We’ve all read multiple stories about “Julio Franco: Old Baseball Player” over the last decade or so. It was old hat back when he was a late-40s first baseman for the Mets and Braves over ten years ago. And though it was somewhat surprising to see Franco latch on with an independent Japanese team last winter at age 56, it wasn’t terribly shocking. That’s Franco’s thing. He’ll play baseball until he dies.
But today a story over at ESPN the Magazine catches up with Franco in Japan and puts things is a new perspective. Sure, he’s still the “Julio Franco: Old Baseball Player” we’ve come to know, but writer Michael J. Mooney goes into much greater depth with Franco here, talking about his life in Japan and the way he approaches his job as a player-coach.
It’s not the stuff of a Jamie Moyer, Hoyt Wilhem or Satchel Paige, telling self-effacing jokes about their age and talking about just doing it because they love baseball. Franco is committed in ways that make it seem like it’d be literally impossible for him to do anything else. Except, given that he seems totally willing to do it in an independent league half a world away, it doesn’t come with any sense of desperation to hang on. He’s just living the life he was put on earth to live and can’t understand why he would ever live another life:
Franco goes on for some time about how only people who work in corporations and in cities die of cancer. The men working in rice fields and along the mountainsides in the country, he reasons, never die of cancer. “They die at 100 of old age,” he says. He flips through some more of his binders and shares more of his theories, at times sounding more like a kooky uncle than a wise guru. “People in America are too caught up in their routines,” he says. “I live in a cocoon.”
Suddenly, Franco stands up. He has something else he wants to show. He walks across the room and lifts a large glass jar full of an amber-colored liquid. At the bottom of the jar are the bodies of two dead vipers, their fangs intact, their coiled, scaly bodies glowing beneath the light of a nearby window. He puts the jar on his glass coffee table and lifts a metal ladle. It’s hard to tell what he’s doing, which is how he likes it. He smiles and asks: “Are you brave?”
Must-read stuff. And, eventually one would hope, must-watch stuff. Because how no one has made a movie about or at least based on Julio Franco is a mystery to me. A baseball movie which eschews every easy baseball cliche ever and takes you to weird, weird places with a guy who is traveling on a journey worlds apart from any path on which other baseball players have traveled.