So much more should be made of the fact that Julio Franco is still playing Major League Baseball at the age of 48. A few years ago there was a story or two about Franco being the oldest position player in MLB history. But, if it was amazing that Franco was playing three years ago at the age of 45, it should be even more amazing that he is playing today at 48. Franco hit his first home run of the season over the weekend. That broke his old record as the oldest player to hit a home run in a MLB game. He now owns that record by three years. Satchel Paige has always been the ring-bearer for old players in baseball. Franco is two years older than Paige was when he retired. Paige might have lore behind him but Franco has the record book.
Franco’s career stats are probably much more impressive than most people realize. He is closing in on 2,600 career hits (75th all-time). His career batting average is .299. He has close to 1,300 runs and 1,200 RBIs. I think the general feeling about Franco is that he is just a marginal baseball player that manages to keep in impeccable shape. At 45, Franco hit .309. At 46, he hit .275. And at 47, he hit .273. Suffice it to say that most Major League Baseball players would love to hit .270 for a career. Franco has never hit below .270 in a full season. Teams keep signing him and Franco keeps producing. He will be 49 in August. He’ll only need to play one more season to reach the 50 year-old milestone. This story should be huge.
There are so many different ways that Franco's age can be put into perspective. He played with Pete Rose and Steve Carlton. Carlton is 62 and Rose is 66. He played with Manny Mota who played with Early Wynn who played with Lou Gehrig. Franco finished 2nd to Ron Kittle in the 1982 ROY balloting. Kittle played ten seasons in the majors and has been retired for 17 years! Franco also faced Jim Kaat who pitched against Ted Williams. Williams was born in 1918.
Most people have symbolic time machines that take them to places tucked away deep in their memory banks. For me, Franco represents one of those “time machines”. When I think of Franco, I remember so many things that have evaded my thoughts for 20+ years. I think of Cleveland Municipal Stadium. I think of the "RBI Baseball" music. I think of the first time I beat Soda Popinski when I was eight-years old. I think of my grandparents. I think of the giant font on 1986 Topps baseball cards. I think of the time I brought a 1988 Topps Mike Greenwell card to “show-and-tell” and later found it in a rain-puddle outside our back door (if I knew then what I know now, I would not have cried). Franco is a portal to my past the same way a Smashing Pumpkins CD or the movie “Major League” is. I have a sneaking suspicion that when Franco retires, those memories will be much more difficult to reach. As much as I hate to admit it, my reasons for wanting Franco to play as long as possible are almost entirely self-serving. It doesn’t really matter who it is that’s playing baseball at 48, it just matters that someone is. I am thankful to Franco for giving me a chance to remember the past like it was yesterday.
In other—less selfish—ways, Franco represents what is possible. Before Franco, it was unheard of for a professional athlete to play past 45. He has reached—and blasted through—unchartered territory. It wasn’t too long ago that life expectancy was 50-years old. Franco is playing MLB at that age. Franco should be a maven for not only the 40+ population, but everyone who aspires to defy the odds. He didn’t just accidentally make it to the age of 48 in MLB. He isn’t a gimmick like so many athletes from the past who came back for a game just to enter the record books. His work ethic is tireless. His mental preparation is second to none. Franco is proof that if you don’t give in to preconceived notions, even the most impossible can be possible. I love the fact that Franco is still playing baseball. It will be a sad day when he finally retires. He represents so much of the past and so much for the future. Ironically, he really isn’t getting his just do in the present.