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Herman Franks

The baseball manager who won a dubious pennant

The baseball manager who won a dubious pennant
Herman Franks
1914–2009

As manager of the San Francisco Giants in the 1960s, Herman Franks led such future Hall of Famers as Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Gaylord Perry. But he was better known for reportedly being involved in a complex “sign-stealing” scheme years before, when the Giants still played in New York.

Franks, who grew up in Utah, played for the Cardinals and the Philadelphia Athletics before joining the Giants, said The New York Times. “In 1951 they seemed destined to finish second behind the Brooklyn Dodgers, trailing them by 13 games in mid-August.” But on Oct. 3 “they won the pennant in a playoff on Bobby Thomson’s three-run, ninth-inning homer off Ralph Branca.” Decades after Thomson slammed “The Shot Heard ’Round the World,” several Giants revealed one secret factor in that remarkable comeback. For weeks, they said, Franks had holed up in the centerfield clubhouse at the Polo Grounds, using a telescope “to steal the signs of opposing catchers so that Giants batters would know what pitch was coming.” Through an elaborate system of buzzers and hand signals, he would relay the information to the Giants bullpen and the batter’s box. Franks never acknowledged any skullduggery. “If I’m ever asked about it,” he said in 2001, “I’m denying everything.”

When the Giants moved west, said the San Francisco Chronicle, Franks managed them to four consecutive second-place finishes, a record that rankled. “Is finishing second so evil?” he asked after he stepped down following the final game in 1968. He finished his career as manager of the Chicago Cubs.

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