Tampa Bay high school baseball icon Frank Permuy dies

The 600-game winner, whose pupils included Rays manager Kevin Cash, battled brain cancer.
Longtime area prep baseball coach Frank Permuy, who started the program at Gaither High, had the school's field named in his honor in 2015.
Longtime area prep baseball coach Frank Permuy, who started the program at Gaither High, had the school's field named in his honor in 2015. [ Times ]
Published April 19, 2020|Updated April 19, 2020

A cardinal sin of Frank Permuy’s strict but unspoken code of baseball decorum was to leave a dugout unkempt.

“I think he’s probably one of the first coaches that I can recall that said, ‘Hey, you guys come out here and do more than just put on your glove and your shoes and come out here and play. This is your park,’” recalled his younger brother Glenn.

“You leave it better than you found it. That was just one of his things.”

After more than seven decades of prominent residence as a player, coach and revered elder statesman, Frank Permuy Jr. departed the bay area baseball landscape Sunday morning.

By all accounts, leaving it far, far better than when he arrived.

“He really loved the game,” longtime King High coach Jim Macaluso said. “He really loved coaching high school baseball."

One of the most successful prep coaches in bay area history whose pupils included Rays manager Kevin Cash and Indians outfielder Oscar Mercado, Permuy died early Sunday following a lengthy bout with brain cancer.

“You couldn’t have asked for a better coach, person, presence at that challenging time for 16-18-year-old boys transitioning into young men,” Cash said. “He handled everything with a lot of patience, and really cared not just about his players but all the students.”

Glenn Purmuy said his brother passed away at 2:39 a.m. at his home on Tampa’s northern fringe. Permuy, diagnosed May 1 of last year, was 77.

Former Gaither coach Frank Permuy, seen addressing his team before the Class 5A state final in 2005, won more than 600 games at the prep level.
Former Gaither coach Frank Permuy, seen addressing his team before the Class 5A state final in 2005, won more than 600 games at the prep level. [ SCOTT PURKS | Times ]

Cash said he last saw him in person in November, when he presented Permuy an award at a Positive Coaching Alliance function. Other friends and peers reached Sunday said they had remained in contact via phone during the early stages of the pandemic.

But his condition had deteriorated in the last couple of weeks.

“I knew it was coming but it’s still hard,” said former longtime Jefferson High coach Pop Cuesta, a fellow Ybor City native whose friendship with Permuy stretched more than 65 years, originating at Cuscaden Park and at Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s playground.

“He fought the good fight, which I knew he would. I knew he’d never give up, he’d never quit.”

A lanky figure who talked fast and typically wore No. 7 as an ode to boyhood hero Mickey Mantle, Permuy retired in 2014 with a coaching resume that included 610 high school wins and a state championship.

That crown came in 1982, when he led Tampa Catholic ― led by dual aces Lance McCullers and Richard Monteleone ― to the Class 3A title.

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“He never panicked," said former University of Tampa and USF coach Lelo Prado, whose dad, Aurelio, was a Crusaders assistant on that 1982 club.

"He was always the same ol’ Frank. If you saw Frank get mad, boy you had to really get under his skin because he kept it pretty cool. Just always even keel.”

Two years after that title run, Permuy started the program at Gaither, helping dig the ballpark’s drainage system and erecting the fences before pouring a championship foundation.

In 31 seasons at the north Tampa school, he led the Cowboys to 16 playoff berths, three Saladino Tournament crowns and a final four. It was Permuy’s 2009 Gaither club that ended Mitchell High left-hander Patrick Schuster’s state-record streak of four consecutive no-hitters.

“Whatever the term ‘coach’ covers, that was him,” said Macaluso, a friend and counterpart for decades. “Whether it was a good disciplinarian, good teacher, well liked, well loved, worked hard at it — it was his life. I think everything went into it. He just did a great job as a coach.”

Matt Siegel, a 1996 Gaither alumnus who played shortstop for Permuy before starring at the University of Florida, said his old coach steadily kept track of his career, from UF to coaching stops at the Division I and professional levels.

“He just really took interest in players," Siegel said.

"And I think a lot of times now coaching is, ‘What can you do for me? Can I parlay this into the next job?’ I think he really enjoyed being a high school baseball coach. Don’t get me wrong, he loved the games and he loved winning … but I’ve been around coaches where they make it miserable on players. I think he had a good balance.”

Tack on a brief stint at Leto in the early 1970s and an ensuing five-year hitch at UT (where he went 92-89-3), and Permuy won more than 700 games at the local prep and college levels. Toss in American Legion ball, and the Plant High alumnus totaled more than 1,300 wins in roughly a half-century of coaching.

Today, he is a member of no fewer than four halls of fame.

“Frank always had a knack for getting the best out of kids," said Cuesta, who coached 43 years at Jefferson and had his No. 1 jersey retired by the Dragons in 2015.

"He’d just get ‘em to do things, challenged ‘em, motivated ‘em, do whatever he had to do to get the best out of ‘em. There are a lot of kids, all the way from the boys club to high school and everywhere else that understand that.”

In 2015, the field at Gaither was named in Permuy’s honor. Two summers ago, the Tampa Bay Times ranked him No. 38 on its list of the greatest coaches (prep, college or pro) in bay area history.

Upon his diagnosis last May, he was told his life expectancy was between four and 14 months, Glenn Permuy said. While chemotherapy and radiation resulted in physical ebbs and flows in his condition, he still got out for moderate exercise and regular lunches with old peers, and followed Cash’s club diligently.

“I think his residual athleticism from way back helped him survive as long as he could,” Glenn Permuy said. “He was in great shape and had a great attitude, never talked about this was going to take him down.”

Permuy is survived by his wife Danae, a son and stepson whom he raised from childhood, three grandchildren and two siblings including a younger sister.

“Just one of the nicest human beings you ever met," Prado said. "I mean, he was class. Everybody loved Frank.”

Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.