Friday, September 2, 2011

#238 - Fran Healy

Fran Healy - if this is Fran Healy; the body looks right but the face doesn't - gets an action shot. That's Thurman Munson sliding in safely as Healy appears to be still awaiting the throw. This is also the third catcher card - after Fisk and Sanguillen - to get an action landscape shot. In a few years the two guys in the photo would be teammates.

Fran Healy's uncle - also named Fran Healy - was a member of the Gashouse Gang in the thirties so this Fran grew up around baseball and baseball stories. Born and raised in Holyoke, Massachusetts, Fran was signed by the Indians out of high school. Cleveland's plan for him was to get his military hitch over with fast and then have Fran on his baseball way by 19. But Fran had other plans and went to Holyoke College and then American University, playing minor league ball in the summer. The Tribe was generally compliant at first as Fran wound his way over a couple seasons to Double A with not bad numbers, but when the '68 expansion draft came along, they left him unprotected and the Royals snagged him. He would finally pull his military time in the '69 to '70 year and hit close to .290 over that time in Triple A for KC. At the end of the '70 season he was traded to the Giants for Bob Garibaldi. In '71 Fran made the cut and came up as a backup: in '71 to Dick Dietz and in '72 to Dave Rader. Right before the start of the '73 season he returned to KC for Greg Minton.

In '73 and moreso in '74 Healy would assume regular catching duties for the Royals. A big target, he worked well with the young pitching staff, particularly Steve Busby, for whom he caught two no-hitters. Both seasons he had an OBA over .340. In '75 the Royals acquired Bob Stinson and Fran returned to a backup role and early in '76 when Billy Martin wanted to clean his pitching house and needed catching support for Munson, Fran went to the Yankees for Larry Gura. He had a pretty good year as a role guy for the pennant winners, hitting .267, but his real value would be the following year when he got cozy with sometimes truculent star Reggie Jackson and proved to be very adept at soothing the slugger's many moods. His playing time declined substantially in '77 - he also got zero time in either post-season - and a couple games into the '78 season he was offered a broadcasting job with the team. That was it for his playing career and he finished with a .250 average, 20 homers, and 141 RBIs. Fran would remain as a broadcaster with the Yankees through '83 and then move cross-town where he was a Mets broadcaster for 22 years, leaving after the 2005 season to get a gig with MSG Networks, where he currently resides professionally.

Fran's card back is a bit of a yawner. In "The Bronx Zoo" Sparky Lyle had some comedic observations about Healy when he initially started broadcasting, trolling around the locker room with his portable tape recorder. Sparky wasn't totally unsympathetic, however, as he also mused about how difficult the transition must have been: after years of being a trusted sounding board for other players, Fran's status as a media guy made former cohorts suspicious and stories harder to come by.

Healy and Brett missed being teammate by a few days in '76. That will be the key year:

1. Healy and Dock Ellis '76 to '77 Yankees:
2. Ellis and Ken Brett '74 to '75 Pirates.

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