Frankie Frisch

How Frankie Frisch became a Hall of Famer

On January 21, 1947, Frankie Frisch, the starting second baseman and manager of one of the most colorful teams in Cardinals history, was elected to the Hall of Fame.

Frisch was elected alongside pitchers Carl Hubbell and Lefty Grove and catcher Mickey Cochrane. It marked the first time since 1942 that anyone had surpassed the 75% vote total required for Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) voters to elect a player to the Hall.

The balloting that year was conducted under new rules that required voters to have at least 10 years of membership in the BBWAA. Additionally, the Hall of Fame candidates were limited to those who had played since 1921.

Under the new rules, Hubbell drew 140 of the 161 votes (87%). Frisch drew 136 votes (84.5%), Cochrane received 128 (79.5%), and Grove received 123 (76.4%). Pie Traynor received 119 votes, missing the 75% threshold by just two votes.

A native of the Bronx, Frisch was a multi-sport star at Fordham University, where he played football, basketball, baseball, and ran track. As an All-American halfback for Fordham’s football team, Frisch earned the nickname the “Fordham Flash.”

Fordham’s baseball team was managed by Artie Devlin, a former Giants third baseman, and in May 1919 he visited his old friend, Giants manager John McGraw, to offer a recommendation.

“John, I have a ballplayer for you,” he said. “You know I wouldn’t talk about a kid this way unless I sincerely believed it, but this kid is a major-league ballplayer. Right now, I mean.”[1]

Devlin clearly was convincing, because McGraw sent a scout to Fordham to put eyes on Frisch. Three days later, the 21-year-old Frisch signed with the Giants, then joined the team in June.

By August, Frisch was a regular in the Giants’ lineup. In one of his first career starts, Frisch took a sharply hit ground ball off his chest before recovering to throw out the runner.

“That was all I had to see,” McGraw later said. “The average youngster, nervous anyway, starting his first game in a spot like that, would have lost the ball. Frisch proved to me right there that he was the ballplayer I thought he was from the beginning.”[2]

In 54 games, Frisch hit just .226 before raising his average to .280 with four homers, 77 RBIs, and 34 stolen bases in 1920. In 1921, Frisch led the National League with 49 stolen bases and increased his batting average to .341, the first of 11 consecutive seasons in which he hit at least .300. McGraw also recognized Frisch as a leader, naming the young star his team captain.

In that season’s World Series against the crosstown-rival Yankees, Frisch went 9-for-30 (.300) with three stolen bases and five runs scored to help the Giants claim the world championship. Frisch and the Giants won their second consecutive World Series the following year, with Frisch going 8-for-17 with two RBIs and three runs scored in the fall classic.

In 1923, Frisch led all of baseball with 223 hits as he batted a career-high .348 with 12 homers and 111 RBIs. The following year, Frisch placed third in the 1924 National League MVP voting, trailing only Brooklyn pitcher Dazzy Vance and Hornsby after he hit .328 and led the league with 121 runs scored. That fall, he had another impressive World Series performance, batting 10-for-30 (.333) with four doubles and a triple.

Frisch again ranked among the top 10 in the National League MVP voting in 1925, but as the Giants slipped into second place, finishing 8 ½ games behind the World Series-winning Pirates, McGraw was increasingly tough on his captain.

Frisch’s breaking point came in 1926. In a 6-2 loss to the Cardinals at Sportsman’s Park, Frisch went 2-for-4 with a walk to raise his batting average to .313. However, he also made a key fourth-inning miscue that proved costly and drew his manager’s ire.

With the game tied 2-2 with two outs in the fourth inning, the Cardinals had baserunners on first and third. In the Giants’ dugout, McGraw signaled to his players that in the event of a double steal, catcher Paul Florence should throw to third base. Frisch, however, missed the signal, and when the base runner took off for second base, Frisch moved to cover the bag. Unfortunately for Frisch and the Giants, Cardinals shortstop Tommy Thevenow hit a ground ball where Frisch had previously been stationed, pushing across the go-ahead run for a lead the Cardinals never relinquished.

“Everybody on the team got the signal but the captain,” McGraw said.

“Well, I missed the signal,” Frisch admitted.

“And it’s only one of the hundred signs you’ve missed this season,” replied McGraw.[3]

There was talk that McGraw planned to move Frisch to third base and hand second base to 20-year-old Freddie Linstrom, a future Hall of Famer in his own right.[4] Frisch, however, never gave him the opportunity. After complaining of illness to the team trainer,[5] the Giants’ captain packed his bag and checked out of the team hotel without a word to McGraw or his teammates and took a train back to Brooklyn.[6]

Back in St. Louis, McGraw suspended Frisch from the team.

“It will go hard for him unless he turns up very soon with a good excuse,” McGraw said before the next day’s game against the Cardinals. “I can get plenty of ball players, and Frisch is not at all indispensable.”[7]

Will Murphy of the New York Daily News suggested that the Giants’ only solution might be a trade, and reminded his readers that reports earlier in the season suggested McGraw wanted to trade Frisch for Reds second baseman Hughie Critz (the Giants actually acquired Critz in a trade for Larry Benton in 1930).

By August 24, however, McGraw had softened his initial stance toward Frisch’s absence, telling reporters that Frisch had wired him and that he had given Frisch permission to remain in New York to recover.

“I won’t be hard on Frisch. And if he is sick he might stay home,” McGraw said.[8]

Frisch’s complaints of illness appeared to be more than simply an excuse for leaving his team. In the pages of the Daily News, Murphy wrote that “At the time Frisch made this costly leap it was well established that the cause was a sulphurous (sic) bawling out he received from Boss McGraw. Frisch had not been feeling well when his boss cut loose on him and when he reached home he was enjoying a full-grown nervous breakdown from which he has not wholly recovered.”[9]

Frisch remained unwell the remainder of the month. On September 1, he and McGraw spoke for the first time since Frisch left the club. McGraw agreed to lift Frisch’s suspension, but also hit his captain with a $500 fine, the largest bill for any Giants player in recent memory.[10]

“I don’t know what to say,” Frisch said. “Yes, I am going back to the club and take the fine, but I do not feel well enough to play right away.”[11]

Frisch finally returned on September 7 and played the remainder of the season, finishing the year with a .314 batting average, five homers, 44 RBIs, and 23 stolen bases. Nonetheless, his relationship with the Giants was irreparably damaged. On December 20, 1926, just two months after the Cardinals won the first world championship in franchise history, Frisch was traded to the Cardinals for Hornsby, who had served as player-manager on the championship St. Louis squad.

Though Cardinals fans initially despaired to lose Hornsby, Frisch won them over as he spent the next 11 seasons in St. Louis. In his debut season with the Cardinals, Frisch hit .337 with 10 homers, 78 RBIs, and a league-high 48 stolen bases. Though St. Louis finished behind Pittsburgh in the National League pennant race, Frisch led the Cardinals to the NL title in three of the next four seasons.

In 1931, Frisch led the Cardinals to a World Series title over the heavily favored Philadelphia Athletics. Batting .311 with four homers, 82 RBIs, and 28 stolen bases, Frisch was named the National League MVP at season’s end.

Frisch was named player-manager during the 1933 season and guided arguably the most colorful Cardinals team of all-time in the 1934 Gashouse Gang. Led by the performances of Dizzy Dean, Pepper Martin, Joe Medwick, and Leo Durocher, Frisch held together a club filled with powerful personalities. In the final month of the season, the Cardinals surged from seven games back to win the pennant, then beat the Detroit Tigers in a seven-game World Series.

Frisch played the final 17 games of his career in 1937 at age 39. The following year, he led the Cardinals to a 63-72 record before he was fired. After spending the 1939 campaign in the radio booth, Frisch returned to the dugout, managing the Pirates for seven seasons and the Cubs for three.

Altogether, Frisch played 1,311 games for the Cardinals, compiling 51 homers, 720 RBIs, and 195 stolen bases.

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[1] John Heidenry (2007), The Gashouse Gang, PublicAffairs, Kindle Android Version, Page 80.

[2] John Heidenry (2007), The Gashouse Gang, PublicAffairs, Kindle Android Version, Page 81.

[3] Will Murphy, “Captain Frank Frisch Quits Giants,” New York Daily News, August 22, 1926.

[4] Will Murphy, “Captain Frank Frisch Quits Giants,” New York Daily News, August 22, 1926.

[5] Will Murphy, “Captain Frank Frisch Quits Giants,” New York Daily News, August 22, 1926.

[6] Will Murphy, “Captain Frank Frisch Quits Giants,” New York Daily News, August 22, 1926.

[7] Will Murphy, “Captain Frank Frisch Quits Giants,” New York Daily News, August 22, 1926.

[8] “Frisch Gets Leave From McGraw,” New York Daily News, August 24, 1926.

[9] Will Murphy, “M’Graw Slaps $500 Fine On Frisch,” New York Daily News, September 3, 1926.

[10] Will Murphy, “M’Graw Slaps $500 Fine On Frisch,” New York Daily News, September 3, 1926.

[11] Will Murphy, “M’Graw Slaps $500 Fine On Frisch,” New York Daily News, September 3, 1926.