An Early Tale of Amateur Athletics

Quite possibly one of the greatest athletes to grace the Harvard football and baseball fields, Orville Frantz was one of the most likable and most controversial figures in history to play for the Crimson.

Frantz’s story is one of a student-athlete who went far beyond the books and athletics both prior to his stint in Cambridge and after his departure.

Upon his arrival in Cambridge from the small town of Wellington, Kansas, Frantz took up baseball and football, immediately becoming one of the premier players for the Crimson.

“They nicknamed him ‘Home run Frantz’ because he was known for his power and ability to hit the ball so well,” said Orville’s cousin Dr. Harry Frantz, Jr. “He was evidently pretty good throughout his entire career at Harvard.”

Due to the fact that Crimson athletes couldn’t participate in varsity athletics until they were seniors, Frantz played in the inter-class competitions against Harvard’s sophomores, juniors, and senior baseball players, ending the year victorious in the annual Class Championships.

In his sophomore season, he led Harvard to an 18-2 record and became a budding star first baseman for the Crimson. Frantz soon quit playing football because of his academic and extracurricular commitments to the Christian Association, the Class Debating Club, the Delta Upsilon, and the Hasty Pudding Club.

He became one of the most popular guys on campus due to his involvement in extracurricular activities, especially sports, and he influenced the George Emerson Lowell committee so much that they awarded him their scholarship, even with his “C” average.

By the time he reached his final year at Harvard, he had accomplished more as a student-athlete than many individuals that had come before him.

But then controversy hit. In his senior season of baseball, Frantz was disqualified from playing, forcing his class team to win the Class Championships without its best player.

Like many other Harvard students, Frantz went to school a few years after he graduated from high school, but in Orville’s case he was playing baseball in a league back home.

The Crimson coaches found out that eight years prior to his involvement with the Crimson, he was paid a mere $36 and expenses for playing in Wellington, Kansas.

“36 dollars doesn’t seem like a lot of money to this generation, but benefits are benefits,” said Phil Dawkins, a host of the Harvard Law School Symposium on Amateurism. “In this day and age a person can get in trouble with their school for just getting a ride from a coach, much less pay for play.”

In today’s world of athletics, the stratification of athletes that have been disqualified for violating amateur codes has become somewhat antagonistic, but the relationship between the Crimson and Frantz was anything but divisive.

“Many controversies have come up over the years since the Frantz incident like the Fab Five, the recent USC incidents and the issue of major pay at TCU and other football programs,” Dawkins said. “Now universities are trying to protect themselves from controversy by being progressive.”

After graduation, Frantz was accepted to Harvard Law School even with his average grades and hired as the head baseball coach for the Crimson.

He quickly lost interest in law and moved to Oklahoma City to continue his family’s lands and investments firm, The Frantz Company, and went on to become private secretary to his brother Frank Frantz who was personally appointed as governor of Oklahoma by their college friend and President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Orville Frantz was selected for the Varsity Hall of Fame even with his dismissal from the Crimson, illustrating his overwhelming acceptance at Harvard and the changes that have happened with amateurism over the years.

“The future of collegiate sports is up in the air with the huge debates between paying players or some how giving them benefits as amateurs,” Dawkins said. “Frantz might have been a pioneer in the early beginnings of something that has become so much bigger with regard the relation between money, athletics and the university.

—Staff writer Darren McLeod can be reached at darrenmcleod@college.harvard.edu.

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