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Remembering baseball legend Frank Permuy

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A collection of stories about the man who dedicated his life to baseball in the Tampa Bay Area.

Frank Permuy throws out the first pitch at Tropicana Field.
Tampa Bay Times

“Look in the other hand you’ll find a ham sandwich!”

This was always my favorite Coach Permuy-ism.

He said it any and every time a player made a defensive play that straddled the line between skill and luck. It was his way of praising a player’s performance, while also keeping them humble.

That lesson alone gives an insight into the mind of the late Frank Permuy, who passed away in his home on April 19 after a courageous battle with brain cancer.

Permuy devoted his career to coaching baseball, and did it entirely in the Tampa Bay area. He parlayed his playing days for Plant High School and the Tampa Tarpons into a half-century long coaching career with a resume that includes over 600 wins, and an impressive list of notable alumni—Cleveland outfielder Oscar Mercado and Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash, among others. It goes without saying that he had a way of developing young ballplayers.

But his success wasn’t just about baseball.

A few of the many players and coaches fortunate enough to interact with him shared their stories with me this week. Their outpouring of affection for Permuy shed light on the fact that he was far more than a coach — but a mentor — and the lasting impressions he left on his pupils and colleagues came from his ability to weave two universal concepts into everything he taught: hard work, and humility. He developed great young men in addition to great athletes.

Growing up in Tampa, and a high school baseball player myself, I also had the great privilege of playing for Permuy — “Coach P,” as we affectionately called him — at Gaither High School in 2007. Our team mantra that year — “Hard. Smart. Together.” — was perfectly on brand.

One of my favorite stories from that year, when our team played to a cool 20-6 record, came during a practice when we were simulating bunt defense.

For context, I was a pitcher in high school. On my stringy six foot frame, I carried about 145 pounds, and it took every single one of them to unleash a 70 mph “fastball.”

Nonetheless, I was on the mound, and it was my turn to defend the hypothetical bunt. A squeeze. I never enjoyed fielding my position, and like former Rays pitcher Matt Garza, the only chance I had at making a good throw that wasn’t the perfect distance of sixty feet and six inches away to a fielder who wasn’t covered in armor was to throw the ball as hard as I could. Almost as if I was throwing a pitch.

In this moment, it was a soft bunt that came to a halt before I got to it. When that happens, you’re supposed to pick it up with your bare hands. Not me. Like I said, I wasn’t much of a fielder. I was always taught to expect the ball to be hit to me, and to always know what I’m going to do with the ball before it happens. When the ball stopped a few feet in front of me, I hadn’t planned for that. So, naturally, I bobbled the ball and it landed back on the infield grass in front of me.

When you bobble a ground ball or a bunt, you’re supposed to concede the lead runner and get the ‘sure’ out at first. Again, not me! Instead, I picked up the ball and fired it as hard as I could to the catcher — who at this point was about 20 feet away.

Even though I wasn’t a hard thrower, from that distance, I saw the catcher’s life flash before his eyes. Coach P, who laid down the bunts during these drills, was amused, yelling out “Brian, that was the best fastball you’ve thrown all year!” The catcher was thankfully uninjured, despite my worst fears, and the whole team shared a raucous laughter at my gaffe.

This was the joy Coach P brought to every moment. He was not only our leader, but he was also the first to set everyone at ease in a difficult circumstance, thanks to his quick wit and humorous personality — which, as you’ll see, was at times less appreciated by the umpires.

Over the course of the past week, I got the chance to reach out to others who shared similar stories of Purmuy’s wit, mentorship, leadership, and passion for the game and community we all shared with him, and they each shed light on what made Coach P, as Rays Manager Kevin Cash put it, “legendary.”

★ ★ ★

Sergio Delgado recalls a time when he made the mistake of questioning Permuy’s bunting skills during a drill:

We were at practice one day doing live bunting drills and no one could lay one down. We kept messing it up and Coach P was getting so frustrated that we couldn’t get it right. The drill was to bunt for a hit, then sac to to first, sac to third then squeeze—in that order.

I remember saying, ‘Alright coach, lets see you do it.’

Coach P grabbed a bat, but not just any bat. He grabbed the little skinny wood fungo and he went up there and laid each bunt perfectly down the lines and we all were like it was a fluke. But then he turned around opposite handed and did it flawlessly again.

None of us could believe it. Every time I think about bunting, I think about that moment.

★ ★ ★

Dave Richtberg remembers one of the most valuable lessons he learned in his time under Permuy’s tutelage:

Coach always told me, no matter what, always tell the kids and parents the truth, no matter how hard it would be to hear it.

My first year coaching with him, he told me we would be having a kid come out to pitch. The kid was a really nice kid, who tried really hard and worked all year for this moment, but whose parents were a little less than realistic. Dad was saying the kid was low 90’s with a plus change and curve. I was pumped.

I made sure to have a radar gun out at the tryouts, and we charted every pitch. When the kid came up to pitch, Coach was like Dave, let’s go!

The kid never broke 74, had a frisbee and a pitch he couldn’t throw in the zone.

Immediately after Dad was like that was a great pen session. I couldn’t help but ask myself who he was watching? Needless to say, we cut the kid about a week later, and get called to the office of the AD and principal. Being a young coach and teacher, I’m a dog in headlights.

I give everyone the breakdown of his session. Coach P turns to me and is like Dave thanks so much for the information. The meeting continues to go around in circles for about an hour, at which point Coach P is like, “Its time for us to go.”

When it was over, coach told me, “Always cover your ass.” There will always be parents that, even when presented with the cold hard truth will deny it, and demand things like the kid be on the team. Sometimes you just gotta tear the band-aid off and tell the kids and parents the truth. That was what he always taught me.

★ ★ ★

Todd Silverman experienced Permuy’s wisdom in two ways, both as a coach and a player:

As a high school player, I remember a talk he had with me. It was my senior year and I finally got the chance to start, and I was doing well. I was hitting in the middle of the lineup, and I hadn’t struck out yet. I became so proud of myself that I let it get to my head. I thought I could go the whole season without striking out.

It got to a point where even though I wasn’t striking out, I wasn’t getting any hits either. That’s when coach pulled me aside and said that he was going to take me out if I kept doing what I was doing. He noticed that I was trying so hard to not strike out that all of my swings were defensive.

I appreciated that. Not only because he told me before just doing it, but also because he made me realize that just because I wasn’t striking out, didn’t mean I wasn’t doing my job. The next few games I went off and I never came out of the lineup and it was probably because of that talk he had with me.

When I asked Silverman whether he did end up striking out that season, he laughed.

Yeah I did end up striking out eventually. I’ve been coaching for a long time at this point, and I always remember that moment. If he was never open with me, I might have never had the chance to play college baseball. I always valued that.

★ ★ ★

Caleb Graham was on the 2005 Gaither team that appeared in the 5A state championship, and eventually went on to pitch in the Los Angeles Angels organization. He tells a story of Permuy’s unparalleled level of respect:

The funniest thing I remember was a game where the umpire was missing calls left and right. We weren’t getting anything.

During home games, usually the freshmen on the team retrieved foul balls, and for one of them he took the ball from one of them and wrote a message to the umpire, ‘Get your eyes checked,’ and rolled it in himself.

We all saw that the umpire clearly read it, and we were all in disbelief that Coach P didn’t get thrown out of the game. That just goes to show how much respect he had, even from the umpires.

He just took it and went on. I was like wow this guy can do anything! I was sitting right next to him when this happened just thinking to myself, “There is no way he is getting away with this.” but he did. The umpire must have thought Coach P was right.

Along with getting to play in the state championship game, Graham also won the Saladino Award that same season, given to the most outstanding high school player in the area.

I remember one night he said he was going to take me out to dinner. We ended up driving around for a while and ended up at a house with a bunch of cars and went in. We walk in it happens to be Tony Saladino’s house.

My parents were there, local baseball legends were there, some newspaper guys were there, and I was presented with the award by surprise. I was completely shocked. How he went out of his way to make that a memorable experience was special and something I’ll never forget.

★ ★ ★

Scott Hoffman and Landy Faedo were assistant coaches for Permuy at Gaither before going on to build programs of their own, Hoffman at Wharton, and Faedo at Leto and then Alonso, where he coaches currently.

Hoffman, like Silverman, played for Permuy as well as coached with him. He remembers a story from his playing days:

When I was there playing in ‘87 I remember he wanted to build a batter’s eye in center field, at the time there was only a three foot fence and nothing else out there. He really wanted to do it but we didn’t have the wood.

Well, while this was going on, they were building some apartments back behind left field. And one day for a Saturday morning practice we all get there at 7 and he had wood sitting there on the field. Of course the owner comes by because he knows we took his wood.

Coach then took him aside and I don’t know what he said to him but we were ended up being able to keep the wood and get more wood they didn’t use and were able to build this huge monstrosity of a batter’s eye!

He just had this way about him, He did whatever he could for his players. He always thought of everything. I still do so many things today when I coach that I don’t even realize I got from him. Everything from how I make my lineup card to how I conduct my team meetings before games.

He pioneered so many things that every coach in the area still does.

Off the field, Hoffman, like so many others, revered Permuy as a father figure:

I remember a year or two ago I took a picture with my kids at the beach, and my hat was on backwards, and he never liked that. He said to my wife, ‘Great picture, but tell his ass to turn his hat back around!’ Sure enough, as soon as he said that, I turned my hat around.

He cared about his players more than anything, even long after they’re done playing for him. I’ve never seen a group of players who love their coach as much as the players who played for Coach P.

Faedo shares memories of Permuy’s endless wit:

If he had in issue with a home plate umpire, he would go out and talk to the pitcher, and tell the catcher to let him know when the umpire was coming. When the umpire would ask, ‘Are you going to make a change or what?’ He would say, ‘Yeah can I change you for the other guy?’

There was another game where the we had a tall catcher and we noticed the umpire wasn’t calling anything even though he was barely moving the mitt. Coach P goes out there and says, ‘Where does my guy gotta throw it, he’s hitting all his spots.’ When the umpire said he was having trouble seeing over his catcher, Frank goes, ‘What do I need to do, get you a step stool?’ The umpire immediately chucked him from the game.

He would ask umpires if he’d get more calls if he gave their Seeing Eye dog some water, things like that.

Faedo also shares a story about his early days coaching against Permuy, and how he used Coach P’s legendary status as motivation for his players:

I moved on from Gaither and it was my second year at Leto and I remember we had a really good team that year and he was getting ticked off with his guys because they were sneaking into the clubhouse during practices and games to play video games or whatever.

So he had his guys clean out the clubhouse and made a deal with them that if they beat me that he’ll let them back in. Well that became my motivational speech right there, so when we went over there to play Gaither I told my guys that story. I told them, ‘They’re not getting back in that damn locker room.’ Sure enough, we beat them so they stayed locked out.

★ ★ ★

Jim Macaluso coached against Permuy for the better part of four decades. He’s been the head baseball coach of Tampa’s King High school since 1976:

I always knew I wanted to be a high school coach, and I always watched him. He just had a way about himself, the way he carried himself, whether he was coaching first base or hitting ground balls to his infielders, watching him really got me over the hump of knowing that was what I wanted to do.

We became like family instantly, but on the field we competed. We always got after it and we had some great battles. We’d have games where we’d get ticked off at each other and not say a word to each other and then call each other the next day and it would be like nothing happened.

Macaluso recalls a time where he lost his cool during one of these battles:

We were in a semi-final game that was played at USF. Our third baseman made a throwing error in the 7th inning that opened the door for Gaither to come back and beat us. On top of that the umpire made some calls that didn’t go our way and I was getting pretty upset. Their fans, I knew some of them, but they were getting on me.

I’m not proud of it, but I made some gestures I shouldn’t have made and said some things I shouldn’t have said as a high school coach. Kicked over a bucket of balls, threw a whole bag of helmets onto the field all in the span of a half inning. I just went crazy. I had a temper back then.

The next morning he calls me at school and says, ‘hey man I got some bad news, are you sitting down?’ I said ‘Yeah what do you got?’ he went on to tell me one of the dads on his side was taking video and they got everything. It was really bad. He said they were going to take it the county Athletic Director. This wasn’t my first incident so I though my career was over.

We hung up and I’m upset. When he used to tell the story, he always said he called back in 10 minutes, but I swear it was an hour. Anyway, I pick up the phone and he just starts laughing. He said, ‘Part of the story is true, there was video, but we all know you and we were all laughing and we’re going to keep watching it for years to come.’

Macaluso then tells about a time he got his friend back:

We were in Sebring for the state high school all star game. We were coaching together that year. He had gotten kicked out of the last game of the season. When that happens you serve a suspension for the next two games, but since this wasn’t a real game, he thought he was still good for it.

John Crumbley was the state rep for Hillsborough county at the time. We were all there for a workout for the first day. The players are there, scouts are there, even major league general managers were there because this event is right before the draft. It was really a big deal.

We’re getting ready to load up and leave and Crumbley and I start our plan. He gave me a thumbs up and I reach in my bag like my phone was ringing. John’s got his phone to his ear from a distance and we act like we’re talking even though we’re not really connected.

‘I got some bad news Frank,’ I told him. ‘That was Crumbley, he said you gotta go home.’ Frank lost it. Slammed his bag, yelling, said he was going to call his lawyer, he was going off. As much as I wanted to keep dragging it out I couldn’t. I busted out laughing. We always went back and forth like that as long as I knew him, for 45 years. Stories like this would happen once a month.

★ ★ ★

John Crumbley had a 22-year head coaching run at Jesuit High School in Tampa before starting the baseball program from the ground up at Steinbrenner High School in Lutz. He remembers a moment from his first game that caught him by surprise — in a good way.

When I got back into coaching to start the program at Steinbrenner, I leaned heavily on Frank. It just worked out that our very first regular season game was against Gaither, at Gaither. The night of the game he very quietly had his booth announcer, unbeknownst to me, give a nice bio about me over the PA before the game and had me throw out the ceremonial first pitch. It was awesome because my family was in the stands it was my first game back coaching.

Of all the things we did together, getting inducted into the Hall of Fame, that will always be the one that sticks out. Every time I see a ceremonial first pitch, whether it’s a pro game, a high school game, when we do it, I always think back to that moment eleven years ago when Coach P gave me that honor.

It was very, very Frank Permuy. Very special. We even talked for about a half hour before the game started and he didn’t say anything about it and all of a sudden I am hearing this bio about me and I’m out there throwing the pitch. I had no idea it was coming. It was an awesome moment.

Crumbley already knew at a young age that Permuy was a legend:

I kind of followed him wherever he went at first. He left Leto to coach the University of Tampa in 74 and I was at Leto in 76. Then I went to UT but after he was gone. I grew up as a baseball player in Tampa hearing stories about him. All the players looked up to him because he was the Coach at UT.

We knew even back then that he was a legend in Tampa with everything he was doing with Legion ball and Post 248. Back then you had to be invited to try out for those teams because there were only a few of them. You could just tell if you saw him on the field or out in the community that he was a special man.

I was very fortunate that he took a liking to me and my career, and brought me into his inner circle of coaching friends. Us staying close for so long was truly a treasure that I will always have with me. He was my mentor.

★ ★ ★

Emeterio “Pop” Cuesta was the head baseball coach at Jefferson High School in Tampa for 43 years before retiring in 2015. He grew up with Permuy, playing ball together in the sandlots of Ybor City:

We would meet Saturday mornings and a lot of people would come walking or on bicycles, bat on their shoulders, glove and spikes in hand, ready to play ball. We’d select two captains, pick the teams, and we’d play just like that. We would have a rock for first base, maybe there would be a base left over, a piece of cardboard, anything that resembled a base we would use it. That’s how we played every Saturday.

For Coach P back in those days we had a special rule for him. The lot we played on had a short porch in right field, so when he hit is over that fence it was a ground rule double. He had to hit it over the center field wall or to the opposite field for it to be a home run.

There was also a lady who lived across the street from the field and Frank would hit it into her yard. It got so bad when he was batting we had to put a guy on the street to get the ball because she stopped giving it back to us. We had to get the ball before the old lady came and took it.

There was another sandlot we played on along 22nd St in Ybor City right next to a cigar factory. Beyond the wall the owner of the factory had a little garden where they grew carrots and tomatoes. We would all try to hit home runs and then come back with some lunch.

Cuesta said that when it came to growing up with Permuy, there was never a dull moment:

His driving was unreal. Better than any ride you could find at the state fair. We double dated a lot in high school, and watching him was better than watching TV. It was always good times with Frank. He lived by his own rules.

When he took over Gaither, he had a streak of three summers in a row when he came to play me at Jefferson that he would get thrown out of the game. I used to tell him, “Hey Frank, try not to get thrown out this time.”

First one, we’re playing in a tournament and the umpires are late. One guy shows up and and he tells us, “I’m gonna tell you right now, I wasn’t supposed to umpire today, I’ve been barbecuing, I’ve had a few beers, this that and the other.” Frank said, “It doesn’t matter he can’t see anyway,” and just like that he was gone.

Second time, he wasn’t getting any calls, and he goes out to make a pitching change, but instead he goes to the umpire with his pencil and lineup card and says, ‘The change I wanna make is I wanna put you in the field and the other guy behind the plate,’ and he was gone again.

Third time he was in the third base coaching box and the umpire made a bad call and Frank takes his glasses off and walks up to the umpire and says, “Hey man it looks like you need these more than I do!” Finally after three years he broke the streak and survived the whole game.

★ ★ ★

Frank Permuy, before the Class 5A state final May 26, 2005 at Sarasota’s Ed Smith Stadium, gaving his team a final pep talk. Gaither ended up as state runners-up, losing 3-0 to Davie Nova, which at the time was ranked No. 2 in the country by USA Today. Times photo by staff writer Scott Purks
Tampa Bay Times

Anyone in touch with Tampa’s baseball ecosystem understands the impact Permuy had on the city’s pastime. On a macro scale, he’s impacted how the game is played regionally at the high school level. Everything that happens on a high school baseball field in Hillsborough County is, in some way, influenced by Permuy.

On a micro scale, though, he’s impacted the lives of thousands, possibly more. Whether their baseball careers went beyond high school, or flamed out shortly after, and whether they coached with him or against him, everyone who was lucky enough to interact with Coach P has a story of their own.

To commemorate the legendary life of Coach Permuy, every high school in Hillsborough county lit their baseball fields for seven minutes, in honor of the number he wore. Hoffman and Faedo still wear the number 7 for their schools to this day, adding to the list of things they carried with them into their own head coaching careers.

Getting the chance to play for him is something I will always cherish. Hearing these stories, however, gave me a different window in the life of the man who was elected into no less than two halls of fame, a man who shaped the game in the Bay area, and a man who, despite all of his accomplishments, was not defined solely by his career coaching baseball.

You might hear any combination of the words ‘friend,’ ‘brother,’ ‘family,’ ‘mentor,’ or ‘father figure’ from someone describing their relationship with Permuy long before the word ‘coach.’

I’m sure he wouldn’t have had it any other way.