Over 15 seasons of managing in the minor leagues, Tony Franklin has accomplished quite a bit.
He’s won 925 out of 1,755 games, good for a .527 winning percentage.
He’s taken seven of his teams — including three of his four Thunder squads — to the playoffs.
And in three of those postseasons, he’s guided his club all the way to the top — in 2007 and 2008 with the Thunder, and in 1993 with the Midwest League’s South Bend White Sox.
Most important, however, is his track record of sending players to the show.
Since he joined the Thunder in 2007, Franklin has sent 39 players to the major leagues, including names like Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Mike Dunn, Ian Kennedy and Andrew Brackman, his most recent graduate.
Still, after a decade and a half plying his trade, there’s still something he dearly desires: A chance to join his former charges at the next level.
“It’s basically what I got in this for,” Franklin said before Game 2 of the Eastern League Championship Series, “like all the players, the broadcasters, the newspaper guys, you want to go to the highest point of your profession, and I want to do the same. That’s why I continue to do this.”
The major problem for Franklin is simple: Outside of the cities in which he’s managed, nobody really knows his name.
He never made the major leagues as a player, and only coached in the show for a brief period while the position’s normal holder was ill. Because of this, his name never really comes up when an opportunity arises.
And he’s perfectly aware of this situation.
“Outside of the Yankees, I think I’m under the radar,” he said, “and I’ve been under the radar for a long, long time.”
Using that example, when a vacancy opens up after the season, even with all good work Franklin’s done in his career, there is virtually no chance that he would get an interview.
“They’d call (Lou) Piniella, (Bobby) Valentine and the (Buck) Showalters, and my name would probably never get mentioned,” Franklin opined.
It’s this recycling of managers, no matter their level of success, that frustrates the Thunder’s skipper more than a little bit.
He knows that if you’re not a big name already, there’s a good chance that you never will be, especially given the highly cyclical nature of power that exists today within professional sports.
“People have to know you,” he said. “They have to know you, so unknowns don’t get as much play as people who are lesser known.”
As was mentioned earlier, Franklin has plenty of laurels on which to rest. That said, were he to pitch himself to a major league club, he’d prefer to do it with glowing testimonials from his former players.
One example is pitcher Ivan Nova, who made his major league debut this year. He’s also made a strong case for a spot on the postseason roster, as well as a shot at the fifth starter’s job once spring training rolls around.
Nova made a dozen starts with Trenton in 2009, and points to a particularly bad one in Bowie when Franklin taught him that bad outings will happen, and the best thing you can is to use what you learned that day when your next turn comes around.
“When I went into the dugout (after being removed), he said the same thing: ‘Keep looking forward. That happens in the game. I know sometimes you’ll feel bad, but you’ve got to take that away, work hard and keeping moving forward.’”
Former Thunder players Kevin Russo and Eduardo Nunez were also in the Bronx that day, and the pair also had kind words for their former skipper.
Nunez, who put himself on the map with a boffo 2009 as the Thunder’s shortstop, said that Franklin provided a guiding hand throughout his first foray into the upper levels.
“He told me all the time that the most important thing is consistency every day, working very, very hard,” Nunez said. “He’s a great manager, a great friend, too. He helped me out with everything.”
What Russo, who collected his first big league hit in late May, remembers is a players’ manager.
“He was very laid back, just let his players play. He obviously keeps winning there, so he must doing something right.”
Of course, he’s not beloved by everyone. When former Thunder catcher Kyle Anson retired before the season, he said that Franklin’s return to the team was one of his primary reasons behind the move.
“I didn’t enjoy playing for Tony Franklin whatsoever,” Anson explained. “When I found out he was returning, I took it as a sign from God.”
Anson was an exception, however, and stood in sharp contrast to one of Franklin’s most successful former players.
Phillies lefty Jamie Moyer, who was part of Franklin’s Geneva squad in the New York-Penn League in 1984, remembers Franklin as fiery, especially with younger players.
But that fire always came with a purpose, Moyer says, and it’s helped him get where he is today.
“When he needed to put his foot down, when he needed to get a point across, he got it across. Whether people liked it or not, it didn’t really matter. The way I took it all is that he was trying to bring the best out of you, as an individual and as a team.”
Moyer continued his praise, saying that perhaps Franklin’s lessons took time to sink in, especially for a 21-year-old just getting his feet wet in the pros.
“For me he was very good, as a young player, because he pushed you, he drove you, but all in all he’s just trying to teach you the game,” Moyer explained. “I probably didn’t realize that in the very beginning, but I think the more time I spent with him, I started to understand.”
Franklin is open to returning to the Thunder’s helm for a fifth season, but if the words from Moyer, Nova, Nunez and Russo get around, he might not have to.
— Josh Norris is The Trentonian’s Thunder beat writer. Reach him at 609-989-7800 ext. 296. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @jnorris427.
Labels: Tony Franklin, Trenton Thunder