Jay Franklin, Madison Baseball
1971 Northern Region's highest MLB draft pick continues 20-year battle with mental illness.
By BJ Koubaroulis
August 9, 2006
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Each time that Jay Franklin takes a sip of his soda, he unwillingly flashes the scar on the bottom of his right arm. It’s a reminder to his mother, Pat, and sister, Trudy — sitting just feet away and listening to him tell his story — of just how bad things have gotten. Franklin, a 1971 graduate of Madison High School, is still considered the Northern Region’s greatest high school pitcher of all time. He earned the scar after he attempted to jump out of a four-story window in Arlington County Courthouse during a court-sanctioned mental health assessment in 1991. It lies just below his right forearm — an arm that carried him to AAA state records, two state titles and local immortality among those that know the Northern Region’s baseball past. Major League Baseball’s No. 2 overall draft pick (1971) takes another sip, bends the bill of his dirt-riddled Washington Nationals hat and adjusts his gray collared shirt. It’s a less than hygienic outfit that the 53-year-old Franklin chooses to wear daily. He parts his grayed and tobacco-stained whiskers so that his lips can utter words that dash his mother’s ears.“I think I have AIDS,” says Franklin, while a collage of old photographs, newspaper clippings, letters from major leaguers and autographs are spilled across the table in front of him. In fact, Franklin does not have AIDS. It’s just one of several delusions, or what he refers to as negative thoughts, that constantly run throughout his brain on a daily basis. Jay, known to his friends as John, is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic with fixed delusions. He also suffers from depression and has been heavily medicated for the past two decades. Every other week, Franklin visits his mother’s one-bedroom apartment in Centreville — in what she calls his ‘comfort zone’ away from the Reston-based group-home type atmosphere in which he resides with others suffering from mental illness. Pat, a lifelong baseball fan — as the daughter of legendary Baltimore Orioles scout Floyd Tuthill should be — watches baseball games with the volume on as low as she can. John won’t watch the games if he can help it. “I try to watch it, but I’m paranoid and I think that they’re talking about me on the games, the commentators. It’s like, I know what’s going on, but I can’t accept it,” said Franklin, who is sometimes aware that his delusions are part of his illness. He visits with a social-worker once a week and a doctor once a month. “Every day he lives like someone is trying to kill him,” said Pat. “It’s not like you can turn it on and off like a spigot.”
FRANKLIN, WHOSE fast ball reached 98 miles per hour in his prime, was gassing his best pitch by anyone willing to take the plate for the opposition in his days spent playing baseball in Vienna. He was on both of Madison’s first two state championship teams and was on the mound for the Warhawks’ 4-1 victory over George-Wythe High School in the 1971 state title game. It was a glorious year for the 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior who struck out 202 batters in 100 innings pitched and gave up only seven hits and 23 walks en route to a 29-1 career high school record making him one of the most highly sought after prospects in the country and an easy choice for high school All-American. As a senior, Franklin struckout 42 batters in 21 innings in just the regional tournament. He is listed in the Virginia High School League record books tied for the record for the most strikeouts in a game after he struck out 29 batters in 14 innings in his senior year of high school."Back then there weren't guys throwing 90 miles per hour," said Madison head coach Mark Gjormand, who added that Franklin is still a legendary figure within his baseball program — he is the bar for pitchers. "From my experience [in baseball], I never saw anybody throw as a hard as Jay Franklin," Gjormand added. His basketball skills were nearly equivalent, but it was always baseball for Franklin, the proud grandson of Tuthill, who used to hit ground balls to Jay in cow pastures where his early 50‘s semipro teams would carve out makeshift practice fields."He just loved the game and always had his cleats and his glove and everything ready to go," said Pat. "Since he could walk, he had a ball and bat in his hand."Franklin also helped American Legion Post 180 to the state championship in 1970.“By the time John was finished [with high school], I think people were expecting him to be a very big time draft choice,” said Mike Wallace, a 1969 Madison graduate that pitched 117 major league games after helping Madison to the 1968 AAA state title. “He was a pretty all-around player. He not only threw hard, he could hit well," said Wallace, who is part of a small group of local baseball legends that hope to get their legendary baseball teammate and friend Franklin, who 35 years later remains the highest drafted player in Northern Region history, the help that they think he needs and deserves."There are a couple more routes we can go," said former teammate Ronnie Slingerman, a 1968 graduate of Madison who is also part of that group. "I'm hoping we don't lose Jay before we get him help."
FRANKLIN NEVER needed help in his younger days. “I don’t know,” said Franklin of where he got his arm strength. “Practice. Just God-given, I guess. Mr. [Tom] Christie, coach at Madison, had a theory that the more you throw, the stronger your arm gets and I can believe that.” Franklin threw a lot of innings. Some believe he threw too many in his stint in the minors. He powered his way through the baseball ranks from an early age as he and his childhood friend Clay Kirby would steal cans of Ajax from Pat’s cupboard and spread the white powder across the backyard drawing out the lines of a baseball diamond. During those backyard whiffle-ball days, Kirby and Franklin, who were neighbors in Arlington before the Franklins left for Vienna, never knew that their baseball futures would intersect as both made it to the major leagues and both with the Padres (Kirby’s MLB career: 1969-1976, 3.84 ERA, 75-104 record). Kirby, who died in November of 1991 from a heart attack at the age of 44, was Franklin’s best man at his wedding.“I was too young and inexperienced,” said Franklin, who made his major league debut less than seven months after his 18th birthday. “It was a mental struggle. But I go back and there’s a lot of things I would have done differently if I had been more mature. I just wasn’t mature enough to be pitching in the major leagues. I had the fast ball, but as far as intermingling with the rest of the players, it was tough. They were all older than me and had more experience.”Franklin admittedly ‘fastballed’ his way through the minor league system, but found that at each level, more and more batters could catch up to his speed. His 5-0 record in rookie ball was exactly the fast-track that the Padres organization hoped that he would be on. To them, Franklin was worth the $65,000 contract they had given him right out of high school. According to numbers compiled by baseball-almanac.com, Franklin's salary was more than $35,000 over the average MLB salary in the early 1970's which was just over $29,000 per year. Minimum wage jobs would have paid an annual $12,000 a year. Franklin made three major league starts in 1971 and gave up three home runs in 5.7 innings pitched. In a matter of four days, Franklin accumulated a 6.35 ERA giving up home runs to the Braves’ Hank Aaron and Darrell Evans. 1971 was ‘Hammerin Hanks’ greatest home run year as he belted out a career high 47 homers en route to his Hall of Fame career total 755. Franklin, who gave up No. 638 to Aaron, would never find his way back to a major league pitching mound again. Injuries and surgeries on his pitching arm took away Franklin’s coveted arm-speed and, with it, his financial future. His fastball dropped to 85 miles per hour and his new sidearm delivery — one that he fashioned to make up for snapped elbow tendons and shoulder problems — just wasn’t cutting it anymore. The Padres sent him home in 1976 and his major league career was over.
MARRIED AT the age of 19, Franklin and his wife Jordi moved back to Vienna and lived with his mother, Pat, and father Gilbert. They had children, John and daughter Jennifer. He worked in construction, maybe a trait he picked up from his father, a perfectionist who built homes in Northern Virginia. “I helped build [route] 66 over there in Arlington,” Franklin says with a smile. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t mind [construction]." But ask him about his wife and the smiles abruptly stop.“I would have girls coming on to me, but I’d rather go hunting and fishing with my dad,” said Franklin of his early days. “I just didn’t date that much. So, I go to San Diego and the first one that comes along, I marry.” Courts did not stop Jordi from taking their children back with her to California after the two split in 1985. The split was the beginning of a series of tragedies that have sent Franklin into a spiral of insanity and paranoia that keeps his sister Trudy in tears. “My goal is to see him live in a better place than he has been in for the last 20 years,” said Trudy. Franklin never recovered after the split with his wife and the 1988 suicide death of his father — who had also experienced mental health problems and was manic depressive. It is unknown if Franklin's mental health problems have anything to do with his father's. Kirby, one of few friends that stayed close with Franklin even throughout his latest and more difficult years, died early at the age of 44 just weeks apart from the death of Jordi, who also died in 1991. It was all too much for Franklin to handle. "For the last 10 years I’ve been pretty much depressed all the time,” said Franklin. “I get paranoid. I think everybody knows about my business, which my business is not too good in the last 15 years. I have some things that I wish I had never done.”He tries to position himself back near the game he so passionately loved, but after an inning or two, the stares, which are mostly out of admiration for Northern Virginia’s greatest pitching legend, are just too much for Franklin’s paranoia to withstand.“I go out in public and I feel uncomfortable because I think people know about my skeletons in my closet and it’s just uncomfortable,” said Franklin, who claimed that he has been sober for three years now after a five-year battle with alcoholism. Gambling is his new vice and smoking is not a habit for him, it’s a lifestyle.“I just take each day as it comes and do the best that I can do,” said Franklin, who sleeps up to 14 hours a day. “I feel like if my day has come, then I have had my day in the sun, so be it. I don’t think any medication in the world can help this.”
WHAT’S NEXT for Franklin? Trudy says that her brother is just “existing, not living,” she says as the tears flow. The rotting teeth and missing front right tooth and poor hygiene are evidence that Franklin is just, as he says, “existing.” “He doesn’t understand how powerful he can be. I saw him laughing and smiling,” said Trudy of the day she took her brother, who still gets autograph requests mailed in from all over the country, to a youth clinic at RFK Stadium. Trudy, Pat and Wallace are in the beginning stages of paperwork they hope will cross through MLB’s red tape in order to get John financial help from Baseball Assistance Team (BAT) — described by MLB.com as “a group of former Major League Baseball players [that] help members of the baseball "family" who have come on hard times and are in need of assistance. Franklin currently lives on a $1,000 a month social security disability — all money that Trudy handles in his name. Franklin has a mere $1,000 in his savings account. He hasn’t been able to work since 1993. “We struggle as a family to take the little money we’ve had and stretch it,” said Pat. At times, she can’t keep up with the overflow of medical bills. “When he was on the mound under the bright lights, everyone wanted to come to his side,” said Trudy. “And now, no one comes, no one calls.”