At 55, Julio Franco can still play

Seek Julio Franco, the man who would play baseball forever, and you discover more about a game’s magnetic hold than you’d ever suspect.

That Franco, at 55, would uproot himself from the comforts a 23-season Major League career can provide just to take a few more cuts against pitchers less than half his age is a wonder.

That Franco thought he could almost literally roll off his couch back home in the Dominican Republic and pop up a couple thousand miles away and play like it was 1990 was, as it turned out, a little overconfident. After playing for six straight days with the independent minor league team in Fort Worth, the Cats, his troublesome right knee began screaming at him last week. He planned on limping back to his island home, where he’d weigh the option of surgery.

» Age has not diminished Julio Franco's confidence. See his reasons for returning to the field and why he believes he could still play in the majors on

With the Braves, where Franco spent five of his last seven Major League years as a first baseman and pinch hitter — with a little piece of the seventh thrown in at the end — he became very popular among those who wanted to ignore their birth dates. He was the guy to point to in order to defend the indefensible position that you really could be every bit as good as you used to be.

Before Franco was done, he became the oldest Major Leaguer to hit a home run, a pinch-hit home run, a grand slam. He was 49 when he got the last of his Major League hits, in his final Braves at-bat, Sept. 17, 2007 off the Marlins Lee Gardner. Right to the end, Franco preached the irrelevance of age and the power of eating right and working out like every day was an audition for a Calvin Klein ad.

» For the complete story on Julio Franco's return to the diamond, see this weekend