Friday, April 21, 2006

Old Man River is in the Books

There aren’t many guys still playing from the height of my baseball card collecting years. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Terry Mulholland, Curt Schilling and several other pitchers. Barry Bonds has recreated himself into Lou Ferigno and Omar Vizquel is still going strong in terms of position players. But one man that I grew up watching is older than all that I have mentioned. Julio Franco is 47 years old and going strong…and also playing for my favorite team the Mets.

Last night in San Diego against the Padres Julio put a 1-0 pitch from reliever Scott Linebrink into the seats down the right-field line at Petco Park. It vaulted the Mets ahead 3-2 and gave Franco a spot in the record book that had been belonged to Athletics pitcher Jack Quinn. Quinn had been the oldest major leaguer (46 years and 357 days) to hit a homerun when he went deep on June 27th, 1930. But now the record belongs to Mr. Franco who will turn 48 on August 23rd.

Julio’s long career started when he came up late in the 1982 season with the Phillies. Way back yonder Julio was a middle infielder, specifically a shortstop. He was traded that December with five other Phillies to the Cleveland Indians for Von Hayes where he spent six very good seasons. In December of 1988 the Indians sent their best hitter, now a second baseman, to the Texas Rangers where he had the most productive seasons of his career. In 1989, 1990 and 1991 Julio was an American League All-Star, in 1990 the All-Star game MVP. In 1991 he led the Major Leagues with a .341 that gave him his only batting title.

In 1992 he suffered the only real significant injury of his career and at 33 years old he played in just 35 games. Two years later he signed a one-year deal to be the Chicago White Sox DH. He had a fine season hitting .319 with career bests 20 HRs and 98 RBIs. The Sox couldn’t renew his contract after the season and he returned to Cleveland in 1996. Then Cleveland release him in August of 1997 and he signed with Milwaukee to finish the season. Nobody wanted the 39-year old and he went and played a year in Japan. After good success in Japan the Tampa Bay Devil Rays gave him a shot, for one game. The 40-year old struck out in his only at bat and was in the minor leagues most of the season. In 2000 and 2001 he played for the Mexico City Tigers of the Mexican League. He still was hitting with success when the Atlanta Braves in desperate need of some help at first base gave him a contract on August 31st of 2001. In 90 ABs he hit .300 and won over the respect of Braves Manager Bobby Cox.

He spent the last four years in Atlanta as a back-up first basemen and pinch hitter. But Mets GM Omar Minaya jumped at the chance to sign him last offseason because he thought Julio’s coach-like presence on the Mets would help several of the Mets younger players. Minaya and the Mets signed him to a two-year guaranteed contract that is already paying dividends. When this contract expires Franco will be 49 years old – if he can get one more year out of his body he’ll make it to fifty…which is what his goal is. And why not? He’s in better shape than most 30-year olds and is a positive influence on and off the field.

He’s a physical specimen with a love for the game of baseball that is second to none.

Great job last night Julio – and keep it up.


At 7/22/2006 8:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice colors. Keep up the good work. thnx!


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