Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Brawl

I’ve mentioned former Detroit Tiger Murray Franklin, my father’s Phi Epsilon Pi fraternity brother, in a few of my posts. “The Brawl” is about the incident for which he’s known best and was featured in Life magazine. I had considered writing about his interesting career but his son Dell has penned an unpublished memoir on the subject, which would basically end up with my poaching much of his work. You can read some of it online in The Rouge Voice ( and in copies of the Voice (now unfortunately no longer published) he was nice enough to send me with a very interesting typewriter-composed cover letter two years ago.

Murray Franklin

Some biographical information first.  Murray Franklin was born on April 1, 1914, and grew up on the northwest side of Chicago. According to Dell, the neighborhood had few Jews, so young Murray often fought his way between school and home, a skill that would come in handy at the end of his professional baseball career. He lettered in soccer and baseball at Schurz High School, then entered the University of Illinois after turning down a scholarship to Northwestern University. He teamed up in the infield at Illinois with Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau and signed a contract with the Detroit Tigers after graduating in 1937.

Franklin made his Major League debut with the Tigers on August 12, 1941, and his first hit, a double as a pinch-hitter for pitcher Tommy Bridges, came two days later at Comiskey Park. My father and fellow Phi Eps were among the 6,434 fans attending the doubleheader. He walked after coming into the game to play shortstop in the nightcap. Franklin played sporadically in 1941 and 1942, then entered the Navy, where he played on the Norfolk Naval Air Station team with Pee Wee Reese before heading for the South Pacific.

Phi Epsilon Pi, 1937
Franklin is 3rd from right, 1st row
My father is 5th from right, 2nd row

Franklin was discharged from the Navy in time for the 1946 season. According to Phi Ep Gus Friesem, the Tigers did not offer Franklin a contract because it gave one to the aging Pinky Higgins, who would be dealt to the Red Sox early in the season after George Kell came over from the Philadelphia A’s. Dell Franklin thinks it might have been due to owner Walter “Spike” Briggs, a devout Catholic who sent rosaries to the clubhouse (but not to Hank Greenberg), keeping some lesser lights over his Jewish father. Taking advantage of the newly formed Mexican League, Franklin signed with Tampico. The Friesems saw him play while on their honeymoon. Gus said crowd control during the game was administered by high-powered water hoses. Franklin also played for Marianao in the Cuban League, where his teammates were Minnie Minoso and Sandy Consuegra and his opponents included Buck O’Neill, Max Lanier, Luis Tiant Sr., Hank Thompson and Connie Marrero (see my earlier blog posts on Thompson and Marrero 

Murray Franklin's Cuban baseball card
Oddly, it is marked "Jewish" on the back

Major League Baseball had barred players who jumped to the Mexican League from returning, but a lawsuit that threatened to overturn MLB’s antitrust exemption resulted in amnesty for all. Franklin turned down an offer to return to the Tigers in 1950 after playing with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) during the previous season. He had moved his family to California and started a shoe-supply business, Dell Franklin wrote me, and was making decent money playing for the Stars. With only 16 American League and National League teams back then, the PCL featured a very good brand of baseball to say the least.

After playing for the Stars and San Diego Padres, Franklin joined the Los Angeles Angels in time for the August 2, 1953, doubleheader vs. the Stars at the Stars’ Gilmore Field (now the site of the CBS studios on Beverly Boulevard). In the 6th inning, Angels pitcher Joe Hatten, who had brushed back Frank Kelleher in the 4th inning, plunked him on the back. Kelleher charged the mound and was ejected, replaced by pinch-runner Ted Beard. After advancing to second base, Beard attempted to steal third, where reports say he was out by at least 10 feet. He went spikes up, cutting the 3rd baseman Franklin in several places and dislodging the ball. Possibly remembering his northwest side days, Franklin came up swinging and the benches emptied.

Ted Beard dislodges the ball from Murry Franklin
Hollywood Stars vs. Los Angeles Angels, Aug. 2, 1953

This ended up as “The Brawl,” later featured in Life’s August 17 issue. Franklin and Beard pummeled each other, and numerous fights broke out. The Angels roster included Gene Baker (who came with the Cubs to be Ernie Banks’ roommate), Bobby Usher (now 85 and a recent interviewee on The Brawl), Cal McLish, Randy Gumpert and Dixie Upright (possibly the most obscure player for the final edition of the St. Louis Browns). The Stars featured Dale Long, Lee Walls, Mel Queen and Bobby Bragan. Eventually, 50 Los Angeles policemen arrived to quell the disturbance, which lasted about 30 minutes. The Stars went on to win the first game, 4-1, and the Angels came back to win game 2, 5-3, despite two errors by Franklin. Beard, who will be 90 in January, did not play in the second game.

The Brawl
Hollywood Stars vs. Los Angeles Angels, Aug. 2, 1953

Murray Franklin retired from baseball after the 1953 season. He passed away on March 16, 1978.  It’s a shame Dell’s A Ballplayer’s Son remains unpublished. It’s a refreshing look at what baseball used to be, when players busted their butts and played injured, even though the stakes were so small. Again, check out the excerpts on The Rogue Voice Web site listed previously.

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