Frank F. Frisch

Inducted: 1976
Born: 1897 - Died:

Frank Frisch was an American baseball player and manager. He played in Major League Baseball for the New York Giants (1919–1926) and St. Louis Cardinals (1927–1937), and managed the Cardinals (1933–1938), Pittsburgh Pirates (1940–1946), and Chicago Cubs (1949–1951). After his retirement, he moved to Charlestown, Rhode Island, where he spent the last 17 years of his life.

Frisch was born in the Bronx, New York, on September 9, 1898, to Franz and Katherine (Stahl) Frisch. Franz Frisch was a prosperous lace linen manufacturer who assumed his son would enter the business after completing his college education. The elder Frisch never imagined that his athletic son would find a different means of earning a living. But the independent-minded young man had other ideas.

Frisch displayed his natural athleticism at Fordham Prep School and Fordham University, where he majored in chemistry. He was a track star (gaining the lifelong nickname the “Fordham Flash”) and captained the football, basketball, and baseball teams. In 1918, Frisch was named a halfback on an All-American football team. The following year, he signed with the New York Giants baseball club and never played in the minor leagues.

Frisch worked out with the Giants in the spring of 1919 and joined the club after graduating in June. Manager John McGraw wanted to send him out for minor-league schooling, but Frisch talked McGraw into keeping him, citing pressure from his father to join the family firm if he was farmed out. McGraw worked intensively with the aggressive Frisch on all aspects of his game. Frisch was a switch-hitter who batted cross-handed from the right side; when he hit right-handed, he kept his left hand above his right hand. McGraw worked with him each morning, teaching him fielding and sliding techniques and how to hold the bat properly.

Frisch made his major-league debut in Chicago on June 17, 1919, pinch-hitting for Hal Chase in the ninth inning and reaching on an error. In August, Frisch took over as the starter at second base. Toward the end of the season, Frisch impressed McGraw when a hard smash took a bad hop and bounced off Frisch’s chest while playing third base in a crucial game. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound rookie pursued the ball and threw the runner out. As McGraw said, “That was all I had to see. The average youngster, nervous at starting his first game in a pennant situation like that, would have lost the ball. Frisch proved right there that he will be a great ballplayer.”

Frisch hit .226 while playing second base, third base, and shortstop during his first season and improved to .280 as a third baseman in 1920. He had played shortstop as a collegian, but McGraw decided he did not have the sure hands or range to excel there. His breakthrough season came in 1921, when he had 211 hits, hit .341, and stole a league-leading 49 bases while splitting the year between second and third. He became a Giants stalwart as McGraw’s club won the first of four consecutive NL pennants. As Bob Broeg, a sportswriter, described his play: “Frisch was tremendous, a whirling dervish of the diamond, knocking down hot smashes with his chest, diving for others that seemed out of his reach, ranging far and wide for pop flies, pawing at the dirt to get a long lead and then stealing bases.” Frisch gave a solid performance as the Giants beat the Yankees in the 1921 World Series. He was the key player, averaging .335 and 196 hits over the next three years while playing almost exclusively at second base.

The energetic Frisch was a slashing switch-hitter who made up for his lack of home-run power with a steady barrage of clutch hits and stolen bases. He was a more consistent hitter when batting left-handed, although he had more power right-handed. Hitting from the left side, he was an adroit bunter, and with his speed, he often drag-bunted for a base hit. He was especially skilled at punching outside pitches to left field. The highly competitive Frisch became a favorite of McGraw, who saw in him a kindred soul, and Frisch was appointed team captain early in his playing career. The two had no problems while the Giants won pennants in the early ’20s, despite the rough McGraw, who traditionally was especially hard on the Giants’ captains. But as the Giants’ performance deteriorated and McGraw became more irritable and frustrated, he singled out his captain. He verbally abused him in the clubhouse after difficult losses with words meant not so much for him as for other members of the team. Frisch bridled at the abuse but took it for the good of the team.

Frisch took a lot of verbal punishment when the Giants lost the pennant to the Pirates in 1925 and to the Cardinals the following year. By late in the 1926 season, he could no longer stand it. After an especially tough loss in St. Louis on August 20 and an especially cruel postgame McGraw diatribe, Frisch left the team the following day and returned home to New York. He returned in early September to finish the season, but his relations with McGraw were beyond healing. He was traded to the Cardinals on December 20, 1926. It was a blockbuster deal, as the Giants gave up Frisch and pitcher Jimmy Ring for St. Louis manager-second baseman Rogers Hornsby. Hornsby, considered by many as the greatest right-handed hitter ever, had just played and managed the Cardinals to a World Series championship over the Yankees. The Cardinals made the trade because of owner Sam Breadon’s irreconcilable differences with Hornsby.

Playing second base for the Cardinals, Frisch appeared in four more World Series (1928, 1930–31, 1934), bringing his career total to eight. He was the driving force of the “Gashouse Gang,” the nickname for the Cardinals clubs of the early 1930s, built around him to reflect his no-holds-barred approach. The Cardinals had won only one pennant before Frisch joined the team; the Giants would win the pennant only once in Frisch’s nine seasons as the Cards’ regular second baseman.

Frisch played eleven seasons with the Cardinals. In 1931, he was voted the Most Valuable Player in the National League after batting .311 with four home runs, 82 RBI, and leading the League in stolen bases with 28. The 1931 Cardinals also triumphed in the World Series, defeating Connie Mack’s defending two-time champion Philadelphia Athletics in seven games. Frisch became player-manager of the Cardinals in 1933 and was named to the NL’s first three All-Star teams from 1933 to 1935. In 1934, he managed the Cardinals to another seven-game World Series victory over the Detroit Tigers.

Frisch finished his playing career in 1937. His career statistics totaled a .316 batting average, with 2,880 hits, 1532 runs, 466 doubles, 138 triples, 105 home runs, 728 walks, and 1,244 RBI over 2,311 games. He was difficult to strike out, fanning only 272 times in 9,112 at-bats, or once every 33.5 at-bats. He also stole 419 bases in his 19 MLB seasons. His hit total stood as the record for switch-hitters until Pete Rose surpassed it in 1977. Frisch also hit .300 for his career from both sides of the plate; the only other switch-hitter with more than 5,000 at-bats with this distinction is fellow Hall of Famer Chipper Jones.

After his retirement as an active player, Frisch continued to manage the Cardinals but could never capture another pennant. Frisch also had managerial stints with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1940–46) and the Chicago Cubs (1949–51), but without his success in St. Louis. Frisch’s career ledger as a manager shows a 1,138–1,078 (.514) mark, including the pennant in 1934. He also spent the first two months of the 1949 season as a New York Giants’ coach, working under his old double-play partner, Leo Durocher, before leaving June 14 to replace Charlie Grimm as manager of the Cubs.

Frisch also worked for several years as a baseball color commentator on radio and television. In 1939, he called games for the Boston Bees and the Boston Red Sox on the Colonial Network, a regional radio network serving five New England states. He also called Giants radio in 1947–48, then worked as a post-game host for the team’s telecasts in the 1950s. His broadcasting trademark was worrying about pitchers walking batters: “Oh, those bases on balls!” After a heart attack in September 1956 forced Frisch to curtail his activities, Phil Rizzuto (recently released by the Yankees as a player) filled in for him on Giants post-game shows for the rest of the season. From 1959 to 1961, Frisch teamed with Jack Whitaker to form the backup crew for Saturday Game of the Week coverage on CBS. The Mosholu Baseball Field in Bedford Park, Bronx, was renamed “Frank Frisch Field” in 1948.

Frisch married Ada Lucy in 1923. The couple had no children. After Ada died in 1971, he married Augusta Kass the following year.

Frisch died in Wilmington, Delaware, from injuries suffered from a car accident near Elkton, Maryland, a month earlier. He was 74 years old. Frisch had been returning to Rhode Island from a meeting of the Veterans Committee in Florida when he lost control of his car. Frisch died in the same manner as other N.Y. Giant Hall of Famers Mel Ott (1958) and Carl Hubbell (1988).

Frankie Frisch was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1947. After no players had been selected by the writers in the previous two years (the only elections since 1942), the rules were revised to limit eligibility to those players who had retired after 1921; Frisch was among the first four players to benefit from the more reasonable field of candidates. In 1999, he ranked 88 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players and was a Major League Baseball All-Century Team nominee.

Several years after Frisch left the playing field as a manager, he became a member of the Hall of Fame’s Committee on Baseball Veterans, which is responsible for electing players to the Hall of Fame who had not been elected during their initial period of eligibility by the Baseball Writers; he later became chairman of the committee. In the years just before his death, several Frisch’s Giants and Cardinals teammates were elected to the Hall; some notable writers, chiefly among them Bill James, have criticized these selections—including Jesse Haines, Dave Bancroft, Chick Hafey, Rube Marquand, Ross Youngs and George Kelly—which include some of the most widely questioned honorees in the Hall’s history. Critics have pointed out that many of these selectees had fewer outstanding accomplishments than those of other players who were bypassed and selected only because of Frisch’s influence.

Frisch is mentioned in the poem “Line-Up for Yesterday” by Ogden Nash:
“Line-Up for Yesterday”
F is for Fordham
And Frankie and Frisch.
I wish he were back.
With the Giants, I wish.
— Ogden Nash, Sport magazine (January 1949)

Years later, Nash added a footnote to this stanza: ” Thanks to Durocher, now everything’s kosher.”

While living in Charlestown with his two hounds named Flash and Patches, Frisch devoted himself mainly to his interests in gardening and classical music. Frank Frisch was inducted into the Fordham University Hall of Fame in 1971 and The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1976. In January 2014, the Cardinals announced Frisch among 22 former players and personnel to be inducted into the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum for the inaugural class of 2014.

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