Real baseball fans - I mean real fans, the ones with horsehide skin, that bleed tobacco juice saliva and defecate sunflower seeds -- always view the advancement of life through the prism of the game. The first baseball-oriented milestone that struck me is when the guys I remember breaking in started retiring, being enshrined in Cooperstown, taking over as managers; when that happens, we say to ourselves, with a kind of abnegating naiveté, "wow, I'm getting old" (just wait, my still-young friends). Eventually, you reach the inevitable; the "final countdown"; the slow-but-sure dwindling of big league ballplayers who are older than you; and then, the last one's gone, the last vestige of your residual youth being turned in to the equipment manager along with his last pair of Dr. Scholls therapeutic spikes.
So God bless you, Julio Franco. And keep on keepin' on.
As a quadragenerian (is that a word? It is now. UPDATE: it is) now halfway through life's middle decade, I am literally drawn, like an alter kocker is drawn to an early bird special, to write in fawning homage to his continually stunning, still-going-like-the Energizer-Bunny career. Especially now that Jesse Orosco has finally, it seems, hung ‘em up.
Let's give him the respect he deserves, and take a look at his career stats:
Julio Franco (Updated as of May 5, 2007) 
He's also recorded these professional hits:
- Minor Leagues: 618
- Mexican League: 316
- Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball: 286
- Dominican Winter League: 267
- South Korea's Korean Baseball Organization: 156
That's north of 4200, readers.
How old (in baseball terms, of course) is Julio "Moses" Franco? Here are some fun facts:
- He's the only active player born in the 50s.
- He's the only remaining player who has faced a pitcher that faced Ted Williams (the pitcher was Jim Kaat).
- If you're old enough, you remember the then-infamous "five-for-one"; when the Phillies traded five players and prospects to the Indians for young, budding star Von Hayes. Julio was one of the five (along with Manny Trillo, George Vukovich, Jay Baller, and Jerry "Rats" Willard).
- When Julio made his MLB debut, the major news event that week was the Falkland Islands War, the single at the top of the Billboard charts was "I Love Rock ‘n Roll" by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts ("put another dime in the jukebox, baby"), and the top-grossing movie at the box office was Porky's ("has anybody seen Mike Hunt?")
- He's the last player allowed to wear a batting helmet without an ear flap, though he doesn't. (For the comments - anybody remember the last player permitted to hit without a helmet? I think I do. Seeing as though I wrote a book about Ray Chapman's death, I suppose I should).
Julio is working hard for all of us, pushing back those traditional bellweathers. He's older than one-third of the present managers in the big leagues:
- Terry Francona
- Ozzie Guillen
- Eric Wedge
- Mike Scioscia
- Bob Geren
- John Gibbons
- Bob Melvin
- Fredi Gonzalez
- Manny Acta
He's also older than four members of the Hall of Fame:
- Cal Ripken
- Tony Gwynn
- Ryne Sandberg
- Kirby Puckett
Every time I go first to third in a softball game, or throw from deep in the hole, it is the specter and inspiration of Julio Franco that causes me to pump the aging legs a little harder, to grunt a little louder and really cut the throw loose. He seems to have found what eluded Ponce de Leon. He's the Dick Clark of baseball.
In a previous post, I wrote in support of Bernie Williams, against the forces that intone how a player of his grace and excellence should push it no further, and retire with dignity. Dignity-shmignity. Keep showing up until they order you the h-ll out of the clubhouse.
Especially you, Julio. I need you. I'm not ready for the countdown to hit zero.
Of course, Rickey Henderson is still looking for big league work. If he finds it, Julio, you're off the hook.