Wednesday, March 3, 1999

Francis Funai stressed the fundamentals of baseball during
a career that spanned seven decades.

Baseball coach
Francis Funai
dies at 92

His coaching career spanned
seven decades and he guided
St. Louis to nine titles

By Rod Ohira


Somewhere, a coach is teaching young boys to grip a baseball without applying thumb pressure so they can throw it properly -- the same way he learned to do it from Francis Funai.

Funai taught and preached the importance of fundamentals in a coaching career that spanned seven decades.

He became a baseball guru and his disciples are everywhere. "I don't know too many people who knew baseball like him," University of Hawaii Coach Les Murakami said of his former high school coach, who died Sunday at Queen's Hospital at age 92.

"As small as he was, he commanded great respect because of his knowledge of the game. He loved baseball more than anything and if you wanted to learn, he was always there to teach."

Funai's nickname was "Funny," but few people ever called him anything but "Coach."

"I've always reminded myself that you can never teach babies to run before they can walk," Funai once said of the importance of basic fundamentals. "You can't give a kid a glove, for example, and expect him to know how to use it."

As a high school coach, he developed disciplined teams featuring good pitching, defense and bunting.

Francis Funai's second love after baseball was golf.

In two coaching stints at St. Louis, 1944-59 and 1967-70, Funai guided the Crusaders to nine Interscholastic League of Honolulu championships. His last championship came in 1967.

Funai served as an assistant coach at several other high schools, most notably Iolani under Les Uyehara and with Mel Seki at Pearl City.

"I've been associated with him for 50 years and he has always been willing to share his knowledge with other people," said Seki, who played for Funai at St. Louis.

"It gave him great satisfaction to work with kids. I realized early that his was always able to adjust to kids. He often said, 'a tired boy isn't going to perform and a worried boy isn't going to learn.' "

Funai volunteered his time freely to do weekly clinics for youngsters.

"He did it all for love," said Herb Okamura, who succeeded his former coach at St. Louis in 1960. "You think of all the guys he taught at these clinics and he never collected a penny or made a video to sell.

"He was a stickler for detail and broke everything down. He always had a theory for everything he did and wasn't like most coaches who just tell you to do this or do that."

Japan Hall of Famer Wally Yonamine was playing for the Asahi when he met Funai in 1946.

"He was Mr. Baseball in Hawaii and I've always respected his knowledge of the game," Yonamine says. "When I was getting into coaching (pro baseball in Japan), I wanted to pick his brain about how to teach fundamentals.

"To have had somebody here with that knowledge for so long has been a blessing."

Dr. Dermot Ornelles, one of Funai's St. Louis stars, says his former coach was open to learning new things. "He made a science of studying things like how to throw a ball," Ornelles said.

Funai recalled once that he was watching then-Chicago White Sox infielder Scott Fletcher at a local 1989 clinic and noticed that Fletcher held the ball near the top of his fingers on his double-play toss from shortstop to second base.

"He was shoveling the ball and eliminating the flip with the fingers," Funai said. "I tried it myself and found that it works good. I learned something new (that day)."

Madeline Funai, the coach's wife, knows more than anyone else what baseball meant to her husband of 68 years.

"I let him do it because it was his first love," she said. "He touched so many lives and he loved coaching."

Funai was doing his weekly clinics up until 1997.

"He would have done it last year if he were healthy," Madeline Funai said. "So many people called to ask but he just couldn't do it."

Funai, who was born in Waialua and attended Mid-Pacific Institute, began coaching at St. Louis in 1936 as an assistant to Charlie "Fat" Fernandes.

Funai often said that "if you can't be a good ballplayer, at least look like one" and one day it came back to haunt him.

"He wanted the leggings pulled up but every year, we'd get these old leggings that were loose so you had to use a garter or rubber band to hold it up," attorney Raymond Tam recalled in a 1992 Star-Bulletin story.

"Well, we're playing Punahou in 1949 and Charley Ane is throwing bullets at us. Freddie Meyer finally gets a hit and is taking his lead off first. All of a sudden, the rubber band around one of his leggings breaks.

"While he's reaching down to pull it up, Ane picks him off first. We could see Coach's face turning red. Freddie comes back to the dugout and the first thing he says is, 'Well, at least I looked good.'"

Funai was an agent for Manufacturer's Life Insurance Co. and Pyramid Insurance.

Funai is survived by his wife; sons Donald, Melvin and Jimmy; eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Services: Next Wednesday, Diamond Head Mortuary, 6:30 p.m. Casual attire.

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