Julio Franco

This article was written by Leslie Heaphy

Julio Franco (Trading Card DB)Hailed as the next Robin Yount, Julio Franco debuted with the Cleveland Indians in 1983. Franco came to the Indians from the Philadelphia Phillies as part of a five-player deal for Von Hayes. Expected to be the Phillies’ shortstop of the future, Franco had found himself without a regular chance to play when the Phillies signed Ivan DeJesus. That signing became good news for the Indians, who made Franco the must-have in the Hayes trade.

For Franco his trip to Cleveland began one of the longest careers in baseball history, with comparisons to Chicago’s Minnie Miñoso. What best sums up Franco’s career and life is his comment when he returned to the game in 2015: “It feels outstanding, I miss it so much. The smell of the grass, the crack of the bat, and being around baseball again is outstanding.”1

Franco began his major-league career at age 23 with his double-play combo partner, Manny Trillo, batting between him and Garry Maddox in the Phillies lineup. After coming to the United States from the Dominican Republic, Franco had to find a home and the Indians gave him his first shot at the majors. Phillies scout Quique Acevedo persuaded Franco’s mother to let him come to America, signing for $4,000. (She was raising three boys alone after his father died in 1979 at age 38 and she wanted the best for her boys.) Born on August 23, 1958, in Hato Mayor del Rey, Julio Cesar Franco came to the United States for an opportunity that would never have happened in his hometown. He had been working in a factory after graduating from Divine Providence High School, just to get the chance to play on their baseball team.2

The Phillies sent Franco to their rookie-league team in Butte, Montana, in 1978. Franco batted .305 and earned a trip to Bend, Oregon, the following season where he earned league MVP honors playing for the Central Oregon Phillies in the Northwest League. From Oregon, Franco moved up to the Class-A Carolina League, hitting .321 with 99 RBIs to help Peninsula win the league championship.

After Franco’s success at Peninsula (Hampton, Virginia), he moved up to Double-A Reading and then on to Triple-A Oklahoma City in 1982. Franco hit well at every level, which led to an April call-up by the Phillies in 1982. In his first game, against St. Louis, Franco went 1-for-4. After playing in 16 games with the Phillies, Franco was traded in a five-player deal to Cleveland.3 Cleveland announcer Nev Chandler said of the Indians’ new shortstop: “Julio Franco’s star burns the brightest, as he’s considered one of baseball’s best prospects. Julio will be an Indians shortstop of the future.”4

As a rookie with Cleveland, Franco displayed the characteristics that would follow him for his whole career. He could hit, he covered a lot of ground at short, and was a health nut and also a bit of a character. A sportswriter called him “a bit eccentric” because he owned a baby tiger named Jana as a pet for a while and also a wolf. He pretended at times not to speak English so he would not have to talk to reporters. Franco’s errors at short were chalked up to immaturity and the fact that he actually got to so many more balls because of his range. What was not as forgivable was his lack of hard work or what some saw as a lack of serious commitment to the game. As an example, in 1985 Franco never showed up for one game and the club had no idea where he was. They sent a teammate to find him and he later claimed he was sick but the Indians fined him $2,300. In another 1986 game he came to the ballpark, dressed to play, and then simply left without explanation before the game. Even with all the ups and downs, Franco was runner-up for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, losing out to Ron Kittle of the Chicago White Sox. Franco hit .273 with 80 RBIs.5

Franco spent six seasons with the Indians, hitting over .300 in the last three and ending with a .295 average and 131 stolen bases. While he did not display a great deal of power, Franco knocked in a lot of runs, making sure his hits counted. He neither walked nor struck out much. While Franco continued to improve each season with the Indians, his personality and approach to the game did not always go over well. Manager Pat Corrales said of his mercurial shortstop, “Julio Franco is the kind of guy you want to kiss one time and kick the next.”6 The 1987 season was his best offensively even though he missed nearly a month after hyper-extending his elbow. The Indians moved Franco to second base in 1988, hoping his defense would prove less of a liability there. Franco won the Silver Slugger Award that season after hitting .303.7

But at the end of that 1988 season, Franco found himself on the move again when the Indians traded him to Texas for first baseman Pete O’Brien, second baseman Jerry Browne, and outfielder Oddibe McDowell. Franco proved that Texas made a good decision as he made The Sporting News’ all-star team in 1989 at second base. Then in 1991 he won the batting title, hitting .341. Beating out Wade Boggs for the crown, Franco became the first Ranger to win a batting championship.

Even with his success in Texas, Franco found himself looking for a new team in 1994. He signed a one-year deal with the Chicago White Sox. Franco played in 112 games and hit .319.

Franco loved baseball so much that he found himself heading to Japan in 1995 after the strike in major-league baseball. Franco became the designated hitter and first baseman for the Chiba Lotte Marines, under manager Bobby Valentine.8He was offered $7 million for two years, and as he stated, “For $7 million, I’ll play against Martians on Mars and use a green ball.”9 He helped lead the Marines to their best season and earned best first baseman honors. After one season in Japan, Franco returned to the United States, joining the Indians for the second time. Franco never thought he would return to Cleveland but he played for the Indians in 1996 and 1997, picking up his 2,000th hit off Oakland starter Willie Adams. Franco again played in 112 games in 1996, hitting an impressive .322 at age 37.

With his 2,000th hit, sportswriters began asking Franco if he was done or if he had goals he still wanted to achieve. Franco’s response was simply that he wanted to play as long as he could. He would later amend that to state that he would play until he was 50. Keeping to his word, Franco signed with Milwaukee in 1997 and with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999. He played in only one major-league game that season and ended up with the Mexico City Tigers, batting .423 in 93 games. In 2000 he joined the South Korean Samsung Lions before returning to the United States in late 2001 with the Atlanta Braves, where he remained through the 2005 season.10

Julio Franco (Trading Card DB)Franco continued to hit everywhere he went, regardless of his age. His success led to some questions about possible steroid use but nothing ever came of the conversation. Franco’s longevity and strong play were easily credited to his work ethic and healthy living. Franco was incredibly strict about what he ate, with no fried foods and nothing that was not natural. Some of his daily shakes tasted terrible but Franco said that did not matter because they were good for him. A visitor to his Florida apartment once described a typical Franco breakfast of 14 egg whites followed by oatmeal, a banana, and grapefruit juice. His daily diet consisted of nearly 5,000 calories, designed to keep him playing for as long as he could and also to just keeping him alive. He developed three key rules to live his life by: “Eat well, work hard and get proper rest.”11 Franco never believed in going to the doctor, preferring instead to practice traditional Chinese medicine and using herbs, mushrooms, and tea from around the world.

Franco’s hard work and longevity kept him with the Braves from 2002 through 2005 and then he signed a two-year deal with the New York Mets. After his time with the Mets, Franco signed back with Atlanta and then decided to announce his retirement at age 49 while he was playing for the Quintana Roo Tigers in Mexico, where he was hitting .250. Franco had previously stated he would know when the time was right and when the numbers told him it was time. Announcing his retirement was a sad day but he knew the decision was the right one to make.

As his career wound down, Franco achieved a number of firsts. He reached 2,500 hits with the Braves, and became the oldest player to hit a grand slam in an 8-4 win over the Phillies; he was 45. Franco was also the oldest player to hit a pinch-hit home run against the Padres, also at age 45. That home run was also the first pinch-hit home run of his career. The previous record had been set in 1907 by Deacon McGuire who was only 43.12 Franco hit what turned out to be his last home run at age 48 in 2007, making him the oldest major leaguer to hit a home run. The home run came off future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson in a 5-3 Mets win. Tom Dunn, a fan from Stony Point, New York, returned the ball to him. In return Dunn was stunned to receive a signed bat for his kindness.13 Franco also became the oldest player to hit two home runs in a game and the oldest to steal two bases in one game during his final stint with the Mets.14

After Franco officially retired, he could not stay away from the game. He tried golfing and scuba diving but nothing worked to fill the hole left by baseball. He stated, “I don’t see myself out of baseball. I can go fishing, go play golf, or go to Starbucks but at the end of the day, I love baseball and this is what I want to do.”15 He came back to manage the Gulf Coast League Mets and then at age 55 he signed with the Fort Worth Cats in the Independent United League, giving him a career that spanned four decades. Franco went 6-for-27 for Fort Worth. Fort Worth manager Mike Marshall remarked, “Everyone loved watching him play. He had a real charisma on and off the field. We’re excited and as far as my young guys … being able to learn and watch him handle himself on the field and off the field, I think it’ll be a real bonus for our organization.”16

Franco admitted that the comeback was only partially about playing again. What really mattered to him was reminding people he was still around. Coming back opened up new possibilities for coaching or managing. Spending his time in the DR coaching his son was rewarding but not enough.17

At age 56 Franco signed in 2015 as player-manager of the Ishikawa Million Stars in Japan’s six-team independent league. The Stars won three championships between 2007 and 2015. One of Franco’s teammates on the Stars was female knuckleball pitcher Eri Yoshida. Not expecting to actually play, Franco found himself playing fairly regularly after an injury to a player. Of the team’s first 14 games, Franco played in 10, hitting .333 with 4 RBIs. Franco told local reporters that he hoped to manage in Japan for a few years before returning to America to manage and then he hoped to find a front-office job. Franco tried to combine the best of the American game and the Japanese style, all in an effort to win every game.18

To keep that dream alive in 2016, Franco took a job as a batting coach for the Lotte Giants in South Korea. Franco was always willing to do whatever it took to play baseball.19

He based his dream of managing a major-league team on his desire to stay in the game and because he believed he had much to offer young players. He said, “I know it’s hard to get there, but everybody who got there went the same road. It hasn’t been easy for anybody. I think I can bring a lot to a club. I’ll keep learning and one day I’ll eventually get there and again I’ll be a rookie, a rookie manager.”20 Franco said he loved teaching young players about the game, and wanted to give back for all those who helped him from the day he first came to America to play. Catcher Jack Daru of the Stars expressed the players’ joy in having Franco as a manager: “He has a lot of knowledge and is very wise so we pick his brain a lot. He’s given us a different insight into the game because he’s played here and in the United States.”21

Outside of baseball Franco has been married to Ivis Trueba since 1991. He is a self-described health nut and born-again Christian who became a US citizen in 1991. Baseball has been his whole life and focus since 1979 when he came to the United States. Franco came in with an unorthodox batting stance that earned him five Silver Slugger awards, three All-Star Game appearances and MVP of the 1990 All-Star Game. When you count all his seasons, in the majors and beyond, he is a member of the 4,000-hit club.

His success at the plate kept him in the game longer than even he could have imagined, as he ended his career with a .298 batting average, 173 home runs and 1,194 RBIs in 2,527 games after 23 seasons. He played 15 seasons in the AL and eight in the NL. The only place he did not have success at the plate was in the postseason. Franco played in nine division or championship series, totaling 31 games. He hit only .224 in 98 at-bats.

Franco is remembered for his unique batting stance and his hitting, as well as his love of the game.22 Everywhere he played he became a fan favorite, Fort Worth Cats VP Scott Berry said, “To me, he exudes the love for the game.”23

Last revised: October 29, 2022



In addition to the sourcescited in the Notes, the author releid on Baseball-Reference.com and MLB.com.



1 “Julio Franco: Being Around Baseball Again Is Outstanding,” The Jim Rome Show, jimrome.com, May 22, 2014.

2 Mark Hale, “Mets Go Old, Hook Franco, 47,” New York Post, December 9, 2005; Julio Franco player file, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York; Michael Mooney, “At 57, Julio Franco Can’t Quit Playing Baseball,” ESPN.com, September 15, 2015.

3 Franco player file.

4 “Today in Tribe History,” didthetribewinlastnight.com, February 12, 2009.

5 Franco player file; Mooney; Albany Times Union, May 27, 1983; Associated Press, “Indian Shortstop Julio Franco Misses the Game,” Los Angeles Times, June 9, 1986.

6 Jason Lukehart, “Top 100 Indians: #60 Julio Franco,” letsgotribe.com/top-100-indians/2013/3/4/4022630/top-100-indians-60-julio-franco; baseball-reference.com/players/f/francju01.shtml.

7 Lukehart; Zack Meisel, “Looking Back at the Career of Former Cleveland Indians Infielder Julio Franco,” cleveland.com/tribe/index.ssf/2015/09/looking_back_at_the_career_of.html, September 16, 2015.

8 Murray Chass, New York Times, December 7, 1988, in Franco player file; Dallas Morning News, June 1, 1991.

9 Mooney.

10 George Vescey, “Sports of the Times; Julio Franco Made the Most of His Exile,” New York Times, April 15. 2002; Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 12, 1996; USA Today, December 22, 1994; Lukehart.

11 Ben Shpigel, “Breakfast at Julio’s,” New York Times, March 1, 2006.

12 Franco File; Philadelphia Inquirer, August 21, 2005; USA Today, September 13, 2007.

13 Zach Braziller, “Julio Franco, 55, Proves It’s Never Too Late for Baseball Comeback,” New York Post, May 19, 2014.

14 Wayne Cavadi, “Julio Franco: The Ageless Wonder,” baseballhotcorner.com, February 10, 2015.

15 Associated Press, “Julio Franco a Player-Manager in Japan: ‘I Don’t See Myself Out of Baseball,’” USA Today Sports, May 10, 2015.

16 Ryan Fagan, “Julio Franco Set for Return to Pro Baseball at 55 years old,” sportingnews.com, May 17, 2014.

17 Steve Hummer, “Former Brave Julio Franco Still Defying Age,” myajc.com, May 31, 2014.

18 Mooney.

19 ESPN.com, February 10, 2015; AP article.

20 Israel Fehr, “Julio Franco Is Still Playing Baseball at Age 56,” sports. Yahoo.com, February 9, 2015.

21 “Julio Franco a Player-Manager.”

22 Jun Hungo, “Julio Franco, 56 Years Old, Joins a Japan Team as Player-Manager,” Wall Street Journal, February 9, 2015; Julio Franco, baseball-reference.com; Mike Axisa, “Julio Franco, 56, Joins Semi-Pro Team in Japan as Player-Manager,” MLB.com, February 8, 2015.

23 Hummer.

Full Name

Julio Cesar Franco


August 23, 1958 at Hato Mayor del Rey, Hato Mayor (D.R.)

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