Thursday, July 19, 2007

19 July 2007: Oldest

The Altanta Braves, who are kind of up there in the NL East race this year (despite just losing three in a row), just made a move to turn their season around by signing a first baseman holding quite a large number of records.

Julio Franco holds a number of career distinctions: American League Batting Champion, All-Star 'Most Valuable Player', five-time 'Silver Slugger' award winner, three-time All-Star. But most of his category-topping appearances begin with the word 'oldest':

Oldest player to hit a home run, oldest player to hit a grand slam, oldest player to hit a pinch-hit home run, oldest player to steal two consecutive bases, oldest player to pinch run (ie they substituted him in to the game for his running speed), oldest player in Major League Baseball (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007), oldest regular position player (ie he actually plays and fields) in Major League history. The few 'oldest' titles he doesn't hold (oldest to steal a base, oldest to have an at-bat) are due to token performances by elderly 'players' back in the early days of baseball, when people didn't take baseball so seriously. If he steals a base within the next year, however, he'll even manage to get that record - which has stood since 1909.

He's officially 48, 49 on August 23rd. Unofficially, based on comments made by several teammates in 2002/03, he's at least 53. His career began when he was signed as a free agent for the Phillies organisation in 1978.

1978. Sheesh.

He was signed by the Braves in 2001 while slowly finishing up his career in Mexico. Manager Bobby Cox thought perhaps Franco could do a job against left-handed pitchers while platooning at first base. He ended up staying four years, astounding people with his athletic ability (in 2005 he was still one of the quickest runners on the roster) and bizarre diet ("raw eggs, pro-tee-in") and eventually was released when, in 2006, his salary arbitration took his earning figure up to the $2 million mark, something the Braves hadn't figured on. The Mets picked him up, and he had a good 2006, but his appearances were limited somewhat in 2007, and they released him.

Immediately the Braves were on the phone. "Get down here and play for us," was the message - and one plane flight later, Julio will be in a Braves uniform and playing in tonight's game. Not just an invaluable bat off the bench, not to mention his base-stealing and pinch-running abilities, he's also extremely valuable to the team as a leader: it's kind of like having an extra coach down on the bench, something the Braves have lacked a little since the departures of Franco and former catcher Eddie Perez.

Whether this is the catalyst the Braves need to put some consistency into their streaky season remains to be seen. But at least it's a distraction from the ongoing Saints takeover soap-opera, which rumbles ever onward with little sign of a conclusion: at least not before the closure of the transfer window, which is what really matters in this case. Maybe Julio (career earnings of over $24 million, which isn't much by baseball standards) should come in with a bid? He's probably fitter than most of them anyway.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

in a couple of years he'll be ready for the O's