Bring Franco to Morgan County for deserved rest
By Greg Sullivan
One night in 1982 Julio Franco drew a walk from former Cardinals pitcher Jim "Kitty" Kaat. Kaat had pitched to Ted Williams--yes, that Ted Williams--back when Kaat was a rookie in 1959, the same year Hawaii and Alaska became states.
In baseball, old folks regularly pass the torch down from generation to generation, and Franco had been passing the torch down for a while.
Then on May 3, news came down the pipe that Franco, who'll turn 50 in August, was finally hanging up his cleats after playing baseball for 26 seasons and with professional teams on three different continents. His resume lists at bats in Japan, South Korea, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Canada (counting the times he took on the Expos and Blue Jays) and also here in the States.
But the opportunity for drinking margaritas in Cancun while watching Franco try to make yet another comeback to the big leagues appears to now be over. Just weeks ago he was playing with the Quintana Roo Tigres of the Mexican Baseball League in that city more known for cheesy Spring Break documentaries than serious baseball.
Still, Franco is more than a journeyman with international skymiles, he's also reached his share of major league milestones. He hit a major league Grand Slam at the age of 47 and a homer at 48, both marks making him the oldest to do so. Most noticeably, though, he'll go down in the books as the oldest position player in major league history. While in the process of extending that record he was on the Braves roster in the latter part of last season, his second tour of duty with the team, where he reached the age of 49 with a tomahawk logo stretched across his aging chest.
Franco definitely has a lot to look back on as a .298 lifetime hitter after racking up 2,586 lifetime hits in the big leagues.
Taking into account his major league, minor league and international experience, though, Franco's hit total of 4,229 puts him in even more prestigious company. He's one of three players to reach the 4,200 hits mark--the others--Pete Rose and Ty Cobb.
The New York Times has even tried to document his most recent comeback attempt, as he made it his goal going into this year to reach 50 on the diamond.
"I'm here because I believe I can continue playing ball," Franco said in a telephone interview with the Times just a couple months ago. "Back in '99," he said, referring to a previous stint in the Mexican League, "if I had stopped playing, I wouldn't have had eight more years in the big leagues. I believe I can still help a ball club off the bench. I just want to play till I'm 50. I believe God is going to give me that opportunity."
In the past week, though, Franco has decided to call off his pursuit of taking America's game into his next decade.
"It was the hardest decision in my life," said the Dominican-born slugger in an interview Saturday by the Mexican sports daily Record. "I always said I would be the first to know the exact moment. I think the numbers speak for themselves, the production speaks and this is the right moment."
"I understand that my time has passed and the great men and athletes know when to say enough."
Franco's latest decision, as disappointing as it is that it has come to pass, doesn't take away anything from what he's done. He's written the book now on career longevity. He should have no problem finishing out his days supporting himself by giving motivational speeches around the world or by whatever other means he chooses.
And sure, he would make a good coach or manager for some team.
Franco, though, seems more than capable of making career choices. He could, after all, want some time off from the sport. That's only for him to decide. Maybe he should truly retire and just take it easy for awhile. He's earned it.
So why not retire on Lake Oconee? Perhaps, in Buckhead. Franco seems to like Georgia. He played for the Braves from 2001 through 2005 and came back to play in the Peach State again for awhile in 2007, expressing his happiness at the time to be back in Atlanta.
We could use someone like Franco around here. He would be a great role model for young athletes, and a town can never have enough good people, to the extent that he seems to be.
So here's what I'm proposing: please help my cause by sending letters encouraging Franco to retire in Morgan County. You can send them to 235 South Main Street, Madison, GA, 30650 or fax them to 706.342.2140. If I receive a minimum of 15 signed letters encouraging his relocation to this area, I'll see to it that Franco receives all the letters stapled to my proposal.