Simeon baseball coach Leroy Franklin will retire after the 2013 season. After a little nudging and cajoling, he admits he is 70 years old. He isn't into fishing or hunting. Instead, he'll gather his grandchildren and go watch his former players compete in college.
"Why retire? I can't do it forever," Franklin said."I've done a real good job and it's time for me to go. I promised myself that I'd go out with the class of 2013.
"It's tougher to coach today. There are so many distractions, so many gang problems, so many other issues. I'm not from Chicago. This is a town where you have basketball, basketball, basketball. When I grew up in New Orleans, we played football, basketball and baseball and ran track. But in most schools in Chicago, kids are just playing basketball."
At Simeon, where the football and basketball teams have ranked among the most successful in the state since 1981, the year that Franklin became head baseball coach, he hasn't had to take a back seat to anyone. He has carved a niche for himself and built an identity for his program.
Since 1981, Franklin has won over 80 percent of his games, over 700 victories in all. His teams finished fourth in state in 1983, 1990 and 1998.They have won seven Public League championships, including 2012, and finished second on eight occasions.
He has produced 25 players who have been selected in the major league draft, including catcherpitcher Blake Hickman this year. Three were drafted in 1984 and 1989, four in 1990. Wes Chamberlain was his only major leaguer. Jeff Jackson was the Player of the Year and the fourth overall pick in the1989 draft. Shawn Livesey was picked in the first round in 1991. Two current underclassmen, Darius Day and Corey Ray, project to be future draftees.
Jackson was a five-tool player and, skill-wise, the best Franklin ever produced even though Chamberlain had a six-year career in the major leagues with the Phillies and Red Sox. Jackson spent nine years in the minor leagues but never managed to earn a spot on a major league roster.
"I'm very disappointed that Jackson didn't make it to the major leagues," Franklin said. "As a pro, you have to eat and sleep baseball, no time off. You have to think baseball every day of the year."
More importantly, in his view, at least 60 of his former players went on to play baseball in college and graduated with degrees. Assistant coaches Robert Fletcher and Reginald Barker are former players and college graduates. Five members of his current squad recently were inducted into the Simeon chapter of the National Honor Society.
Franklin's formula for winning wasn't copied from a book on nuclear physics. He simply played the best players, whether they are freshmen or sophomores or juniors or seniors. No favorites. If you are disciplined, work hard, show up for class and practice and have a love for the game, you'll earn a spot on his roster.
"Allen Iverson couldn't have played for me," he said, referring to Iverson's one-time comment that he didn't take practice seriously. "If you don't practice, you don't play."
He stresses discipline, hard work, practice and fundamentals. He coaches in stations...bunting, hitting, throwing, pitching, catching, and running. He gets all of his kids involved in the drills and instills in them, that each of them, can be the best. They might not be, he admits, but they must try to be the best.
"The reason we won all these years is I played the best kids," he said."I made it clear there were no favorites. You have to have discipline. You have to do as well as you can in school. You must want to play the game. And we encourage them to go to college. If you are doing those things, you can't go wrong."
That's the way Franklin was raised in his native New Orleans. He made his high school baseball team but didn't play very much, mostly in the summer. At Grambling State, he majored in physical education.
"Most of my high school buddies played baseball at Grambling. I had a scholarship offer to Xavier University in New Orleans but they said to me: 'Why don't you come along?' I was young and foolish and having fun. I did the right thing. I stayed in school and graduated," he said.
After graduation, a friend persuaded him to go to Chicago. He got a teaching job at Betsy Ross elementary school on the South Side. In 1975, he was asked to coach the fresh-soph baseball team at Simeon. He was elevated to the head coaching position in 1981. When he looked around him, with Al Scott coaching football and Bob Hambric coaching basketball, Franklin knew Simeon was on its way to building a monster of a sports program.
"The main thing to be successful is to get kids and be organized," he said. "You've got to get kids who want to do their schoolwork and are disciplined and work hard and want to be something. You can find them. I've had kids who were troubled and had personal problems and we worked with them and they ended up doing well in school and went to college and graduated."
"I always want to help kids, not give up on them, keep them off the streets, keep them in school. I was raised that way. I know it's tougher today because of so many distractions. But I encourage kids to play all sports. But don't forget about baseball. I remind them not to just play baseball but you're playing to get to college."