Julio Franco is not old enough to have played prior to the days of organized baseball; it just seemed that he had been a part of the game forever. After all, when Franco last appeared in the majors in 2007, he was the oldest player in baseball, edging out the ancient Jamie Moyer by four years. As Moyer likely pitched to Methuselah during his minor league career, Franco may have been around for ancient civilizations that have long since faded into the eons of time.
Although Franco has qualified for membership in the AARP for the past five years, his advancing years have not rid him of the itch to play baseball once again. Now, six years since he spent the 2008 season playing for Los Tigres de Quintana Roo in the Mexican League, Franco is back. At age 55, Franco has signed on to play with the Fort Worth Cats in the United League, an independent league based in Texas. While Franco is only expected to play through the Cats first homestand, a nine game stretch, this may be the first step towards an attempt to return to the majors, perhaps as a coach if not as a player.
Does it seem farfetched that Julio Franco could return to the major leagues at his age? Certainly. However, it is also far fetched that a 55 year old could be productive in any baseball league against players 25 to 35 years younger. Yet, there was Franco, going 1-3 with a walk and a run scored. Mike Marshall, the Cats manager, stated that the ball was jumping off Franco’s bat the same way it did when he was younger.
A return to the major leagues as a player would not be unprecedented in baseball history. Six other players have already appeared in the major leagues at age 50 or older, with Satchel Paige, Charley O’Leary, Nick Altrock, Minnie Minoso, Jim O’Rourke and Jack Quinn all appearing after their fiftieth birthday. While Minoso was the last player to do so in 1980, a team may be willing to give Franco that one plate appearance to join this illustrious list.
With his appearance for the Cats, Julio Franco has now played in professional baseball in five different decades, a career that began back in 1978 with the Butte Copper Kings of the Pioneer League. If he can get that one last plate appearance, Franco would have a major league career spanning four decades, another feat that is truly remarkable. If a team late in the season is just looking for a way to put people in the seats, there could be worse ways than having some sort of age related promotion around Franco making an appearance.
Julio Franco is still out there, playing professional baseball. Knowing that he is stepping into the batters box and staring down the opposing pitcher helps all of us feel a bit younger. Franco is back, and that is a great thing to know.
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