Submitted by Mark Carroza, Connecticut-North MSBL
In May of 1991 at age 53, Ralph Franco walked into right field for the East Haven Jorels of the Connecticut-North MSBL (CNMSBL) and would never walk out of it. For the next 30 years, he owned the position and was looking forward to beginning his next 30 years. Sadly, Ralph passed away on April 4th, one month short of his 84th birthday from irreversible damage caused by a massive heart attack last October. As fate would have it, Ralph suffered that attack while throwing batting practice to CNMSBL players who were heading to Arizona for the MSBL World Series in November.
Nicknamed “The King” after the 1991 movie King Ralph featuring John Goodman (we let him think it was because we considered him the king of baseball) Ralph quickly became a leader and a model of inspiration on our team and throughout the league. He loved baseball with every ounce of his being. Ralph always assured us that he did love his family more, but everyone knew that baseball was a really close second. His proudest moment came in 2004 when his son, Ralph Jr., joined the team. For the next 10 years, they played next to each other, Senior in right and Junior in center. They enjoyed an ideal, and at times comical, father and son baseball relationship that included some “tough love” parental guidance whenever Ralph Jr. misplayed a ball in center field.
Ralph was a major contributor to the Jorel’s only state championship in 2000. At barely 5′ 7″, The King could mash and was continually among the team’s slugging leaders. As recently as last summer at age 83, Ralph was a constant courtesy runner for a few 40-year-old players whose backs or legs had given out. He never ever took a play off. He played the game hard and he played it right. The King was the consummate teammate.
Confident, bold and enthusiastic, and extremely competitive. He took crap from no one. A kind and gentle soul off the field and a fearless force-to-be-reckoned-with on it. Since 2000, Ralph was a regular participant in the MSBL World Series in Arizona, playing for teams organized out of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Mexico. To celebrate Ralph’s 80th birthday and his 27th year with the team, the Jorels for that one season were renamed the Northford Kings, in honor of our right fielder and his hometown in Connecticut.
Ralph Franco was laid to rest on April 9th in his Jorels uniform in a manner befitting true royalty. The King was sent off with half-a-dozen baseballs all signed by past and current teammates, as well as by representatives from other CNMSBL teams who were in attendance at his funeral. Many who played with and against him remain stunned and saddened by the sudden demise of this iron man of the diamond. As Ralph, often said about his extensive playing career, “I’m going to do this until I can’t do it.” It’s a real testament to who Ralph was that only death could remove him from it.
As lamented by Charles VII of France, “The King is dead. Long live The King!”
Note: Below is the YouTube link to a news story that WTNH, Connecticut’s ABC affiliate, did on Ralph eight years ago when he was merely a spry 75. Their sports broadcaster, Eric Dobratz saw a story on Ralph in the New Haven Register (also included here) and called us to do the story. for their television broadcast. Ralph didn’t disappoint that day, getting two hits in the game and stealing two bases. https://youtu.be/G0kIaFqilNE