Top 100 Indians: #60 Julio Franco

Baseball's ageless wonder led the Tribe in hits and runs during the 80s and came back for another run with the team during the powerhouse 90s.

Julio Cesar Robles Franco

Shortstop, Second Base, First Base, 1983-1988 and 1996-1997

Throws: Right Bats: Right

How Acquired (1): Trade, December 9, 1982: Traded with Manny Trillo, George Vukovich, Jerry Willard and Jay Baller by the Philadelphia Phillies for Von Hayes

Left Via (1): Trade, December 6, 1988: Traded to the Texas Rangers for Jerry Browne, Oddibe McDowell and Pete O'Brien

How Acquired (2): Free Agent, December 7, 1995

Left Via (2): Released, August 13, 1997

Franco is #60 in Let's Go Tribe's ongoing countdown of the greatest players in franchise history.

Julio Franco was born on August 23, 1958 in Hato Mayor del Rey, of the Dominican Republic, which was still ruled then by Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, a dictator whose 31-year reign was marked by violence and corruption. At the time of Franco's birth, it had been less than two years since Ozzie Virgil became the man born in that small island nation to make the Major Leagues. The flood of talent from the Dominican into Major League Baseball had barely begun. Franco played baseball and basketball in high school. When he was nineteen years old he was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies and sent to play for their rookie ball team in Butte, Montana, which I imagine must have been quite a culture shock. He worked his way up through the Phillies' system over the next few years, hitting better than .300 at every stop along the way. In 1982 Franco started in nine games for Philadelphia (where he was teammates with Virgil's son, Ozzie Jr.). The Phillies and Indians swung a big deal that off-season, centered around the Tribe's young outfielder, Von Hayes. Franco was one of five players the Indians received in return.

Franco first arrived in Cleveland that December. He had no coat, but there was $5,000 tucked into his sock. "Where are the casinos?" he asked*. Franco had what might be described as a "loud" personality, which would ruffle a few feathers early in his career. The Indians made Franco their shortstop on Opening Day in 1983. He lead all A.L. rookies with a .273 average that year. There is saying in the Dominican, "You don't walk off the island," meaning bases on balls are not going to impress anyone, so you'd better swing away. Franco fit the bill, taking just 27 walks in his rookie campaign. His BB% of 4.5 was 3rd lowest in the league. Many Dominican shortstops have fielded their way off the island, but that didn't appear to be Franco's strong suit either. He had solid range, but made 28 errors, 3rd most in the league. Still, his batting average and 32 stolen bases helped him finish 2nd in the A.L. Rookie of the Year voting (behind Chicago's Ron Kittle), a solid start to his time in Cleveland.

Franco's defense would remain an issue. He made 36 errors in 1984 and again in 1985, leading the league both times. His hitting steadily improved though. His unique batting stance (knees knocked together, bat held over his head and pointed at the pitcher) was effective for Franco (if not for the thousands of kids who tried to imitate it in Little League). His batting average rose each of those years, as did his walk rate. His 188 hits in 1984 were the most by an Indian since 1953. In April of 1985, Franco hit a big home run to beat the Yankees in the Bronx. He celebrated with friends and family that night, and missed the next day's game. He'd become a solid player, among the most popular players on the team with fans, but his personality rubbed some the wrong way. "Julio Franco is the kind of guy you want to kiss one time and kick the next," said then manager Pat Corrales (Sporting News, 5/6/85)." Having led the team in RBI that year though, he spot on the team was secure.

In 1986 Franco put up another 183 hits, which made him the first Indian with at least 180 hits in three straight seasons since Earl Averill in 1934. He used one of the heaviest bats in baseball, which is somewhat surprising, given that he was not a big slugger (though after getting heavily into fitness during the mid-80s, he did bulk up a bit as his career progressed). His batting average jumped above .300 for the first time in his Major League career (.306) and his slugging percentage jumped above .400 for the first time (.422). Also notable, Franco led the league by grounding into 28 double plays, something he did quite frequently throughout his time in Cleveland. Meanwhile, the Indians won 86 games that season, their highest victory total since 1968, raising hopes for big things in 1987.

Expectations were even higher after Sports Illustrated put Joe Carter and Cory Snyder on its cover just before the 1987 season began and declared, "Cleveland is the best team in the American League!" Franco got off to a hot start, with a line of .326/.400/.472 in April, but the team did not follow suit, and found itself eleven games out by the end of the month, the season practically over before it really had a chance to get going. The Tribe went on to lose 101 games that year. Franco had the best offensive numbers of his career to that point, but also missed a month after hyper-extending his right elbow in July. That was the first significant playing time he'd ever missed.

In 1988 Franco was moved to second base, where his defense would play a bit better and make him less of a liability. He hit over .300 for the third straight season, collecting over 180 hits for the fourth time in five years, won the Silver Slugger for the first time, and even received two points in the A.L. MVP voting. Franco and manager Doc Edwards had not gotten along well and the team decided to ship Franco away, eventually agreeing to a deal with Texas for Jerry Browne (whole took over at 2B), Pete O'Brien, and Oddibe McDowell. "They just wanted to see the bad things," said Franco (Sporting News, 5/15/89). "They always said I was a troublemaker. I'm not that way."

Browne was solid for a couple years, while O'Brien and McDowell each played just one middling season with the Indians. Meanwhile, Franco was one of the five or six best hitters in the American League between 1989 and 1991, even winning an A.L. batting title. After the strike wiped away the end of the 1994 season and threatened 1995, Franco decided to sign with the Chiba Lotte Marines in Nippon Professional Baseball (Japan). Franco enjoyed his time there, playing well and learning fluent Japanese. At season's end, he decided to return to the U.S. and agreed to a two-year deal with the Indians. He went on to hit. 322 in 1996, with a .407 batting average, one of the greatest hitting seasons by a 37-year-old in American League history. he was not as productive (or healthy) in 1997 and was released in August, but of course his playing days were far from over.

He played with Milwaukee later that year, but that was only the beginning of a worldwide tour. He returned to Chiba for the 1998 season, then went from Japan to Mexico City for the 1999 season, batting .423 in 93 games in the Mexican League before playing one game with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In 2000 he played for the Samsung Lions of the Korean League, and in 2001 he started off back in Mexico before having his contract purchased by the Atlanta Braves one week after his 43rd birthday, in August. Finally, he remained in one place for a while, sticking with Atlanta from then until the end of the 2005 season.

In 2004 he'd become the oldest regularly playing position player in Major League history, but he still wasn't through. Franco played for the New York Mets in 2006. On April 20 he became the oldest player in history to hit a home run (and he'd break his own record a couple more times). After being released in July of 2007, he signed back on with Atlanta, where he played his final fifteen Major League games. He began the 2008 season back in the Mexican League, but announced his retirement that May, just three months before his fiftieth birthday.

Franco's career is among the most unique in baseball history, having played professionally in four countries and for eight different MLB teams. Who knows when we might ever see anyone eclipse his records for longevity.

Year Age Tm G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ GDP
1983 24 CLE 149 598 68 153 24 8 8 80 32 .273 .306 .388 .693 87 21
1984 25 CLE 160 718 82 188 22 5 3 79 19 .286 .331 .348 .679 87 23
1985 26 CLE 160 703 97 183 33 4 6 90 13 .288 .343 .381 .723 99 26
1986 27 CLE 149 636 80 183 30 5 10 74 10 .306 .338 .422 .760 108 28
1987 28 CLE 128 560 86 158 24 3 8 52 32 .319 .389 .428 .818 117 23
1988 29 CLE 152 676 88 186 23 6 10 54 25 .303 .361 .409 .771 114 17
1996 37 CLE 112 499 72 139 20 1 14 76 8 .322 .407 .470 .877 123 14
1997 38 CLE 78 328 46 82 13 1 3 25 8 .284 .367 .367 .734 91 13
CLE (8 yrs) 1088 4718 619 1272 189 33 62 530 147 .297 .352 .400 .752 103 165

Awards:

  • AL Rookie of the Year: 2nd (1983)
  • AL MVP: 25th (1988)
  • AL Silver Slugger: 1988 (2B)

American League Leaderboards:

  • Batting Average: 8th, 1987 (.319); 10th, 1986 (.306)
  • On Base Percentage: 10th, 1987-.389
  • Hits: 5th, 1984 (188); 7th, 1988 (186); 8th, 1986 (183); 10th, 1985 (183)
  • Singles: 2nd, 1984 (158); 3rd, 1988 (147); 4th, 1985 (140); 6th, 1986 (138)
  • Triples: 5th, 1983 (8); 9th, 1988 (6)
  • Stolen Bases: 9th, 1983 (32); 10th, 1987 (32)
  • GIDP: 1st, 1986 (28); 2nd, 1984 (23); 2nd, 1987 (23); 4th, 1985 (26); 9th, 1983 (21); 10th, 1988 (17)
  • AL Putouts as 2B: 3rd, 1988 (310)
  • AL Assists as 2B: 3rd, 1988 (434)
  • AL Putouts as SS: 2nd, 1984 (280); 4th, 1983 (247); 5th, 1985 (238)
  • AL Assists as SS: 2nd, 1984 (481); 3rd, 1983 (438); 4th, 1985 (419)
  • AL Range Factor/Game 1B: 1st, 1996 (9.58)
  • AL Range Factor/Game 2B: 4th, 1988 (4.93)
  • AL Range Factor/Game SS: 3rd, 1984 (4.79); 4th, 1983 (4.60)

Cleveland Indians Season Ranks:

  • At Bats: 3rd, 1984 (658); 17th, 1985 (636); t-41st, 1988 (613)
  • Plate Appearances: 11th, 1984 (718); 28th, 1985 (703)
  • Hits: t-49th 1984 (188)
  • Singles: 9th, 1984 (158); t-17th 1988 (147); t-35th, 1985 (140); t-42nd, 1986 (138)
  • Stolen Bases: t-42nd, 1983 and 1987 (32)
  • Sacrifice Flies: t-10th, 1984 (10); t-17th, 1985 (9)
  • GIDP: 1st, 1986 (28), t-4th, 1985 (26); t-12th, 1984 and 1987 (23), t-19th, 1983 (21)

Cleveland Indians Career Ranks:

  • 40th WAR for position players (15.5)
  • 26th oWAR (20.9)
  • t-26th Batting Average (.297)
  • 23rd Games (1088)
  • 20th At Bats (4282)
  • 22nd Plate Appearances (4718)
  • 20th Runs (619)
  • t-21st RBI (530)
  • 13th Hits (1272)
  • 11th Singles (988)
  • 31st Doubles (189)
  • t-37th Triples (33)
  • 36th Extra Base Hits (284)
  • 22nd Total Bases (1713)
  • t-31st Walks (368)
  • 18th Strikeouts (543)
  • 12th Stolen Bases (147)
  • 5th Caught Stealing (71)
  • 24th Runs Created (580)
  • 8th Sacrifice Flies (42)
  • 1st Grounded Into Double Play (165)

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