Julio Franco has taken the
road less traveled. His career has included stops in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Texas, Chicago, Milwaukee, Tampa, and Atlanta
- not to mention Japan, Korea, and Mexico. On more than one occasion it
appeared that his big league career was over, but Julio Franco has survived.
Franco began his major league
career in 1982 with the Phillies. After a 16 game stint in Philadelphia, he was
dealt to Cleveland in 1983. As an Indian, Franco topped the .300 mark three times
before a trade sent him to Texas in 1989 for three players.
In Texas, Franco became a star. The second baseman appeared in three straight All Star Games (1989-91) and won the
AL batting title in 1991 with a .341 mark. After a successful one-year stint
as a White Sock in 1994, the veteran headed to Japan. After hitting .304 with
the Chiba Lotte Marines, Franco rejoined the Indians in 1996. His .322 average
helped the Tribe capture a second straight AL Central title.
By 1997, however, Franco's
production began to dip, prompting his release on August 13th. He finished the
season in Milwaukee. The journeyman then spent the 1998 and 1999 seasons in Japan
and Mexico. His only major league experience over that span consisted of one
hitless at bat with Tampa Bay in September of 1999.
Korea was next on Franco's
world tour in 2000. After tearing up the Mexican League with a .437 average in
2001, the Braves signed the well-traveled veteran for their playoff push on August 31st.
He hit .300 in 25 games for Atlanta.
Franco posted respectable numbers
in 2002, hitting .284 while platooning with Wes Helms at first base. The Braves
resigned the veteran to minor league deal on December 20th.
After all he has been through,
Franco says a World Series victory is his goal. "To have been where I have been
to come up, come back to the big leagues and win a World Series - only God can give you that blessing," he explained.
While his career has been filled
with highs and lows, Franco points to the All Star Game MVP he won in 1990 as his top moment and chooses to downplay the lows.
"I don't dwell on the negatives," he commented. "I try to get the negatives out
of my mind as soon as they happen."
The 18-year veteran points
to faith as his source of motivation, "I believe in God, not my abilities," Franco explained. "I believe in the Lord, that
he would give me the strength. He can do a lot of things through me. I don't believe so much in my abilities...if it is the will of God that I continue playing, I will be alright."
While many in his situation
would have pondered retirement, Franco claims it has never entered his mind. "If I was thinking about quitting, I would stay
home," he said. "Every time I made the decision to go (abroad), I was thinking, 'I
could play up here if somebody would give me the opportunity.' I was looking
to continue playing, to be sharp, so when someone called I was ready," he said.
Not only has Franco returned
to the big leagues, he has become a vital part of an elite team. "It's a blessing
from the Lord to be here doing what I love the most playing ball. Being on a
team that wins is blessing," the native Dominican commented. "If you look at our lineup, you see guys like Andruw Jones, (Gary)
Sheffield, Chipper Jones...every body does things to help the team win."
Franco refuses to put
a timetable on the remainder of his career, saying only he "take(s) it day by day."
Very dedicated to his faith, he plans on spending his retirement studying the Bible.
One topic Franco shies away
from, however, is his age. According to some sources he was born on September
23, 1961, but others list 1958 as the year of his birth. When asked which is
correct, he bristled. "Well, everybody is saying...(I was born) in '58, '59 and I told the guys (in 2001) to ask me all the
questions you want, but next year dont ask me about my age. "
He also didn't appreciate being
compared to Satchel Paige, "I told the guys (in 2001) to ask me all the questions you want about my age," he repeated in a
louder, more confrontational tone. "This year I am not going to get into that."
Although his real age may forever
remain a mystery, one thing is certain: Julio Franco will keep going and going....
-David Zingler, March