Frankie Frisch is probably the most important person in the history of baseball who is virtually unknown to most modern fans. But his impact on the national pastime was tremendous.
In college, Frisch he was one of the most famous athletes in the country, starring in four sports at Fordham University, where he earned the moniker “The Fordham Flash.” When he signed with John McGraw’s New York Giants at the age of 20 it was a huge story, sort of like a blue chip quarterback getting drafted today. Frankie immediately made an impact, sparking the offense for the G-Men. Within a year, McGraw made Frisch team captain, and he essentially served as a manager on the field the remainder of his career. When he was traded to the Cardinals it was for Rogers Hornsby, arguably the greatest right-handed hitter of all-time. Frisch received MVP votes in nine of 12 seasons from 1924-1935. He won the award in 1931.
Everyone likes to use the word gritty to describe athletes who are determined. But Frisch really was. He literally played the game in the dirt: he had a habit of tossing dirt on his hands when he was preparing to hit, and he typically looked like a coal miner by the time a game was finished.
Frisch was a daring runner, he was known for running out from under his cap. He also insisted on throwing his body in front of ground balls and line drives. His chest (and even his face) were often bruised by baseballs he blocked from getting into the outfield. When an opposing infielder noted that it was dangerous, Frisch was unimpressed. “The heck with technique,” Frisch said, “the idea is to get the ball.”
Success as a field manager
In 1933, Frankie Frisch became player-manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, whom he guided to a World Championship the following season. He was the second baseman for the National League in the first three All-Star games and he was among the highest paid players in the league for much of his career. The force of his personality helped form the attitude of the National League as the best of the two leagues, an opinion that players maintained for decades after Frankie was no longer in uniform.
“I was a better manager with a good club than a bad one,” Flash once said. “Better because I always wanted to win so badly, and couldn’t stand defeat or bad baseball.” Frankie was a world champion three times as a player, and once as a player-manager.
Like Eddie Collins, Frisch was at his best in the postseason. He was a key player in eight World Series. In the 1922 Fall Classic against the Yankees he batted .471 with eight hits in five games. The next fall he punished Yankee pitching again to the tune of .400 (10-for-25) in six games.
Frisch was a strong-minded fighter, but also a funny character. One of his best friends was Casey Stengel: the two men had been his teammate on the Giants in the 1920s. Once, when Stengel was struggling as manager of the woeful Braves, he was hit by a taxicab while walking in the street. While Stengel mended in the hospital, Frisch sent him a telegram:
“Your attempt at suicide fully understood. Deepest sympathy you didn’t succeed.”
Following his retirement as a player at the age of 38, Frisch managed for over a decade. He never had the same success as strictly a manager, but he still had a .514 winning percentage for his career. Having cut his teeth under John McGraw and Bill McKechnie, Frisch understood how to manage a dugout and a clubhouse. He also knew how challenging the job was. Asked once to give his advice for young managers, Frisch said, “Stay away from firearms and don’t room higher than the second floor.”
In 1947, Frankie was elected to the Hall of Fame. As a Hall of Famer he was hugely influential in the voting process of the veterans committee for years. Frisch outlived most of his enemies, and as the years passed he slipped several of his former teammates into the Hall of Fame. The list of Frisch inductees includes Dave Bancroft, Chick Hafey, Jesse Haines, George Kelly, Rube Marquard, Ross Youngs, and Jim Bottomley. These inductees are among the very worst in Cooperstown, and Frisch should be blamed for them, but he still deserves to be remembered as a brilliant second baseman, a World Champion as a player and manager, and historic figure in the game.