For ballplayers like Julio Franco, age is just a number.
By the time Franco joined the Braves late in 2001, he already had 1,891 major-league games with six different teams under his belt, plus over 500 more in Mexico, Japan, and Korea. He had established himself as one of the better hitters in the league when he won the batting title in 1991, and was an All-Star three years straight (1989-91).
When the Braves came calling, Franco was playing in Mexico and the team needed a first baseman who could hit; Rico Brogna (.248/.297/.335), Ken Caminiti (.222/.306/.380), and Wes Helms (.222/.293/.435) simply were not getting the job done. Franco stepped in and hit an even .300 (27-90) in 25 games for the Braves...at 43 years old.
The Braves rewarded Franco with a one-year contract, and he responded by hitting .284 in 125 games in 2002. The team granted him three more one-year contracts as he kept providing reliable and consistent offense.
Following 2005, the Mets offered Franco a two-year deal, but his productive days were behind him. He was released in mid-July, but the Braves picked him up three days later and he finished the season with them.
Franco returned to Mexico in 2008, but announced his retirement after just 36 games citing declining production. He turned to managing starting in 2009 with the GCL Mets, followed by two years in Venezuela and then two years in Mexico.
He came out of retirement in 2014 to play in seven games with the Fort Worth Cats of the United Baseball League. Then in 2015, Franco travelled to Japan and signed on as a player-manager for the semipro Ishikawa Million Stars.
In Franco's long and well-traveled career, he owns 173 home runs and 2,586 hits in 2,527 major-league games while hitting .298/.365/.417 with 1,194 RBI. Due to his longevity, he owns several age-related records. He is the oldest:
- to hit a home run
- to hit a grand slam
- to hit a pinch-hit home run
- to steal two bases in a game
- to be a pinch-runner
He has stated that he wants to play "until I'm 66". So, for those who have ever wanted to play Major League Baseball but think you're too old to start, get at it!