St. Louis Cardinals

Greatest Cardinals No. 32: 2B Frankie Frisch

The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 41-50

Counting down the top 100 Cardinals of all-time, this video features numbers 41-50 on the list.
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Counting down the top 100 Cardinals of all-time, this video features numbers 41-50 on the list.

NOTE: The BND has endeavored to identify an objective list of the top 100 St. Louis Cardinals players of all time, based on statistical formulas developed through sabermetrics. We’ll count down the list daily, player by player, until April 4, the day of the Cardinals’ 2019 home opener. The running list and player bios can be found at bnd.com.

NO. 32: 2B FRANKIE FRISCH

Even as the ticker tapes cascaded on the triumphant Cardinals of 1926, team discord was roiling at the underbelly of the World Series champs.

Unbeknownst to Frankie Frisch, a 29-year-old veteran infielder with a Bronx nose and college education, it would soon be put on him to step into the tense situation and replace the beloved superstar at the center of the turmoil.

Rogers Hornsby had already been the National League batting champion six seasons running and twice its home run king when in the summer of ‘26 — his lone season at the Redbirds’ helm — he managed St. Louis its first championship of the 20th century.

He also managed to alienate just about everybody within earshot of the Cardinals’ clubhouse. Players not only bristled at their manager’s unrealistic expectations, they resented his famously blunt and often public criticisms. General Manager Branch Rickey took issue with the skipper, too, since it was Hornsby who had replaced him in the dugout just the season before.

But “The Rajah” hadn’t crossed the line until he told owner Sam Breadon, in front of the entire team, what he could do with the exhibition game the boss wanted the Redbirds to play on a scheduled off day.

“Hornsby recommended an utterly impossible disposition of the game,” is how sports writer J. Roy Stockton reported the disagreement for the Post-Dispatch.

And, so, five days before Christmas, fans woke up to find a big old lump of coal in their stockings — the Cardinals had dispatched Hornsby to the New York Giants in exchange for Frisch. The St. Louis Chamber of Commerce issued a proclamation rebuking trade of the popular Hornsby while the press skewered Breadon, whose auto dealership was draped by fans with black bunting.

Frisch, meanwhile, had his own feud with Giants manager John McGraw, a fellow New Yorker who held the team captain to his own exacting set of standards. During that same summer of ‘26, Frisch missed a sign from his manager and was issued such a berating in front of his teammates that he stormed out of the dugout and went home. He returned before the end of the season, but the one-time chemistry major at Fordham University knew he and McGraw made a combustible mix.

The switch-hitting Frisch was a proven star in his own right, having batted .321 through eight seasons and been a key player in the Giants’ two world championships. Still, he understood what awaited him in St. Louis as Hornsby’s replacement, so he retreated to snowy upstate New York for the remainder of the offseason determined to get himself in the best physical condition of his life.

He assured Breadon that he’d be prepared to meet the challenge and, true to his word, didn’t take long to make the fans forget Hornsby.

The Cardinals fell back to second place in 1927, but Frisch batted .337/.387/.472 with 112 runs scored and a league-high 48 stolen bases. He also set a big-league record for most assists by a second bseman (641) that still stands. He was runner-up to Pittsburgh’s Paul Waner in the Most Valuable Player vote, while Hornsby finished third.

St. Louis won National League pennants in 1928 and 1930 with the “Fordham Flash” — the nickname that referenced both his speed and college alma mater — at second base. The Cardinals then exacted their revenge on Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, repaying their six- game World Series beat down in 1930 by winning the championship in seven games the year after.

Frisch was the National League’s MVP.

32 Frankie Frisch and Breadon.jpg
Frank Frisch, left, player-manager of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sam Breadon, owner of the club, looking over the Cardinals during their workout at the Bradenton Fla., camp on, March 10, 1934. ( AP Photo) ASSOCIATED PRESS

Two seasons later, with 62 games left and the team stuck in fifth place, Cardinals manager Gabby Street was fired and replaced by Frisch, who gladly accepted the helm of an often incorrigible but always competitive cast of characters. The Gas House Gang could be a handful, notably third baseman Pepper Martin, who once water bombed his skipper from the third floor of a Chicago hotel.

But the Cardinals won 21 games in September to catch the Giants and win the pennant in the last series of the 1934 season. For his part, Frisch, still the everyday second baseman at 36, batted .305/.359/.398 with 75 runs batted in and 74 more scored. Then he managed St. Louis to a seven-game World Series win over the Detroit Tigers.

Frisch was the Cardinals second baseman until 1937, when rookie outfielder Terry Moore convinced him his playing days were over by nearly running him off the base paths as both tried to score. He retired as a player with a .316 career average — which is still the best all-time for a switch-hitter — to go with 2,880 hits, 1,244 RBIs, 1,532 runs and 419 stolen bases.

With two weeks left in the 1938 season, Frisch was ousted at the Cardinals manager. By the time he returned to the dugout as skipper of the Pittsburgh Pirates and, later, the Chicago Cubs, he had earned the dual reputation as being as tough as McGraw and as theatrical as his Gas House Gang teammates. He was ejected from a game once for delivering an umbrella to an umpire who refused to call a game in a downpour.

The Baseball Writers Association of America voted Frisch into the Hall of Fame in 1947.

SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1927-1937

KEY STATS

.312/.370/.423 with Cardinals | 3x All-Star | MVP ‘31 | 2 WS rings | 32.6 WAR | HoF ‘47

TOP 100 SCORE: 3.75

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BND Assigning News Editor Todd Eschman has won numerous state and regional awards for his columns, feature stories and news reporting. He was born and raised in Belleville, attended SIU-Carbondale, and is a member of the BBWAA, SABR and St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame.
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