Tales from the Teepee: Julio Franco

Chris KreitzerSenior Analyst IMarch 12, 2009

Special to the TTO
Back in the day at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, you could count on three things while sitting in the stands: John Adams’s drum, the troughs in the bathroom, and the “Juuuuuuuu-liiiiii-ooooooooo” chants whenever the Tribe shortstop/second baseman came to the plate.

Franco came to the Tribe in 1982 in a whopping five for one trade with the Phillies. The woeful Indians gave up prized prospect Von Hayes for Franco and future has-beens Manny Trillo, George Vukovich, Jay Baller, and Jerry Willard.

Little did the Fightin’ Phils know, that only years later would Hayes abandon baseball altogether for a career in the World Video Boxing Association.

Franco had a solid, yet unspectacular, stint with the Indians from 1983 through 1988. He finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year race, losing to future Tribe DH Ron Kittle. In his Indians career, he hit for average, hitting over .300 three times in six seasons, including .319 in 1987, but had little power.

He was perhaps best known for his sweet man-perm and his bizarre batting style, in which he held the bat high, almost at eye level, and parallel to the plate before unleashing a long, uppercut swing.

Rumor has it that Hayes, bitter about being traded by the Indians, was inspired by Franco’s swing when training his protégé, Don Flamenco, after he hung up his gloves in the WVBA.

Franco’s long swing caused him to lead the league in GIDP twice during the 1980s and finishing in the Top 10 in the category a whopping seven times in 10 years. He would finish his career having hit into over 300 double plays in his career.

After the 1988 season, Franco was traded by the Tribe to the Texas Rangers for journeyman 1B Pete O’Brien and washouts Odibe McDowell and Jerry “The Governor” Browne.

In Texas, Franco would find his greatest professional success: he was named to the All-Star team three straight years (1989-1991) and was named the MVP of the All-Star game in 1990. In 1991, he hit .341 and won the American League batting title.

After an injury-plagued 1992 season, a disappointing 1993 season where saw time mainly as a DH, and the strike-plagued 1994 season, Franco bounced around the Majors and played in Asia for the remainder of the 1990s, including a second stint with the Indians in 1996 and 1997.

Franco again came to prominence in 2001 with the Atlanta Braves, where he played 1B for several seasons. He would become the oldest regularly-playing position player in Major League Baseball history, as well as the oldest player ever to hit a home run and a grand slam, as well as the second-oldest ever to steal a base.

He played briefly with the Mets before finishing his Major League career with the Braves at the end of the 2007 season. Franco attempted yet another comeback in the Mexican League before announcing his retirement in May 2008.

In the late 1980s, no one in Cleveland would have ever imagined that Franco would end up having the career that he did—multiple All-Star appearances, an AL batting title, four Silver Slugger awards, and over 4,200 hits (including the minor leagues, and the Japanese, Korean, and Mexican leagues) in 26 professional seasons.

Franco himself attributes his success late in his career to his strict diet and exercise regiment as well as to being on the juice—the Jesus juice.
by J-Neg
Check out Julio Franco's career statistics here and see how ageless he really was by the years. A little website also sponsors the page as well.
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