JOLIET – When Chris Franklin was busy being a three-sport athlete at Morris Community High School in the late 1990s, being a general manager wasn’t on his radar. Eventually becoming the general manager of the Joliet Slammers certainly was not on his mind. Franklin was more concerned with the task at hand, which was winning whatever game he was involved in.
As his college baseball career progressed at Blackburn College, however, the shift of interest toward the front office started to take shape.
Franklin, who graduated from Morris in 1999, was an all-conference performer in 2002 for Blackburn and led NCAA Division III in sacrifice bunts in the 2002 season. Franklin – among the career leaders in many categories at Blackburn – was also named the B-Man of the year in 2003, which is the highest honor in the athletic department at Blackburn. The award recognizes contributions to the athletic department. After his senior season, he went to Prague in the Czech Republic to play baseball with a team of players from America and gave a little thought to trying to hook up with a team over there before reality sunk in.
“Between my junior and senior years, I got an internship with the Kane County Cougars in Geneva,” Franklin said. “It was then that I started really thinking hard about being a baseball front office. I had been playing baseball every summer since I was 10 years old up until then and that was the first summer that I didn’t. I realized that I wanted to be around the game as much as I could, so I decided to try and point my professional life in that direction.”
Franklin said his big break came in 2006, when, armed with a degree in public administration, he landed a job in the ticket sales office for the then-Joliet JackHammers. With the Hammers, he formed a solid relationship with general manager Steve Malliot and, when Malliot decided to leave and take over the Frontier League team in O’Fallon - the River City Rascals - Franklin followed.
“I had a real good realtionship with Steve Malliot when I worked in Joliet with the JackHammers,” Franklin said. “He really gave me an opportunity to grow, and when he went down to O’Fallon, I decided to go with him.
“When I was there, I was able to be the general manager for three years, and we were fortunate enough to make the championship series of the Frontier League all three years. That was definitely exciting, but when the chance to come home to the Joliet team came up, I took it.”
Franklin was born and raised in Joliet before moving to Morris before his freshman year of high school. It was there, he said, that his desire for team success was born.
“We try to tell our guys here that team success breeds individual success,” Franklin said. “Scouts come to watch the teams that win. They figure they must have the guys that do things right. So, if your team wins, the individual success follows.
“That’s something I learned way back in high school, playing football for Dan Darlington, Keith Laughary and Denny Steele, basketball for coach Laughary and baseball for Todd Crose and Dave Auwerda and John Darlington. They all told us that winning as a team comes first, and that has stayed with me my whole life.”
Franklin’s high school baseball coach, Todd Crose, is not surprised at Franklin’s success.
“Chris was a silent leader for us back then,” Crose said. “He led by example, but he absorbed everything we put out there. He was a gamer and an overachiever. He was one of the top 10 most-liked kids that I have ever coached. I remember he and Greg Larsen turned 42 double plays in Chris’ senior year when Chris was playing second base. That’s unheard of in high school.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that he has become a general manager, and a good one. He knew he wanted a certain thing in life, and he went out and got it. I am very proud of him.”
Franklin’s role as a general manager on an independent team is a bit different than one on an affiliated club. Franklin leaves the player personnel decisions mostly up to manager Jeff Isom, while Franklin takes care of the business end, dealing with promotions, marketing and getting people into the park. And, in afflilated ball, the minor-league GM usually has to take orders from the big-league club’s GM as far as where a player plays or how much he plays. In independent ball, it’s all on them. Plus, the rosters are much more fluid in independent baseball, as affiliated teams have been raiding independent rosters more and more.
“Since the Major League draft has shortened the number of rounds, that means there are more talented players ending up in independent ball,” Franklin said. “That’s good and bad. It’s good because the talent is improving in our league. But it’s bad because the players are flying out of our league when the affiliated clubs need guys. It’s a balancing act, that’s for sure.”
One thing Franklin likes to see is a few local players on the roster. He can’t always guarantee there will be, but he will try.
“We have open tryouts every spring,” he said. “And, if all things are equal, we will definitely keep a local kid. It helps with attendance and gives the community a better feeling. We are definitely a community-oriented franchise.”