Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Gems of Junk Wax, Pt 24: 1994 Upper Deck #57 Julio Franco

Julio Franco will forever be known as one of the oldest big-league players in history.

However, there's another reason why I'm a fan of his.

Ever since I can remember, I've always been amazed by players who adopt quirky batting stances. Except for Craig Counsell, I don't believe I've an odder stance than Julio Franco's.

As shown by this outstanding photo, Franco would arch his back and point his bat directly at the pitcher before the pitch arrived. The fact that he was able to bring the bat around quickly enough to make contact is an accomplishment within itself.

1994 Upper Deck has its ups and downs. This set is one of the cases where the design takes away from the overall look of the base cards. The little black-and-white picture in the bottom-left corner of the base cards looks out of place. For these type of landscape pictures, it works horribly. The shot is almost unrecognizable due to it being squished into that tiny frame.

However, much like 1993 Upper Deck, the photography is outstanding, as witnessed by this Julio Franco card. (The backdrop contains the clearest blue sky I've ever seen.) The gold-foil team name on the right-hand side of the card is a nice touch as well.

Franco became the oldest regular position player in 2004 at the ripe age of 46 with the Atlanta Braves. He played his final big-league game in 2007 at the amazing age of 49, also with Atlanta (after a stint with the Mets).

As a result, he holds numerous "oldest player to..." records. He's the oldest player to have hit a home run. He's the oldest to have hit a grand slam. He's the oldest to have hit two homers in the same game. And in 2006, he became the oldest player to ever pinch-run, when he replaced Carlos Delgado on the basepaths.

Most people only remember him as "that old guy", but he did have a very good big-league career. He won a batting title in 1991 with a .341 average. He hit .319 with 20 homers in the strike-shortened '94 season in his only year with the White Sox. He's a career .298 hitter.

Franco is one of the most well-traveled ballplayers as well. Besides playing for the Phillies, Indians, Rangers, White Sox, Brewers, Devil Rays (for one at-bat), Braves, and Mets, he's also played outside of the United States on a few occasions.

He had two stints in Japan, two in the Mexican League, and even a one-year stint in South Korea in 2000.

One of the more amazing facts about Franco that I've come across:

Franco retired in 2007. In 1982, his rookie season, he batted against Jim Kaat. In his rookie season, Kaat faced the legendary Ted Williams in a late-season at-bat. Williams began his career in 1939.

So Franco is only one link in the chain away from a player who was in the majors before the US entered World War II.

Yup, the story of Julio Franco's career is one of the more interesting I've ever come across.

To say the least.

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