Frisch, Frank Francis ("Frankie")

views updated

FRISCH, Frank Francis ("Frankie")

(b. 9 September 1898 in Queens, New York; d. 12 March 1973 in Wilmington, Delaware), baseball second baseman for the New York Giants and St. Louis Cardinals; manager for the Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Chicago Cubs; broadcaster for the Boston Braves and New York Giants; and Baseball Hall of Fame inductee.

Frisch was the second of four sons of Franz Frisch, a wealthy lace linen manufacturer, and Katherine Stahl, a homemaker. After graduating from Fordham Preparatory School in 1916, Frisch attended Fordham University, where he was a sprinter on the track team and captained the basketball, baseball, and football teams, earning the halfback's position on Walter Camp's All-American second team in 1918. After his sophomore year in 1919, Frisch signed with the New York Giants, managed by John McGraw, a strict disciplinarian and fiery leader who was a future Hall of Fame member. McGraw liked Frisch's scrappy play and taught his protege the physical skills, mental toughness, and strategies that would contribute to Frisch's success as a player and manager.

The Giants won four consecutive National League pennants between 1921 and 1924, and the World Series Championships in 1921 and 1922, in large part because of Frisch's hitting, base running, and fielding. In 1921 Frisch hit .341, led the National League with 49 stolen bases, and batted .300 in the Giants' World Series victory over the New York Yankees. In 1922 he hit .327 against the league and .471 against Yankee pitchers as the Giants again captured the World Series. Frisch enjoyed one of his best offensive seasons in 1923, leading the league in hits (223) and total bases (311) and reaching career highs in batting average (.348) and home runs (12). In 1924 Frisch hit .328 and tied for the league lead with 121 runs while serving as captain and receiving a team-high salary of $17,500.

Although Frisch, who threw right-handed, played third base and shortstop, second base was his main position. Despite permanent injuries to his right hand, Frisch, who stood five feet, eleven inches tall and weighed 165 pounds, displayed the quickness and range that made him one of the finest defensive second basemen of his era, attaining the highest fielding percentage for National League second basemen in four seasons. Dubbed the "Fordham Flash" by sportswriters, Frisch stole 419 bases in his career. A natural left-sided batter, Frisch used an awkward cross-handed grip when batting from the right side, but McGraw worked with him to adopt the traditional hand-over-hand grip. Frisch became one of the finest switch hitters in baseball history, hitting .300 or above in thirteen seasons.

Frisch hit a respectable .331 in 1925, but the Giants slipped to a distant second-place finish behind the Pittsburgh Pirates. Although the highest-paid Giant player for three consecutive years, Frisch, who suffered financial losses when the Florida land boom collapsed, held out for more money, reporting late to spring training in 1926. The unsuccessful holdout and the Giants' poor season probably contributed to the strained relationship between Frisch and McGraw. After the 1926 season the Giants traded Frisch, who hit .314, to the St. Louis Cardinals for Rogers Hornsby, a future Hall of Fame second baseman, who had also fallen out of favor with management.

Though the Hornsby trade angered St. Louis fans, Frisch won them over with his fiery, competitive play in 1927. He led National League second basemen in fielding percentage and assists and set a major-league record for second basemen by handling 1,059 chances. Offensively, he hit .337, led the league with 48 stolen bases, and struck out only 10 times in 617 at bats, setting the major-league record for fewest strikeouts in a season by a switch hitter. The Cardinals won National League pennants in 1928 and 1930. In 1931 Frisch was named the league's most valuable player, leading the league with twenty-eight stolen bases and the Cardinals to the World Series championship. He considered this the best team of his career. Frisch became manager in 1933 and continued to play second base. In 1934 he led the hard-playing, colorful players known as the "Gas House Gang" to a World Series championship. He managed the Cardinals through 1938, followed by stints with Pittsburgh (1940–1946), and the Chicago Cubs (1949–1951), but never managed another World Series winner.

Frisch worked as a baseball radio announcer in Boston in 1939, a radio announcer for the New York Giants from 1947 to 1948, and a radio and television announcer from 1952 to 1956. His wife, Ada E. Lucy, whom he had married in 1923, died in 1971. They had no children. In June 1972 he married Augusta Kass. Frisch, an avid gardener who listened to classical music, died from critical injuries suffered in an automobile accident. He is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.

During his nineteen-year career Frisch's competitive nature and well-rounded play contributed to his teams' winning eight National League pennants and four World Series championships. Known as a clutch hitter capable of putting the ball into play, Frisch achieved a career batting average of .316 and was one of the most difficult batters to strike out in baseball history, fanning only 272 times in 9,112 plate appearances—an average of one strike out every 33.5 at-bats. Considered one of the best second basemen of his era, Frisch led the National League in stolen bases three times and was selected the league's Most Valuable Player in 1931. Frisch played in the first two All-Star games in 1933 and 1934, stroking the National League's first home run in each contest. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1947.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, has a file on Frisch containing clippings and original documents. Frisch's autobiography, Frank Frisch: The Fordham Flash (1962), covers his long career as a player and manager. Bob Broeg, The Pilot Light and the Gas House Gang (1980), provides stories and anecdotes about Frisch and baseball players, managers, and executives who influenced his career. Leonard Koppett, The Man in the Dugout: Baseball ' s Top Managers and How They Got That Way (1993), discusses Frisch's managerial style. Obituaries are in the New York Times (13 Mar. 1973), and the Sporting News (24 Mar. 1973).

Paul A. Frisch