Julio Franco

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Julio Franco
Julio Franco.jpg
Infielder / Designated hitter
Born: (1958-08-23) August 23, 1958 (age 55)
Hato Mayor, Dominican Republic
Batted: Right Threw: Right
MLB debut
April 23, 1982 for the Philadelphia Phillies
Last MLB appearance
September 17, 2007 for the Atlanta Braves
Career statistics
Batting average .298
Hits 2,586
Home runs 173
Runs batted in 1,194
Teams
Career highlights and awards

Julio César Robles Franco (born August 23, 1958) is a former Major League Baseball infielder and designated hitter. In 2007, Franco was the oldest active player in the major leagues at the age of 49.

While Franco was an All-Star and posted above-average hitting statistics throughout his career, he is best known for being the oldest regular position player in Major League history. Franco was the all-time hits leader among Dominican-born players until surpassed in 2011 by Vladimir Guerrero. He made his debut on April 23, 1982, as a shortstop for the Philadelphia Phillies. During his long career, Franco saw significant time as a shortstop, second baseman, first baseman, and designated hitter.

Early career[edit]

As his career started, Franco was part of a 1982 five-for-one trade between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Cleveland Indians. The Phillies received highly regarded prospect, Von Hayes, in exchange for Manny Trillo, George Vukovich, Jay Baller, Jerry Willard, and Franco.

Franco hit over .300 in every season from 1986 to 1989. He also averaged over 20 stolen bases per season from 1983 through 1991. When he switched from shortstop to second baseman in 1988, he won four straight Silver Slugger Awards. Franco batted with a long whip-like swing with the heaviest bat allowed. Because of his batting style, Franco twice led the American League in grounding into double plays and was in the top-ten in that category seven times in the 1980s alone. He is seventh on the all-time list in ground-ball double plays and has just over 300.[1]

After the 1988 season, Franco was traded from Cleveland to the Texas Rangers for an established player, Pete O'Brien, and two prospects, Oddibe McDowell and Jerry Browne.

With Texas, Franco was named to all three of his All-Star teams: in 1989, 1990 and 1991, and he won the Major League Baseball All-Star Game MVP Award in 1990. In the 1990 All-Star game, Franco came to bat in the 7th inning against Rob Dibble of the Cincinnati Reds. Franco drove a 101 mph fastball to the right-center field fence for a double, scoring the only runs of the game.

In 1991, Franco had his only 200-hit season and won the American League batting title. His .341 average was nine points higher than that of Baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs. 1992 was the only injury-plagued season of Franco's career; it limited him to 35 games and ended Franco's time as a middle infielder. He spent 1993 as a designated hitter before opting to become a free agent and signing with the Chicago White Sox.

Strike and baseball abroad[edit]

In 1994, Franco had already hit 20 home runs for the only time in his career and was on pace to reach 100 runs batted in for the only time in his career when the remainder of the season was canceled by the 1994 Major League Baseball strike.

On December 28, 1994, Franco signed to play in Japan with the Chiba Lotte Marines in the Pacific League. Chiba Lotte had the best season in its history in 1995, and Franco won the Japanese equivalent of the Gold Glove Award as a first baseman.

After the 1995 season in Japan, Franco came back to the United States after signing back on with the Cleveland Indians, where he was a fan favorite. In 1996, he batted .322 with 76 RBIs even in an injury-shortened season, and played in his first post season. In August 1997, the Indians released him. Franco quickly signed with the Milwaukee Brewers.

In 1998, Franco was back in Japan playing for Chiba Lotte. The following year, he returned to North America, in the Mexican League with a .423 average in 93 games (and also a strikeout in his only Major League at bat with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays). In 2000, Franco was back in Asia but, this time, in South Korea to play for the Samsung Lions. He returned again to the Mexican Leagues in 2001, before returning to the Major Leagues.

Return to the Majors[edit]

Franco with the Atlanta Braves in 2002.

In September 2001, Franco was a 43-year-old who had just one major league at bat in the previous four seasons. Despite his lengthy absence, the Atlanta Braves, after seeing his success in the Mexican League, purchased his contract from the Angelopolis (Mexico City) Tigers. Franco played well defensively as a first baseman and was a good hitter against left-handed pitchers. The Braves re-signed him after that season and each of the next three.

Franco was talking in the weight room in August 2003 with Jason Marquis, when he leaned on the wrong stand at the wrong time and inspired an 80-pound weight to roll over his finger, breaking it. "When the weight started to roll," Franco said, "I said, 'Uh-oh.'"[2]

In 2004, Franco passed Cap Anson as the oldest regularly playing position player in Major League history. (A few regularly playing pitchers, including knuckleballers Phil Niekro and Hoyt Wilhelm, were older than Franco, and a few non-pitchers, like Minnie Miñoso and Jim O'Rourke, appeared as publicity stunts at old ages but did not play regularly).

On December 8, 2005, at age 47, Franco signed a two-year contract with the Mets.

Franco had been the oldest player in the major leagues from 2004 to 2007, and was the last active player who was born in the 1950s. On April 20, 2006, pinch-hitting with one out in the eighth inning against the San Diego Padres, Franco hit a go-ahead two-run home run, becoming the oldest player in Major League history to hit a home run. Franco hit a three-run homer on September 30, 2006, in Washington to extend his own record. It was one of three hits in the game for Franco, who fell a triple short of hitting for the cycle. Franco yet again bested himself on May 4, 2007 when he homered into the swimming pool at Chase Field against Arizona Diamondbacks lefty Randy Johnson - a game in which he also stole a base.

Franco was also the oldest player ever to hit a grand slam, a pinch-hit home run, two home runs in one game, and to steal two bases in a game. On April 26, 2006, Franco became the second-oldest man in Major League history to steal a base, behind only Arlie Latham, who accomplished the feat in a token appearance at age 49 with the New York Giants in 1909. On July 29, 2006, against the Atlanta Braves, Julio Franco became the oldest player ever to pinch run, when he came in for Carlos Delgado after Delgado was hit by pitch. On September 19, 2006, a day after the Mets clinched the division title, Franco started at third base in a game against the Florida Marlins. This was Franco's first start at the position since his rookie year, marking 24 years between starts at the position.[2]

Franco struggled with the Mets in 2007, achieving just a .200 batting average (in only 50 at-bats in half a season). Franco grew unhappy with insufficient playing time before being designated for assignment on July 12.[3] He subsequently re-signed with the Atlanta Braves on July 18 and was placed on the team's active roster. In his first game since re-signing with the Braves, he went 1-for-3 with 2 RBIs and received 2 standing ovations in a Braves 10–1 rout of the Cardinals. On August 1, just 13 days after the Braves signed him, the Braves designated Franco for assignment. He accepted a minor league assignment on August 8 and was called back up as promised on September 1.

He declared free agency on October 29, 2007. Franco began the 2008 season - his 31st in pro baseball - as a first baseman for the Tigres de Quintana Roo (Cancun) in the Mexican League.[4]

On May 2, 2008, he officially announced his retirement from baseball to his Mexican league team, the Quintana Roo Tigers. An official announcement was released the next day.

Franco was announced as the manager of the Mets rookie level team in the Gulf Coast League.

Awards and highlights[edit]

  • 3-time All-Star (1989–91)
  • MVP All-Star Game (1990)
  • Led American League in batting average (.341, 1991)
  • Led AL in singles (156, 1991)
  • 2nd in the AL Rookie of the Year selection (1983, behind Ron Kittle)
  • Led AL in at-bats (658, 1984)
  • Top 10 MVP selection (8th, AL, 1994)
  • Carolina League MVP (1980)
  • Twice hit over .400 in the Mexican League (.423, 1999; .437, 2000)
  • Oldest player to hit a Grand Slam (47, 2005, breaking his own record set in 2004 at 45)
  • Oldest regularly playing non-pitcher player in MLB history (48)
  • Second-oldest player to appear in MLB postseason play (48, during the 2006 postseason)
  • Oldest player in Major League history to hit a home run (48)
  • Second-oldest player to steal a base (48, during the 2007 season)
  • Led all Dominican players in MLB history in seasons, games, at-bats, hits, and bases on balls
  • 4,000 Professional Hit Club: Has compiled over 4,200 hits in his 26-year professional career, making him one of only seven known players with at least 4,000 professional hits (the others being Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Jigger Statz, Stan Musial, and Ichiro Suzuki.[5] Jake Beckley and Sam Crawford may also have hit 4,000, but data for some of their minor league seasons is missing.[6]):
  • Has the distinguished honor of being the last active player in the major leagues from RBI Baseball (NES)
  • As of 2006, Julio Franco was the only active player to face a pitcher who pitched against Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who retired in 1960. The pitcher is Jim Kaat, who played in the majors from 1959 to 1983. Williams had batted against Kaat the final day of the 1959 season, Kaat's rookie year. Kaat walked Franco in the latter's rookie season in 1982.[7]
  • Franco was the last MLB player eligible to wear a batting helmet with no ear flaps. He elected to wear a helmet with an ear flap throughout his career.He was the first MLB player to hit a home run with his grandson in attendance at the game.
  • Franco was the sixth batter that Roger Clemens ever faced, and when the two faced each other on June 15, 2007, they became the oldest batter-pitcher pair in the major leagues since October 1, 1933.[8]
  • If he was really born before 1958, then Franco may hold MLB records for oldest to steal a base and oldest to appear in the postseason.[9][10]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Career Leaders for Grounded into Double Plays". baseball-reference.com. June 19, 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-20. 
  2. ^ "Makeshift Mets clip Marlins behind Glavine's strong start". ESPN.com. September 19, 2006. Retrieved 2007-06-20. 
  3. ^ Noble, Marty (2007-07-12). "Mets designate Franco for assignment". MLB.com. 
  4. ^ Nearing 50, Franco Still Going Strong in Mexican League, March 30, 2008
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ http://baseballmusings.com/?p=95963
  7. ^ ESPN.com: Page 2 : Keep the owners out of the Hall
  8. ^ MLB - New York Mets/New York Yankees Recap Friday June 15, 2007 - Yahoo! Sports
  9. ^ "Tigres de Quintana Roo". Retrieved 2008-04-20. 
  10. ^ Franco's true birth date is always in question. Although his current reported birthdate is in 1958, many of his early bios and cards have his birthday listed in 1954, and on the roster of the Quintana Roo Tigres, his birthday is listed in 1961.

External links[edit]