Roger LaFrancois (THE TOPPS COMPANY)

Roger LaFrancois

This article was written by Bill Nowlin


Roger LaFrancois (THE TOPPS COMPANY)The last position player who played with a major-league club for an entire season and hit .400 was not Ted Williams, but it was a fellow Red Soxer: Roger LaFrancois. Roger used to go to Red Sox games as a kid. He signed with the Red Sox and came up in their system, even receiving instruction from Williams during spring training at Winter Haven. In 1982, it all paid off. Roger made the club out of spring training as a backup catcher behind Gary Allenson and Rich Gedman and he spent the full 162-game season with the Red Sox, making every home stand and every road trip. He didn’t miss a game.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get to play in that many of them. The first time he appeared in a game was May 27, and by that time the Boston papers had already begun to run photos of him with captions such as “Day 32: do you know who this man is?” Ralph Houk was from the old school and, as LaFrancois says, “played nine.” He really didn’t utilize his bench the way managers do today. LaFrancois appeared only very briefly. As he approached the final day of the season, October 3, he had only been in seven games, with five at-bats and only a double and a single to show for it. Still, he was batting .400.

Then Houk gave him the opportunity to start the season’s final game, at Yankee Stadium. LaFrancois faced a dilemma like the young Ted Williams had faced in 1941. Should he sit out the game and preserve his .400 average, or should he go for it? “There was a lot of pressure on me that last day, but I didn’t want to sit on my average,” he quipped in a November 2001 phone call. “I decided to play.”1 The game turned out to be an 11-inning affair. He hit a solid single up the middle earlier in the game, then saw his average sink to .333 as the game went into extra innings and he’d gone 1-for-4. He was 3-for-9 on the year, and in his major-league career.

In the top of the 11th, though, the young catcher came up to the plate one more time. A walk would preserve his average at .333, but an out would drop it to a less-distinguished .300. Instead, LaFrancois jumped on a 1-2 Rudy May breaking ball and bounced it over the pitcher’s head for an infield hit. Three batters later, LaFrancois scored what proved to be the winning run on a Rick Miller single. After suiting up for 162 games with the 1982 Red Sox, his average for the year stands in the record books at an even .400.

Roger LaFrancois is perhaps the only ballplayer to both play on the same team as his childhood idol and his idol’s son. LaFrancois played with Carl Yastrzemski on the 1982 Red Sox and with Yaz’s son Mike on the 1985 Durham Bulls.

Roger Victor LaFrancois Jr. was born in Norwich, Connecticut, on August 2, 1956. He was right-handed as a catcher, but batted from the left side. He stood 6-foot-2 and was listed at 215 pounds.

He grew up in Jewett City, a borough in the eastern Connecticut town of Griswold, and played baseball at Griswold High School. Raised near the geographic divide between New York Yankee land and Red Sox Nation, he grew up a Red Sox fan.

“My father was Roger LaFrancois Sr. My dad played pro ball. He was a catcher, too. He was raised in Canada and he came over when he was 4 or 5 years old. His father worked in the mills in Connecticut. My dad played minor-league baseball for several organizations way back when.2 After my dad left pro ball, he raised three children. My brother Ken lives in Canterbury, Connecticut. My sister Linda lives in Preston, Connecticut. We’ve been a very close family over the years. He worked the midnight shift at the Plastic Wire and Cable factory for maybe 30 years. Then he could do baseball umpiring during the day. He coached my American Legion team and watched me play. We had a nice upbringing. I was very fortunate.

“He came from a very small town outside of Montreal, St. Xenon. We have relatives there.”

In an August 2020 interview, he said, “My mom just passed away about a year ago. She was 92. Her name was Leonora.”3

Roger’s father not only worked at umpiring but also refereed basketball. “My dad was very involved with sports. He was a well-known college and baseball umpire; he did Division 1 college games. He was very well-respected in that regard.”4

The Boston Red Sox drafted Roger Jr. out of the University of Oklahoma in the eighth round of the June 1977 amateur draft. How did someone from a relatively small city in Connecticut wind up going to college in Oklahoma? “I was all set to go to either Eastern [Connecticut College] or UConn out of high school, but I played in an NBC [National Baseball Congress] tournament out in Wichita, Kansas. I was 16 years old at the time. I was catching and I had a really good game against one of the Alaska teams — Anchorage or Fairbanks. I ended up throwing out Bump Wills a couple of times and I got a couple of hits. In the stands at the time were the head coach or the assistant coach Gene Stephenson, who used to be at Wichita State. He was the assistant at the time at Oklahoma. There was a couple of other coaches there. He saw my play and next thing you know…I was fortunate. I ended up flying out to Oklahoma and going there on a baseball scholarship. We played in two College World Series while I was at Oklahoma. I had a nice experience out there and ended up getting drafted by the Red Sox.

“I played in the Cape Cod League at the time as well.” In 1975 and 1976 he had played for the Orleans Cardinals in the Cape Cod Baseball League and was a league all-star in 1976.

In 1976, the Oklahoma Sooners fared well in the Big Eight Conference and made their way to the College World Series, where they were eliminated by Arizona. LaFrancois was named to the second-team All-Star team. In 1977, he was the first-team All-Star catcher in the Big Eight Conference.

Danny Doyle was the Red Sox scout who signed him after his third year at Oklahoma.5

After signing with the Red Sox, LaFrancois had one of the briefest stays in short-season Single-A ball a player ever had: one at-bat in one game. He made an out. He had suited up for the Elmira Pioneers of the New York/Penn League. Why just the one at-bat? “The last game I played at Oklahoma, there was a play at home plate and I ended up breaking my left leg. I still got drafted and then I went to Elmira. Dick Berardino was there and Eddie Popowski was one of the coaches there. I wasn’t fully healed yet. I stayed there most of the season but I was just kind of an observer. I only played in that one game. One at-bat. That was my first introduction into pro ball with the Red Sox.”

In 1978, he got off to a more normal start. At age 21, he played in 112 games for the Single-A Carolina League’s Winston-Salem Red Sox. He hit for a .311 batting average with a .374 on-base percentage, homered eight times and drove in a total of 72 runs. He caught in 65 games and played first base in 31.

The Red Sox promoted him to Triple-A Pawtucket for the 1979 season. He appeared in 106 games, but struggled more with hitting, compiling a .230 average (.291 OBP), with five homers and 24 RBIs. He had his opportunities, said manager Joe Morgan at the end of June, but just wasn’t hitting.6 Catcher Dave Schmidt had an excellent year in the Carolina League and his stock rose.

LaFrancois was invited to major-league spring training in 1980 after backup catcher Bob Montgomery required a cortisone shot to manage pain he was suffering. Carlton Fisk was also in an uncertain physical state. The young prospect hadn’t exactly been on manager Don Zimmer’s radar, though. Zimmer said, “LaFrancois? I don’t know much about him. We needed a body. He could be here 10 days. He could be here the rest of the spring.”7 He was, however, considered “a fine catcher technically,” wrote the Globe. Because of his hitting struggles in 1979, however, the Boston Herald had him ranked third behind Gary Allenson and Dave Schmidt.8

At the very beginning of April, he was reassigned to minor-league camp and was placed with the Double-A Bristol Red Sox. He hit .264 in 59 games for Bristol, sharing duties with John Lickert, but Lickert got more time behind the plate, and LaFrancois played in 38 games at first base. Lickert commented, “I think he plays it better than a lot of first basemen.”9 For his part, LaFrancois had already had nearly as many runs batted in over the first 32 games as he had in all of 1979. Discussing his style, LaFrancois said, “I’m very intense. You have good days and bad days but you’ve got to stay with it. And you have to enjoy yourself. Baseball is meant to be fun. I love baseball.”10 He readily acknowledged later that he had been disappointed but said he had never given up — again, citing his love of the game. And he took advantage by working to get better. “There are a lot of things that I did to try to improve myself. I practiced the quick catch drills to help my catching and played a lot of long toss to work on my arm…I kept working on shortening my release time.”11

It paid off. In July, he was promoted again to Pawtucket and manager Joe Morgan said: “I’ve never seen anyone throw better.”12 With the PawSox, LaFrancois got into 62 games and hit .247.

He was a non-roster invitee to major-league spring training in 1981. Assigned to AAA Pawtucket, he hit the same .230 he had hit in 1979. His on-base percentage was a little lower at .271. In 95 games he drove in a paltry 16 runs. He’d been seen, in the words of Peter Gammons, as “the backup catcher to the ‘prospects.’”13 Once again, LaFrancois sounded his theme: “You play because you’ve always loved to play.”14 He was only hitting .190 at the time, but clearly finished strong. He won the 10th Player Award from the PawSox. After the season was over, he had an operation on both heels to remove bone spurs.15

LaFrancois was the catcher who worked all 33 innings of “The Longest Game” for Pawtucket, the first 32 innings played on April 18 (and 19, since it ran until 4:07 AM) and resumed on June 23. Pawtucket won, 3-2. LaFrancois was 2-for-8 in the game.

Gary Allenson and Rich Gedman remained the choices for catcher in 1982. The question was whether or not Boston would go with a third catcher. LaFrancois was the likely choice if they did, unless they went out and acquired someone else. They stuck with LaFrancois. It might have come across as a back-handed compliment, but sportswriter Garry Brown wrote: “The Red Sox want three catchers, but they don’t want to waste bright prospects like Johnny Lickert, Dave Schmidt or Marc Sullivan in a role which would see them play only sparingly. So those blue-chippers go to the minors while six-year minor league journeyman LaFrancois gets a big league job.”16

Peter Gammons painted a portrait of him in an article near the end of spring training. Manager Ralph Houk said, “We really have to have three catchers…I knew LaFrancois was a great individual for a club because he knows the game, he works so hard, he talks the game, he throws batting practice. What has pleasantly surprised me is how well he can catch and throw, so there are going to be times I want him for defense.”17 Gammons was impressed, too: his “enthusiasm is boundless, whether he’s behind the plate, running all over the field, throwing batting practice or working in the batting cage.” When he was informed that he had made the team, he showed his emotion, wrote Tim Horgan: “Roger was so delighted he retired to his locker and bawled like a baby.”18

His work paid off in 1982. Ralph Houk had become a convert to Roger’s work ethic and demeanor. Even though he was hardly ever using him, when there was midseason discussion of the Red Sox perhaps acquiring outfielder Wayne Nordhagen, Houk said they decided against it: “It would mean sending LaFrancois out, which we don’t want to do after he’s worked so hard to get here.”19

Garry Brown of the Springfield Union also portrayed LaFrancois’s personality and approach to the game as “always among the first to arrive at the ballpark, and he’s always ready to do anything to help.”20 He put in any number of hours as the bullpen catcher.

After he got his first at-bat, on June 19, the Boston Herald accorded him a three-column headline: “LaFrancois Finally Gets 1st Major League At Bat.”21

Red Sox fans are often very knowledgeable and as the 1982 season wore on, many realized that LaFrancois was still with the team, even though through August 17 he’d only had four at-bats. As the Sox were losing to the Angels, 10-1, in the afternoon game of a dual-admission doubleheader on August 26, a chant arose from the grandstand: “We want La!” Peter Gammons explained: they were “clamoring for Roger LaFrancois.”22

Shortstop Glenn Hoffman had been the team’s starting shortstop. He’d been awarded a few clothing store gift certificates over the course of the season, for this reason or that. On the last day of the season, he gathered them up and gave them to LaFrancois, “in appreciation for all the times LaFrancois came out early to throw extra batting practice. ‘What chance did Roger have to get those kinds of things?’ asked Hoffman.”23

In mid-October, despite his career .400 batting average, LaFrancois’s contract was assigned to Pawtucket. He spent a little more than two more years in professional baseball.

Over the winter, he worked as Walt Hriniak’s assistant at a baseball camp.

In 1983, it was back to Pawtucket. He pretty much split duties with John Lickert, appearing in 75 games, 70 of them as catcher (Lickert caught in 69). He hit .226 with seven homers and 39 RBIs. His 14 errors (13 at catcher) were almost double any prior season; he’d committed eight in 1979 and in 1980.

After the season, he became a minor-league free agent. In December, he signed a new deal. In 1984, he was in the International League again, but this time with the Richmond Braves, Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate. Larry Owen caught almost twice as many games; LaFrancois appeared in 50 games, batting .184 with only one home run and only nine runs batted in.

In 1985, he was a coach for the Single-A Durham Bulls, an Atlanta affiliate. He appeared briefly in one game, but without an at-bat.

“After my playing days,” he said, “I had a long career in coaching. I took a couple of years off. I did one year of teaching physical education at a high school.” He also did some coaching and recruiting work with the Cape Cod League in 1986-87. “My first [managing] job was in 1988 with the Montreal Expos, a short-season club in Jamestown, New York. We had a heck of a team. I had four or five guys on that team who ended up playing in the big leagues — Marquis Grissom and Wilfredo Cordero. That was my introduction to [managing in] pro ball and I had a pretty good club.” The team was 49-27.

“Then Walt Hriniak left the Red Sox to go with the White Sox and I went with him. I coached eight years in the minor leagues for the White Sox. I was his Triple-A hitting coach for seven years (1990-96) in Nashville, and Vancouver. I was more of a hitting coach throughout the years. I managed a Class-A Mets team one year. I managed one year with the White Sox, but mostly I was a hitting coach and worked with the catchers in spring training.

“After the White Sox, I went with the Mets for seven or eight years. After the Mets, I went with the Giants for a few years and then I went with the St. Louis Cardinals for the last 10 years.

“I was mostly Double A with the Mets. 1998-2003. In 1998, manager of the team in Pittsfield. Double A with the Giants, as well, 2004-07 in Norwich, Connecticut. Mostly A ball with the Cardinals, from 2010, in the New York-Penn League. There was a year in between as a coach with the Worcester Tornadoes in the Cam American League, 2008-09. Mostly as a minor-league hitting coach.

“I left the Cardinals about four months ago [in early 2020] and basically I’m not involved with baseball anymore, but I had a long career as far as coaching. All in the minor leagues.”

In terms of family life, LaFrancois married for a couple of years earlier in life. In 2007, he married his current wife Colleen Doyle LaFrancois. “She’s independent. She runs a marketing firm and specializes in legal marketing. I have two children — Jeff and Amanda. They’re my step-children, but I consider them my own. Jeffrey works in New Jersey and has a nice position there in the music industry, and my daughter Amanda is out in Austin, Texas, working in the telehealth field.”

Colleen also serves as Chief Marketing Officer for LaFrancois Marketing Consultants.24 Roger LaFrancois is listed as President/CEO.

With his coaching career now ended, LaFrancois remains involved with baseball and softball in a couple of ways. An article from 2016 that ran in the Norwich Bulletin summarized his work at the time, and the direction in which he was heading. He said he would give coaching three more years. “I’m a little older and baseball, like everything, is changing and evolving, I see a lot of really good, young coaches coming into [the St. Louis] system and baseball in general. But I feel like I still have a lot to offer.”25 That is the timeline he stuck to.

Over the years, he has also been involved in a considerable number of philanthropic and community organizations, helping raise money for the Special Olympics and to help fight ALS, and for 10 years he was a committee member with the Connecticut Sports Foundation. For nearly 20 years, he was chairman of a fundraising sports auction for Day Kimball Hospital, which raised over $300,000 for pediatric programs.

His primary focus now will likely revolve around a very successful annual event he runs. In 2003, he founded the World Baseball and Softball Coaches Clinics at the Mohegan Sun Resort in Connecticut, which attracts more than 2,000 coaches each year.26

As sportswriter Marc Allard wrote, “For LaFrancois, baseball is not a pastime, it’s life.”27

Last revised: October 9, 2020

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by James Forr and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Evan Katz.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author relied on Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball. Thanks for Rob Nelson of SABR’s Scouts and Scouting Committee and to the Boston Red Sox. Thanks as well to Roger and Colleen LaFrancois.

 

Notes

1 Author interview with Roger LaFrancois, November 2001. Date uncertain. The first five paragraphs of this biography come from the author’s book Red Sox Threads (Burlington, Massachusetts: Rounder Books, 2008), and are used here with permission.

2 Roger LaFrancois Sr.’s baseball record can be seen at:

https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=lafran001rog

3 Author interview with Roger LaFrancois on June 8, 2020. Unless otherwise indicated all otherwise unattributed quotations come from this interview.

4 See “Roger LaFrancois: Umpire, Referee,” Hartford Courant, November 16, 1999.

5 LaFrancois did complete his degree, he explained in the June 2020 interview. “I wanted to finish up my degree — I got my degree at the University of Connecticut from Oklahoma. It took me a little while to get it. It was like the eight-year plan. I graduated from U Conn, but I went to Eastern Connecticut for credits in the offseason. I ended up getting the degree and I ended up teaching for a year after my playing career before I got back into coaching.”

6 Bob Ryan, “Morgan Manages the Farm,” Boston Globe, July 1, 1979: 45.

7 Larry Whiteside, “Montgomery Out — Catching in Chaos,” Boston Globe, March 21, 1980: 40.

8 Kevin Dupont, “Arms Woes May Force Monty Out,” Boston Herald, March 21, 1980: 21.

9 Owen Canfield, “Bristol Has Two Catchers Who Don’t Get In Each Other’s Way,” Hartford Courant, May 25, 1980: 5C.

10 Canfield.

11 Peter Gammons, “LaFrancois Catches On with Sox,” Boston Globe, March 29, 1982: 31.

12 Peter Gammons, “LaFrancois Catches On with Sox.”

13 Peter Gammons, “Going Nowhere: The Prospects Turned Suspects Hope It’s Not Too Late To Be Noticed Down at Pawtucket,” Boston Globe, June 28,1961: 65.

14 Gammons, “Going Nowhere…”

15 Boston Herald, April 12, 1982: 67.

16 Garry Brown, “Non-roster catcher LaFrancois Good Bet to Make Sox Roster,” Springfield Union, March 27, 1982: 21.

17 Peter Gammons, “LaFrancois Catches On with Sox.”

18 Tim Horgan, “Some Spring Training Scenarios,” Boston Herald, April 2, 1982: 50.

19 Peter Gammons, “Yankee Lefties Mean Nichols Fills the Gap in Left,” Boston Globe, June 15, 1982: 1. Houk had been a reserve catcher with the Yankees, and in six seasons from 1949 through 1954 had only accumulated 37 at-bats.

20 Garry Brown, “LaFrancois Happy in Backup Role with Sox,” Springfield Union, May 20, 1982: 39.

21 David Cataneo, ““LaFrancois Finally Gets 1st Major League At Bat,” Boston Herald, June 20, 1982: 8.

22 Peter Gammons, “Tiant May Have to Wait for Weekend,” Boston Globe, August 27, 1982: 1.

23 Peter Gammons, “Brett’s Hat Trick No Joke,” Boston Globe, October 10, 1982: 1.

24 See the firm’s website at http://lafrancoismarketing.com/

25 Marc Allard, “Love for Baseball Keeps Roger LaFrancois Involved,” Norwich Bulletin (Norwich, Connecticut), January 22, 2016. https://www.norwichbulletin.com/article/20160122/SPORTS/160129788

26 See http://www.baseballcoachesclinic.com/site/

27 Allard.

Full Name

Roger Victor LaFrancois

Born

August 2, 1956 at Norwich, CT (USA)

If you can help us improve this player’s biography, contact us.

Tags

None

© SABR. All Rights Reserved