The life of a minor-league manager is far from glamorous, but short of holding a similar position in the big leagues, there is little else Tony Franklin would rather do. Currently in his fourth season at the helm in Trenton—the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate—Franklin has been in the game since 1970 when he began his professional career as an infielder in the Reds’ organization. He began his coaching career in 1979 in the Orioles system, and his first managerial job came in 1982 with the short-season Geneva Cubs. Franklin skippered the Thunder to Eastern League titles in 2007 and 2008.
David Laurila: What is the life of a minor-league manager like?
Tony Franklin: Long, like mine. I’ve been in the minor leagues for 40 years and I’ve managed for 12, 13, 14 years—I forget how many years I’ve managed. Time tends to go by pretty quickly. But it’s no different than major-league managers except that it’s just at a lower level. You prepare the same way that major-league managers do. You try to teach the kids the way the game will be played at the major-league level, because that’s where they’re trying to be. You try to do things as close to what the major-league players and managers do as you possibly can, so that when the players get there they’re familiar with their surroundings. We are lucky here with the Yankees. We send a lot of kids over to the major-league level during spring training. They get a chance to see it and play games with the major leaguers, and that makes my job a little bit easier. The one thing that all the players come back with when they go over there is—they say, "I had no idea how hard those guys work." They recognize that it takes a lot to be a good major-league player. So, I try to stay in line with what the major-league managers and coaches do.
DL: How much responsibility do you have for the players once they leave the ballpark?
TF: I think that it is all-encompassing. I don’t view myself as just a manager of baseball. There are a lot of things that happen during the course of the year that you have to kind of touch on from time to time. Those are life lessons. Baseball, as much as it is a game, is a life lesson. I’m here as a leader; I’m supposed to be in a leadership capacity and so are my coaches. I think that our role goes far beyond the baseball field and it’s our job to set an example for the club, not only as baseball people, but as leaders of men and fine character.
DL: What are you able to do to help keep them healthy, nutrition included?
TF: You do what you have to do. We talk about a lot of issues and about a lot of things that are going to happen over the course of the season. We talk about nutrition, we talk about rest, we talk about conditioning, we talk about the pitfalls of being not only a minor-league player, but a baseball player itself. All of those things are bound to arise at some point over the course of their careers. Eating is a big part of helping them to play as well as they can. Nutrition is important. I think they all recognize that and we try to give them enough money that they can eat well, breakfast and lunch. They’re provided a meal here during the course of the day, after the game, which is pretty nutritious and a well-rounded diet. It’s not just all pizza and hot dogs and hamburgers. I think that the kids enjoy a pretty good meal, unlike how it was when I played, when you survived on what you could get. The kids are making a little bit more money now. The league recognizes the fact that food and nutrition is very important to their careers, so they provide them with some pretty good meals here.
DL: Big-league managers are paid well and travel first class. What about minor-league managers and coaches?
TF: This is what we do. We don’t take planes and travel first class, or take charters, but that’s part of the deal. This is the minor leagues, that’s the major leagues. Everybody has a budget to adhere to. I’m not here to spend anybody’s nickels and dimes, because we all need them. It’s been like that for a long, long time. I could tell the minor-league administration, "We need to fly," but I don’t think that’s going to happen. But they make it as comfortable for us as they possibly can. We’ve got videos and whatnot on the bus for entertainment. Guys will play cards on the bus. Let’s face it; it’s not the best of circumstances. We certainly would like to ride in a chauffeured limousine, but the buses we ride on aren’t that bad. We do have a number of people on the bus and that’s the way it is. Some things we have to overcome. After all, the prize is at the major-league level, and that’s part of the incentive to play well and get out of here. There it is. So, it’s not as bad as it seems and it’s not as good as we would like it.
DL: Every player in the minor leagues has a goal of playing in the big leagues. What about minor-league managers?
TF: I think we’re all in this for the same reasons. Why do this if you don’t want to be a part of that major-league scene? That’s what we all got into this game for. Timing is everything. There are guys who ascend to the major-league level at a very quick pace, and it takes some guys a lot longer. Timing is everything; it’s just the circumstances surrounding the game. But the reason that we got into this game as players is because we felt that our ability was such that we could play there. When we retired from playing and became coaches and managers, we felt like we could manage or coach there one day. We continue to do this because that’s still the prize. But I think that the majority of us do this because we like this. We enjoy this and I think we’re pretty good at this. I think that we have something to offer the minor-league players, as well as the major-league players, and we enjoy doing what we do. It’s our chosen career. I chose this career a long time ago and have been blessed to be in the game for about 40 years now.
DL: What is your level of communication with the front office?
TF: It’s open, every day. We talk about everything, every day. There’s a lot that goes into preparing our players here for a major-league career, and most days we talk. We don’t talk every day, but for the most part there’s always communication via e-mail, phone messages, personal conversations, interactions between the coaching staff—the relaying of information from one staff member to another, to the front office. All of those things are happening every day. There’s not a day that goes by where people don’t know what’s going on here. There are game reports after the game, instructional periods—everything. It’s all-encompassing. They have a lot of information about what is going on with your club every single day, and I think it’s pretty vital.
DL: Is your communication primarily with the director of player development and his staff?
TF: It’s with the director of player development, the vice president of the minor leagues, the general manager of the major-league club, the owners of the major-league club—the Steinbrenners—everyone who is involved with this organization, from top to bottom. They need to know and they want to know. They feel that it’s important, just as it is with the major-league club. Everyone is aware of what’s happening with each and every individual, and I think that says a lot about the New York Yankees organization. They are really on top of what is happening throughout the organization every day.
DL: What about the communication you have with players regarding promotions and demotions, some of which may not be seen as fair?
TF: Who says they’re not fair?
DL: In the eyes of some players, personnel moves can be biased.
TF: That’s their eyes. But the organization has the players’ best interests at heart. We’ve got some pretty smart people in this organization that know what they’re doing. I can think back to when I was playing, and I never thought that it was fair, either, but after I was finished playing I kind of figured out that they knew what they were doing. I think it’s fair. I think that we do what is best for the organization, and this is why we continue to win at the major-league level and throughout the minor-league system. We try to do what is best for the player in regard to his career. So, to those who say that it’s not fair, I beg to differ with them. I challenge that wholeheartedly, because when player moves are being made, everyone has input. Not only Mr. Cashman and Mark Newman and Joe Girardi—everyone has input. They talk about the player and they try to decide what is best for the organization and for the player himself. So, I think that it’s very, very fair.
DL: If there are ripples in the clubhouse following a move, how do you address them?
TF: I don’t think there are ripples in the clubhouse. I don’t think that happens; that doesn’t happen. If there is a reason a player wants to know why it wasn’t him, the reason is explained to him. And once you explain why these moves take place, I think that everybody is pretty much fine with what is going on. Let’s face it, we all want to get to the big leagues—there’s no question about that—but once you explain what the organization needs and what they’re looking for, then I think that everybody is on the same page with the moves. There are no ripples in the clubhouse, and if there are ripples in the clubhouse, they’re very, very minute. Disappointment, maybe? Yes, but when things like that happen, sometimes you have to look in the mirror, too, and see what’s going on with you. But there are no ripples. I’ve been here four years and believe me, there have been no ripples in the clubhouse. I think that we handle situations very well and the players understand that. Lord knows, we make a lot of moves within this organization and when they’re taken care of, I think that everyone understands why.
DL: Any final thoughts?
TF: It’s life in the minor leagues. Let me say this: Life in the minor leagues today is a lot different than it was when I played. The conditions are much better, the ballparks are much better, the facilities, the clubhouse—everything has gotten a lot better. It’s getting close to being almost a major-league situation here in the minor leagues. I wish I could have played in this time. I’m talking across the board. I played at every level of baseball in the minor leagues and I’ve managed and coached in the minor leagues for a very long time, and everything has gotten a lot better. Franchises are making much more money, they’re individually owned, and I think that baseball is still on the upswing. I don’t think it’s on the downswing. I don’t think anybody is suffering. Let’s face it, our economy is on a bit of a downturn—everybody has nickels and dimes that they have to count—but for the most part I think this game is well. The players are enthused about being in this game. The prospects of minor-league players looking forward to playing in the major leagues are good. I think there are more opportunities for them to play in the major leagues. And that’s great, because these guys put a lot of work, and a lot of time, into the minor leagues. The reward to play in the major leagues is right there for them. I just hope that they’re lucky enough to get there.