Sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have even when it’s right in front of us. Despite Julio Franco having a long Major League Baseball career and the majority of that career taking place during my formative baseball watching years I never realized how great of a player he actually was. It wasn’t until recently that I took a deeper look at the entirety of his career and realized that Franco is one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game of baseball.
When I think of the son of Hato Mayor del Rey in the Dominican Republic I think of two things. First and foremost is his famous batting stance. Hands held high over his head, bat wagging in the air at an odd angle, followed by those hands fastly ripping the bat through the zone as Franco generated more speed than should have ever been possible from his iconic stance. The second thing I think of when discussing Franco is his amazingly luscious mustache. I am a fellow member of the mustache tribe and if you think for a single second that I don’t know what Franco was laying down with his upper lip follicles you have another thing coming.
The reality is that there were other reasons for me to pay attention to Franco. He won seven league championships in his 33-year career. The first came in 1979 with the Northwest League’s Central Oregon Phillies. His last title came with the 1987-1988 Leones del Escogido of Liga de Béisbol Profesional de la República Dominicana. He won titles in America, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. He came close to winning titles in even more countries. Everywhere he went he was a winner and for at least seven seasons of an extremely long career, he was the only winner left standing at the end of a season.
Some might hold the length of Franco’s career against him. He did play for the aforementioned 33 years and until he was 56-years-old. The problem with the anti-Franco longevity argument is that he wasn’t a compiler. He didn’t stick around taking up a roster spot with the occasional hit to pad his career stats. As a 48-year-old he managed to slash .273/.330/.370 in 179 plate appearances at the major league level. Even that late into his career Franco had a positive impact on his team and was along for far more than the ride into the sunset.
All told in his career Franco slashed .307/.376/.437 in 16,263 plate appearances. He amassed 4,432 hits, 685 doubles, 331 home runs, and a SB% of 72. Let those numbers sit in front of you for a minute. If you aren’t impressed by those numbers then I’m not sure if anything in baseball will ever impress you. The hits alone put Franco in rarified air as less than 10 hitters, that we know of, have accrued that many hits in the history of professional baseball. Franco wasn’t just a singles machine though, he hit for power and he got on base via other methods at a really good clip. The scary thing is, we don’t have statistics for the entirety of Franco’s career.
As it stands right now there are at least nine seasons or playoff runs unaccounted for in Franco’s career totals. That may not seem like a big deal, but when your career numbers are at the level of Franco’s every hit, walk, home run, or stolen base counts. There’s never been a player that has convinced me more of the need for complete professional baseball stats that don’t ignore other leagues, major or otherwise, and the playoffs. Beyond the numbers, digging deeper into Franco’s career has allowed me to rediscover how amazing of a ballplayer he was throughout his career.
Watching highlights and old games has revealed an instinctual hitter with as complete of a skills package as I’ve ever seen. Julio Franco is remembered fondly by most baseball fans, but it’s clear that his actual greatness has mostly been forgotten. When it comes to the best hitters to ever play the game of baseball there is no doubt that Franco belongs in that group and hopefully one day he will get his due.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – USA Today