R.I.P. to Frank Lucchesi, whose 40+ career in professional baseball included a long run as a minor-league manager and three stints as a manager in the major leagues. He died on June 8 at the age of 92. Lucchesi managed the Philadelphia Phillies (1970-72), Texas Rangers (1975-77) and Chicago Cubs (1987).
Frank Lucchesi was born in San Francisco on April 24, 1927. He attended Galileo High School there — the same school that the DiMaggio brothers attended — and started his minor-league playing career in 1945 with the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League in 1945. Honorably discharged from the Army, Lucchesi played in 60 games and hit .246 while learning to play the outfield. He had been an infielder up to that point.
He hit .259 for the Salem Senators in 53 games the following season, as a broken ankle cut his playing time. Lucchesi stayed on the West Coast for the next few years, playing everywhere from Victoria, British Columbia to Bisbee, Arizona. He hit around .260 in two seasons with the Ventura Yankees and showed a little pop in his bat with 8 homers for the Twin Falls (Idaho) Cowboys in 1950.
In 1951, Lucchesi was named manager of the Medford (Oregon) Rogues of the Far West League. At the age of 25, Lucchesi was young to take on the dual responsibilities of playing and managing, but he was recommended for job by Yankees Western scout Joe Devine. Lucchesi would later relate that the scout pulled him aside one day and said, “The only way you’ll ever make it to Yankee Stadium will be on the back of a post card. But I think you have the stuff to be a manager.”
The youngster led the team to a 47-67 record in his inaugural season as the skipper while hitting .277 as a shortstop. As his managing career progressed, Lucchesi played less frequently, getting his final playing appearance in 1957 with the High Point-Thomasville Hi-Toms. Oddly, his best years as a player came while he was managing; he hit .333 with 15 homers for the Pine Bluff (Arkansas) Judges while guiding them to a 65-60 record.
For his 13-year playing career, Lucchesi had 1,123 hits for a .277 average. While there aren’t stolen base stats for much of his career, he had 12 thefts with Pocatello in 1955, so he had some decent speed.
Lucchesi quickly became a top manager in the Philadelphia Phillies’ farm system. From 1955 to 1964, his teams had a +.500 winning percentage. He won pennants with his teams from 1960 through 1962. Not even getting struck in the head with a liner while throwing batting practice in 1954 stopped him — though it did require brain surgery. Along the way, be saw many future stars work their way up through the system, including Ferguson Jenkins and Dick Allen. Allen was the first African-American ballplayer for the Arkansas Travelers in 1963 and endured abuse from his hometown fans, even as he was their star ballplayer. An article from 1969 indicated that he blamed Lucchesi for his problems in Arkansas, but no examples were offered.
Lucchesi, for his part, said exactly what the Phillies should do with their troubled star. “You fine him but you don’t lecture him,” he told the Philadelphia Daily News in 1969. “You bring him into the office and you say that will cost you $10. And that’s it. If you start to ask him why he does the things he does, then he acts like he’s in prison.”
Lucchesi, who was described as having “a face full of lumps and a voice that sounds like a pool cue being chalked,” was managing the Eugene Emeralds of the Pacific Coast in ’69. The Phillies, on the other hand, went 63-99 and went through managers Bob Skinner and George Myatt. The team turned to Lucchesi to turn around the team, signing him to a two-year deal for 1970 and 1971.
“I am going into this job very optimistically,” he said during his introduction. “I’m not making any predictions, but let me say this: I think there’s only one man who was more optimistic than Frank Lucchesi. That was General Custer at Little Big Horn who told his men, ‘Don’t take any prisoners.'”
Considering how things turned out for Custer, that was probably not the best comparison.
Of Allen, Lucchesi deflected talk about his treatment in Arkansas, saying, “A ball player can’t be mistreated when he’s voted most popular on the team and is given a new suit.” We’ll never know how the two would have interacted, because Allen was traded to the Cardinals in October 1969 in an infamous trade that was supposed to have brought Curt Flood to the Phillies.
The two would engage in a war of words when Allen and the Cardinals returned to Philadelphia in 1971. Allen said in an interview, “They take a guy with more talent than anyone else on the club, and they ship him out instead of a manager with no major league experience, a manager who hasn’t proven himself.”
Lucchesi, for his part, responded, “If he ever pops off again I’m going to rip him in print. He better keep his mouth shut because there’s more I can say about Richie Allen than he can say about Frank Lucchesi.”
The 1970 Phillies finished in fifth place with a 73-88 record. Lucchesi had to deal with a fair share of mishaps. He lost catchers Tim McCarver and Mike Ryan to broken hands — in the same inning. But Lucchesi was praised as the manager, particularly for his communication skills.
“Frank takes an interest in everybody,” said shortstop Larry Bowa. “He’ll do little things, thoughtful things, that I don’t think other managers do for their ballplayers.” Bowa was struggling rookie in the minors when Lucchesi gave him a much-needed confidence boost. “You really couldn’t ask for a better manager,” he added.
The ’71 Phillies were even worse, with a 67-95 record, but Lucchesi was given a one-year contract extension. When the 1972 team stumbled to a 26-50 start, Lucchesi was fired and replaced with GM Paul Owens, but he was kept on the payroll on “special assignment.” He left the team to join the Texas Rangers coaching staff in 1973. He served as third base coach until the Rangers fired Billy Martin on July 21. Lucchesi got his second chance to manage, and the Rangers went 35-32 with him at the helm after going 44-51 for Martin.
The low point in Lucchesi’s career, not to mention player-manager relations in general, came on March 28, 1977. The Rangers Lenny Randle, upset at losing his second baseman job to rookie Bump Wills, approached Lucchesi during a Spring Training practice. After a few minutes, Randle punched him several times and continued hitting Lucchesi even after he fell to the ground. The 49-year-old manager was hospitalized with a broken cheekbone and back injuries. Randle was suspended and traded to the Mets in short order. Lucchesi would later sue Randle for damages; the case was settled out of court.
Lucchesi recovered from his injuries and had the Rangers at an even 31-31 mark before he was fired. The team had underperformed, management felt. Lucchesi, who was aware of rumors in the days leading up to the termination, was hurt but not bitter.
“We were four games out of first place,” he said. “I’m surprised it happened this way, surprised some people would panic. I sure hope I got good relations with the players.”
Lucchesi would return to coach the Rangers in 1979 and 1980, and his last management role came in 1987, after Gene Michael quit as the Cubs’ skipper. Lucchesi, who had been working as the Cubs’ “eye in the sky” scout, agreed to lead the Cubs through the final 25 games. The team, which had MVP Andre Dawson and not much else, staggered to an 8-17 finish.
In his 7 seasons as manager, Lucchesi had a 316-399 record. He managed the Nashvlille Sounds for a couple of seasons and left in 1989. His minor-league record was 1,678-1,519. All total, he spent 30 years managing in baseball. He is the answer to this trivia question: Who was the last Phillies manager in Connie Mack Stadium and the first one in Veterans Stadium?