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Julio Franco

Julio Franco

Position(s):
3B, SS, DH, 2B, LF, OF, RF, 1B
Born:
August 23, 1958
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
6'
Weight:
160 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-23-1982 with PHI
Allstar Selections:
1988 SS, 1989 SS, 1990 AsMVP, 1990 SS, 1991 SS, 1994 SS

One of the most prolific hitters to emerge from the Dominican Republic, Julio Franco started out as one of the best offensive middle infielders of the 1980s, and gradually, due to a bad knee and weak fielding, switched over to the designated hitter position in the 1990s, thriving there as well.

Franco broke in with the Phillies in the early '80s, but didn't last long thanks to his multitudes of errors at shortstop. One of five players sent from Philadelphia to Cleveland for Von Hayes in 1982, Franco soon switched over to second base, thanks to the advice of his friend Manny Sanguillen. Some said the Dominican's immaturity made him a divisive presence during his six years with the Indians, but he was an easy target on losing teams with his weak defense and flamboyant style. Hitting from a distinctive knock-kneed stance with his bat wrapped high behind his ear, he earned raves in 1985 when he drove in 90 runs, taking advantage of a very high 244 opportunities with runners in scoring position. Franco batted .303 or better in 1986-88, but the Indians continued to lose despite high expectations (one national magazine picked them to win the WS in 1987).

In his early years, Franco was considered a huge defensive liability, leading led AL shortstops in errors in 1984 and 1985, but as the years went on, he made fewer after his fielding percentage was used against him in arbitration hearings. His powerful bat only partly compensated for his lack of range, and he gained a reputation of being unable to make the big play defensively.

In May 1985 the Indians acquired shortstop Johnnie LeMaster and asked Franco to move to second base. Franco balked at taking the job from his friend Tony Bernazard, and LeMaster was sent packing three weeks later. Franco was finally moved to second base in 1988 after Corrales was fired and Bernazard was traded. Before the 1989 season, Franco was traded to Texas for Pete O'Brien, Jerry Browne, and Oddibe McDowell before the 1989 season. He soon emerged as a Rangers team leader and mentor to Rafael Palmeiro and Ruben Sierra. His first year in a Texas uniform, Franco hit .316 with 92 RBI and stole 21 bases in 24 attempts. In 1991, Franco notched his best year, tallying 108 runs, 201 hits, 15 dingers, 36 steals, and a league-leading .341 batting average. He also had a little post-season thrill that year, becoming an American citizen at the end of October. In December of that same eventful season, Franco found God, and became a devout Christian.

Unfortunately, the following year, he missed all but 35 games due to a damaged right knee. Speedwise, Franco never recovered, and was shifted to designated hitter and first base for good following his comeback. When the Rangers didn't resign him after the '93 season, Franco joined the Chicago White Sox, and immediately performed well: In the strike-shortened '94 campaign, Franco was on pace for his best offensive year, slamming twenty dingers before the strike and tallying 98 ribbies by mid-August.

When the work stoppage began, Franco wisely packed up and headed for Japan, playing the 1995 season for the Chiba Lotte Marines; the next year, he was back in America, DH-ing and playing second for the Indians once again. However, after a productive 1996 season, his numbers dropped and he was released in August of 1997. Milwaukee picked him up, and he finished the year with the Brewers before heading off for a second tour of duty with Chiba Lotte. In 1999, Franco played for Tampa Bay's Triple-A Mexico City affiliate, before getting called up to the majors for one at-bat (he struck out). On June 20th of that same year, fellow countryman Tony Fernandez surpassed Franco as the all-time hits leader for a player from the Dominican Republic.

Franco's seemingly dead career was revived for a last hurrah in 2001 by the Braves. Needing a first baseman for the stretch run, Atlanta signed the 40-year-old Franco out of the Mexican League on August 31st. In 25 games with the Braves, he batted .300 with three home runs and 11 RBIs. 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.'"

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).

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.

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.

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.

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Tagged:
Atlanta Braves, Cap Anson, Chiba Lotte Marines, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Julio Franco, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies, Shortstop, Texas Rangers, secondbase

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