Cards let Franklin scratch itch to return to baseball
Former reliever has found a role in front office that works with his family needs
ST. LOUIS -- Content with the success gleaned over his 12-year pitching career and eager to return to Oklahoma, where he looked forward to -- in his words -- "being lazy and being dad and never working again," Ryan Franklin retired from the Major Leagues in 2011 with every intention of relegating baseball to the rearview mirror.
He managed to retain that stance for only a few months.
Unexpectedly itching to find a new place in the game, Franklin gave in and made a call to Cardinals senior vice president and general manager John Mozeliak, whose willingness to create a front-office fit that would merge the restrictions created by Franklin's family duties with the needs of the organization has since allowed the former reliever to carve out a niche within the St. Louis front office. Once charged with closing out Cardinals wins, Franklin now offers his say in the building of a roster and the promotion of prospects.
A surprising transition? Most certainly, Franklin admits.
"I had every intention, when I got done playing, to just shut it down completely," said Franklin, a former 23rd-round Draft pick who debuted with the Mariners in 1999. "But when I got done playing and was sitting around and being super dad, I kind of missed it. Now, I'm enjoying myself and doing what I can to help the St. Louis Cardinals."
While eager to see what Franklin could offer to the baseball operations team, Mozeliak had the initial challenge of crafting a mutually-beneficial role. Franklin wasn't interested in leaving Oklahoma, where he is raising four children between the ages of two and 17. That eliminated the possibility of a uniformed position and limited the face-to-face interaction Franklin would have with other members of the front-office staff.
Mozeliak was nevertheless interested in trying to make something work, believing that adding the voice of a former player to his inner circle could only benefit discussion and debate.
"It was really about creating a position for exposure," Mozeliak explained. "In Franky's case, I don't think it was clear what he wanted to do, except that he wanted to be a father and he wanted to be home. There aren't a lot of jobs that are good in that regard, but we tried to be creative in giving him some exposure to international scouting, exposure to the amateur Draft and, given his location, give him the opportunity to drop in to see our [Double-A] Springfield affiliate.
"Now, you hope it's about evolution."
Mozeliak's first request some three years ago was for Franklin to head off to scouting school, a two-week instructional program designed to teach tools used in scouting and writing corresponding reports. Franklin was initially underwhelmed.
"That was something I fought with him about," said Franklin, who saved 84 games and posted a 3.52 ERA over five seasons with the Cardinals. "I told Mo, 'I played 19 years of pro baseball. Are you sure you want me to waste the time with that?' He said to consider it an investment in my future."
As it turns out, Franklin gleaned much, including a better understanding of how to express himself through the written word, something that had not been a natural strength. He also noted developing a greater appreciation for those who came into the business from other non-playing paths.
In three years working within the Cardinals' front office, Franklin has held a variety of responsibilities. The scouting department has used his opinions in evaluating Draft candidates, while Mozeliak also includes him in meetings regarding player procurement.
There have been instances in which Franklin has been sent to a Minor League affiliate on short notice to evaluate a handful of players the organization is considering for promotions. He'll also make scheduled trips to these farm cities to talk mechanics and mentality with some of the club's rising pitching prospects.
"He understands the game" Mozeliak said. "And I think when you have someone who is calibrated at the Major League level, it's understanding the other markets that we spend so much time in that becomes important.
"I think one of his strengths is that he understands that people come in different sizes and have different strengths. He can find what those are. I think he relates to the player side of the business quite easily. It's getting him to understand the other side of the business that he's had to put an extra emphasis on."
That learning curve remains, though Franklin's presence in the Cardinals' Winter Meetings suite, for instance, gave him an intimate look into the how the other side operates. He's learning to enjoy observing the game from that viewpoint, too.
"All the multiple things that Mo has me do are a lot of fun for me," Franklin said. "I have really enjoyed getting involved in all aspects of the game, not just playing. I'm really happy with what they have me doing."
Now, Mozeliak hopes that Franklin wants to do more. The GM is willing to give his former player increased duties and exposure in new areas, but Mozeliak will leave it up to Franklin and his family to determine Franklin's future level of involvement.
Franklin doesn't feign interest in eventually transitioning into a uniformed role or aspiring to head a department in the front office. Then again, he never envisioned being back in baseball at all now -- almost four years removed from throwing his last pitch. Perhaps a time will come again to alter preconceived plans.
"I think he brings balance to our team," Mozeliak said. "Ultimately, it's going to come down to how much time he wants to commit. The more he gets involved, the more responsibility we will give him."