pro baseball tryout. Hunt died 49 years ago Tuesday.

He left the University of Utah during his freshman year in 1932, signing a professional baseball contract at age 18. He was a catcher for six years in the majors, and hit .199 with three home runs in 188 games, appearing in his final game in 1949 for the New York Giants.

Franks never forgot his roots, returning to Salt Lake City when seasons concluded.

"I was a good receiver. I had a good arm," Franks told the Salt Lake Tribune recently. "I wasn't a good hitter. I was good at handling pitchers. But I loved the game, and I always wanted to stay in it as a coach or manager."

After 1941, Franks entered the U.S. Navy and spent four years in Hawaii during World War II before returning to the major leagues and the Philadelphia Athletics in 1947.

He is survived by his wife, Amneris, and three children: Dan, Herman Jr. and Cyndi Wright.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Friday at St. Ambrose Catholic Church, 1975 S. 2300 East, Salt Lake City.

Herman Franks' managerial record

1965 »NLGiants16395672nd
1966 »NLGiants16193682nd
1967 »NLGiants16291712nd
1968 »NLGiants16388742nd
1977 »NL EastCubs16281812nd
1978»NL EastCubs16279833rd
1979 »NL EastCubs15578775th