Julio Franco: The Oldest Player To Ever Hit a HR & 2006 NL Eastern Champion Mets Player (2006-2007)
Julio Ceasar Franco was born in Hato Mayor, Dominican Republic on August 23rd, 1958. The six foot right handed hitter was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1978.
In December 1982 he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies along with Manny Trillo, George Vuckovich, Jay Baller & Jerry Willard for Von Hayes. He hit .273 with 8 HRs 80 RBIs & 32 stolen bases (9th in the AL) for the last place Indians coming in second in the Rookie of the Year Voting.
Franco spent six years in Cleveland batting over .300 & stealing 25 or more bases three times. In 1988 he was even considered for an MVP Award, getting few votes & won a Silver Slugger Award. He would use a bat that was the heaviest allowed by MLB & had a whip style swing to go with it. In December 1988 he was traded to the Texas Rangers for Oddibe McDowell, Jerry Browne & Pete O'Brien.
In Texas he would have his best seasons making three straight All Star teams (1989-1991) & winning three Silver Slugger Awards. In his first season with the Rangers he hit .316 driving in 92 runs stealing 21 bases. He had his best season in 1991 for the third place Rangers under Bobby Valentine.
After coming in the league's top ten in batting four times, in 1991 he won the batting title batting .341 with a career high 201 hits. He hit 15 HRs with 27 doubles 78 RBIs & 36 stolen bases (6th in the AL). His .408 on base % was fourth best in the league. He was injured most of the 1992 season & in 1993 returned to hit .289 in 144 games.
In 1994 he signed a one year deal with the Chicago White Sox at age 35. As Big Frank Thomas won his second MVP Award, Franco hit behind him, batting .319 in 112 games as the first place Sox' designated hitter. That year there was no post season as MLB went on strike, disappointing the fans.
In 1995 he played in Japan with the Chiba Lotte Marines under his old manager Bobby Valentine. He signed back with the Indians in 1996, returning to hit .322 in 112 games.
He was the first place Indians main first baseman that season & a lot had sure changer from his first go around with the Tribe, as they were now one of league's best teams in this era with guys like Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez & Albert Belle. He struggled hitting just .133 in the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles.
In 1997 he was released & signed by the Milwaukee Brewers where he hit .241 in 42 games. He then went to play in Korea & Mexico before returning to the major leagues at age 43. In 2001 the Atlanta Braves purchased his contract & he played 25 games there that season hitting .300.
Over the next three years he got into over 100 games each season with Atlanta getting to the post season each year, but losing in the NLDS. He hit better in each of his first three seasons with Atlanta, batting.294 in 2003 & then .309 in 2004.
In these years he was more of a role player, filling in at any position he could, pinch hitting & being used as a designated hitter. In December of 2005 he signed on board with the New York Mets, as GM Omar Minaya was collecting as many Dominican players he could to add to his team.
Franco debuted with the Mets as the oldest player in the major leagues on Opening Day going hitless in a pinch hit at bat in a 3-2 Mets win over the Washington Nats. The next day he got a 9th inning pinch hit off Chad Codero for his first Mets hit. In the month of April, Franco would get four pinch hits & a walk in twelve at bats.
On April 20th, he became the oldest player in MLB history to hit a HR, when he hit a two run go ahead HR against the San Diego Padres. On April 26th he became the second oldest player to ever steal a base, second to New York Giants Arlie Latham (49).
He began to see more time as a designated hitter in inter league games & action at first base when Carlos Delgado missed some time.
He became the oldest player to ever pinch run, when he came into a game for Delgado that July. Franco hit well enough to be a pleasant surprise, batting .346 by late June. His hot hitting tailed off in the last two months, but he went out with a bang having his biggest Mets day on September 30th. In a 13-0 Mets win in Washington, Franco hit a pair of HRs, had three hits & drove in five of the runs.
He finished the Mets NL Eastern Division winning season batting .273 with 2 HRs ten doubles 26 RBIs & a .330 on base %.
Post Season: Franco got to his seventh & final post season with the '06 Mets. In the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he got two at bats, going hitless, but did have an RBI on a ground out in Game #2. He also went 0-2 in the NLCS vs St. Louis.
In 2007 he came in as a pinch hitter in the third game of the season. His sac fly scored David Wright & when an error was made on the play he reached base safely. He later scored a run on Jose Reyes double.
On May 4th he hit his last career HR, it came off Randy Johnson & the Arizona Diamondbacks landing in the outfield swimming pool in a 5-3 Mets win. Franco had continued to extend his own record as being the oldest player to hit a HR. His average quickly fell below .200 & on July 7th he was released. He was batting .200 with one HR & 8 RBIs at the time.
He was picked up by the Atlanta Braves & played 15 games there closing out his career. He once said I want to collect a pension & paycheck, wishing to play at 50 years old, but he fell one year short, ending his playing career at age 49.
In a long 23 year career in 2527 games (48th most all time) Franco batted .298 with 2586 hits (83rd all time), 407 doubles 54 triples 173 HRs 281 stolen bases (180th all time) & 1194 RBIs (151st all time) with a .365 on base % & 80 sac flies (90th all time). In his career he grounded into 312 double plays which is eighth most all time.
Franco played short stop (715 games) second base (663 games) first base (508 games) third base (7 games) & four games in the outfield.
Retirement: In 2008 he played his 31st year in pro ball in the Mexican League.
In 2009 he managed for the Mets rookie level Gulf Coast League team.