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Franco is so old nobody can remember how old he is. Once, the Braves asked the players to fill out a questionnaire. One of the questions was, "Can you tell us something about you that nobody knows?" Franco wrote, "My age."
Hell, he might be 58 for all we know. One, he's Dominican, and a birth certificate to a Dominican is like an odometer to a used-car salesman. Two, he doesn't celebrate his birthday--only Jesus's. When the Braves looked at old media guides from some of the 10 teams in four countries Franco's played on, they realized he was three years older than they had him listed. So what? Arguing about three years on Franco is like worrying about three missing swallows at Capistrano.
Franco hit the bigs at 23, weighing 155 pounds and hiding $5,000 in a sock. His first question was, "Where are the casinos?" He also loved a cocktail, a cigarette and a blonde, not necessarily in that order. But at some point Franco started taking mad care of his body. Within seven years he was cut, 215 pounds and healthier than an organic-produce section. He hasn't changed much since.
Until they find out this guy was injecting steroids in Ty Cobb's butt, he is my hero. I asked him how he does it. He says he eats six or seven times a day, and that includes 24 egg whites. No yolk.
He works out harder than anybody on the team, no longer drinks or smokes and takes only 20 days off between seasons. Plus, nobody laughs more than him.
"Most of my buddies look 10 years older than me," Franco says. (I was praying he wouldn't ask me my age.) "I tell them, 'You can do the same thing as me.' But they don't do it!"
If he quit now, his lifetime average would wind up .300 on the nose. He doesn't care. "I want to play until I'm 50," he says. That would be a record, unless you count hokey public relations stunts by guys like Minnie Minoso and Satchel Paige after they had retired. This is not a stunt. This guy is the real thing, a bench-pressing beast, a Maxi Minoso. After he turns 50, Franco wants to start managing.
As it is, he is the oldest regular position player in 75 years. "Someday," Franco says, "when I'm old and gray, I want to be able to put my grandchildren on my knee and tell them about my long career in baseball."
Of course, afterward he'll have to bump them off his knee and hurry to the ballpark.