From Dirt Patch to Diamond

The elder son of Joe and Oleta Franklin, tenant farmers who scratched out a living on a small patch of ground near what now is Hartsburg, Missouri, was born on April 1, 1864.
Franklin led the relatively obscure life of a country youth until fate, and an apparent inability to follow simple instructions, mistakenly placed him on the Union Grounds in midtown St. Louis only two days after his 20th birthday.
Franklin had left his home the previous day by train with instructions from his father to report for a summer job to a Mr. Cass at Jefferson and Chouteau avenues. Instead, he arrived at Jefferson and Cass avenues, the field of the St. Louis entry in the Union Association, and asked for a Mr. Chouteau. Though no such person was available, the team's manager, finding himself a man short, was impressed with the youth's stature and asked him if he could handle himself in the field. Having toiled on a farm all his life, Franklin naturally answered in the affirmative.
His ball­playing career, like the circuit on which he played, lasted but one summer. However, during this time he etched his name forever in the annals of Mr. Doubleday's contribution to organized team sport.
But it was not his overall performance on the diamond that bestowed on him a notoriety denied many another athlete. Instead, it was one momentous occasion that brought his name to the lips of every follower of baseball.

A Singular Event or...."The Play" It was, as one scribe reported at the time, "A singular event." Another writer who obviously preferred a historical tilt, described it as "a maneuver possessing the ability to make the late Colonel Custer's ill­fated foray against the red savages seem, by comparison, a tactical work of art." As time went by it simply became known as "The Play." Forthwith is how a writer for the St. Louis Globe­Democrat saw the events unfold

- "The St. Louis Club was beaten yesterday by the Cincinnatis with the help of what can be described but as an event the likes of which has never before occurred and which has the potential never to occur again. When the event unfolded the Cincinnatis had tallied three times, once more than the home club. "A change in the score seemed imminent during the home club's final bat. Franklin was on second, the fleet­footed Gleason was on first and Dunlap, anxious to show why some call him Sureshot, was at home, awaiting the tiring pitcher's throw. "As hoped for, Dunlap's connection with the ball propelled it far into the outfield and beyond the fielder's grasp. The swat put both runners in motion, as it should, but thereabouts is where reason collapsed. "Displaying the speed for which he is noted, Gleason soon was around second. Next, to his surprise, as much as that of the St. Louis supporters, it occurred to him that he had passed Franklin, who was on his knees in search of some unknown object. While he tried to retreat, the umpire raised a hand to signal him out, as it is unlawful under the rules of the game to pass another runner. "Throughout this incident, Dunlap, who first had watched his clout sail, put his head down and decided it would be a three bagger. Despite several shouts from Gleason, not to mention scores from loyal fans in the gallery, Dunlap, just as Gleason before him, failed to spy Franklin until he was beside him and in a position that made it impossible to stop before passing him. The umpire called this runner out as well. "By this time Franklin had ended his search, successfully, judging from his smiling countenance, and was regaining his footing when the ball was returned by a powerful throw from the fielder. At this juncture Franklin darted away from the Cincinnati pitcher, who had converged on him to take the throw and make the tag. "There still is grave doubt in these quarters that Franklin could have made it to third or back to second. The debate could more easily be settled if he ran to either bag instead of left field, a destination far out of the base path and one which again brought the umpire into the drama. He designated Franklin to be the home club's third and final out. "The assemblage of spectators could have been no more stunned had they been bombarded by some unseen artillery. The entire park was filled with heavy silence as Franklin trotted back to his teammates, who were taken aback no less than their normally vocal supporters. "What was the cause of the affair? An injury or amnesia or a dyspeptic attack would permit some room for understanding. But such was not the case. Franklin had dropped his lucky hound's tooth. But fear not, he found it." Thus is an account of the only unassisted triple play by a runner in baseball history.

Baseball's "Shakespeare" Left His Mark

While The Play certainly says something about Franklin's on­ field contribution to the game, his contributions in other areas have left their mark on the sport for the last century and no doubt will do so for decades to come. In a rare occurrence during the time he was a player, Franklin was known by a wide range of nicknames, perhaps the most frequently used being "Houndstooth" and "Shakespeare." The first, of course, as with the more modern moniker, "Triple Dip," are the result of The Play. Shakespeare, on the other hand, was a flattering tribute to the degree which Franklin influenced the lexicon of baseball. Two notable examples follow Franklin coined the phrase "Let's play until two," a not unwise suggestion given the late afternoon heat in St. Louis. Searching for his own identity many decades later, Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks, after reading several of Franklin's sage comments, molded the phrase for his own use by dropping the third word. The term "battery" also is directly attributable to Franklin, who believed it was unsportsmanlike for a pitcher and catcher to plot strategy against only one player, the batter. This not totally unjustified stance, when coupled with his abiding superstition that it was bad luck to pass up a saloon, led Franklin to enter more than one bout of fisticuffs in drinking establishments near ball fields where opposing pitchers and catchers also imbibed.

Baseball's "Shakespeare" Left His Mark (con't)

After charges of assault and battery were leveled against him in several jurisdictions, Franklin abstained from further altercations by muttering the word "battery" whenever he had the urge to revert to his earlier habit. The term quickly caught on with his amused teammates who then passed it on to other players. Testimony by Franklin's teammates, and others who shared with him a bottle of spirits usually purchased from his salary, also credits the youth with the composition of his sport's anthem, albeit in an earlier and somewhat different form. Never one to deny his fellow players time on the playing field, he frequently was heard singing:

"Take me out of the ball game
"Take me out for a while
"Buy me a bottle of old Black Jack
"I'll sit on the bench and kick ol' Jack back
"Oh, take me out of the ball game."

There is more to the tune but most researchers agree this is enough to establish a case for Franklin's contribution. Further, many observers of the sport argue that Franklin's version of the song, given the nature of the products now most consumed during baseball games, might be more appropriate than the version presently used.

"The Man" Lives On

Franklin's brief but certainly not boring career also has a Ruthian dimension. Frequently, while at the platter, Franklin would hold his bat in outstretched arm in the direction of centerfield, as if he intended to deliver the next pitch to the southeast quadrant of the Mound City and onto an awaiting train at Union Depot. Although there is no record that any of his hits on these occasions left the infield, there is a general belief that famed New Yorker George Herman "Babe" Ruth used this gesture with some success a half­century later. Franklin's exploits on and off the field brought him a following that included a network of fan clubs throughout the country. Although most of these clubs died out as the 20th century wore on, a group of fanatical baseball fans in Brooklyn, New York carried on a club well into the 1950s. Recent evidence suggests that members of this club were sitting near the press box in Ebbets Field in the late 1940s during a game between the hometown Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals. One of the club's older members apparently was explaining how fans of Franklin's era greeted him in the wake of The Play. To convey the proper body language in his explanation, the man stood, coincidentally, just as Stan Musial began walking toward the batter's box. "Here comes the man," the club member said, shaking his head for emphasis, as likely did many a nineteenth century fan who spied Franklin after The Play. A reporter in the press box mistakenly believed the club member was talking about Musial, who had been pounding Dodgers pitching. The writer used the phrase to describe Musial in his story and the rest is baseball history.

Shame On You Nabisco

Any discussion of Franklin also must touch on his business ventures following his career. Although his notoriety proved a pure magnet for fledgling entrepreneurs, he was uncannily attracted to less than successful business enterprises. Few of Franklin's contemporaries will forget the line of wood­burning stoves that carried his name. Unfortunately, the Oren stove factory, as well as many buildings using the appliances, went up in flames when the air holes that were designed to help draw in air also proved to be escape routes for flames. He later attached his name to a confection that, while certainly on the right track, could have benefitted from further development. The Oren, a chocolate wafer encased in a creamy, sweet paste, proved too difficult to handle while eating and nearly impossible to produce under sanitary conditions. The Nabisco Company later marketed the cookie after reconfiguring its ingredients and making an obviously transparent name change. These setbacks, and others unmentioned here, eventually wore Franklin down. He withdrew into obscurity of a post with the city sanitation department and the confines of a cold-water, walk-up flat on the North Side of St. Louis. On April 1, 1904, a year more notable for the opening of the St. Louis World's Fair, Franklin left his flat en route to a nearby saloon where, it is theorized, he intended to abandon his solitude long enough for a liquid salute to his 40th birthday. He had just crossed the Hodiamont streetcar tracks when, according to eye witnesses, he spun around, seemingly looking for something on the ground, and stepped into the path of an oncoming streetcar. Workmen later clearing the gory site of the fatal interlude found a yellow hound's tooth clutched in the victim's hand.

Oren Franklin (1864-1904)
Prepared by Ozark Research Inc.