"Juuuuullllliiiiioooo" - A Look Back at the Cleveland Indians Career of SS/2B Julio Franco
In the strike season of 1981, the Cleveland Indians had one of the game's top prospects in 3B Von Hayes. At Class A in 1980, Hayes hit .329 with 15 homers and drove in 90 (905 OPS).
The following season, Hayes batted .314 with 10 HR and 73 ribbies at AAA, and was called up, batting .257 in 43 games, walking more than he struck out.
In his first full season in the big leagues, 1982, Hayes, a left-handed hitter, batted .250 with 14 homers and 82 RBI, while stealing 32 bases with a 699 OPS. He finished 7th in the Rookie of the Year voting, and looked to be one of the bright stars of the game at 23 years old.
Apparently, the Philadelphia Phillies thought the same thing, and traded five players to the Indians for Hayes. Among the haul for Cleveland was All Star second baseman Manny Trillo, top pitching prospect Jay Baller, and a young shortstop, Julio Franco.
Franco did get into 23 games with the Phils the previous year, getting eight hits in 29 at bats.
In his first year as a regular, Franco hit .273 with 8 HR and 80 RBI (.693 OPS). Those numbers climbed with age, until he had his best year as an Indian in 1987, with a .319 batting average, eight dingers and 52 RBI in 128 games (818 OPS).
Franco's defense at short was erratic and best and in 1985, the front office, led by GM Joe Klein, tried to move Franco to second base, replacing with the light-hitting Johnnie LeMaster, acquired from San Francisco.
LeMaster went 3 for 20 in his brief tenure with the Tribe and was quickly dealt to Pittsburgh for Scott Bailes, in what turned about to be a great deal for Cleveland. Franco went back to SS.
The following season, the Tribe led the American League in runs scored (they were second last in ERA) with tremendous seasons by Franco and his keystone partner, Tony Bernazard.
After the '88 season, Franco moved to second full time, and hit .303, his third straight season over that mark, he was dealt to Texas in a deal much like the one that brought him to Cleveland, quantity for quality. The Indians got 1B Pete O'Brien, OF Oddibe McDowell, and 2B Jerry Browne in return.
The Tribe made many deals from 1970-90 in a similar vein. Get a good player, and when it is time to have to pay them, trade said player for prospects.
NOTE: This wasn't a successful business plan. Please take note for the future.
In Texas, Franco blossomed, making the All Star team three straight years, including winning the game's MVP in 1990. He won the batting title in 1991, batting .341, with 15 HR and an 882 OPS.
After an injury plagued 1992, he became a full time DH with the Rangers in 1993 (.289, 14 HR, 84 RBI, .798 OPS), he became a free agent and signed with the White Sox, where he batted .319 with a career high 20 homers.
With the strike extending from the end of the '94 season into '95, Julio went to play in Japan, hitting .306. At this point, he was regarded as a professional hitter.
"Juice" returned to the Indians for the 1996 season, and the familiar "Juuuuullllliiiiioooo" chant was back at Jacobs Field. Franco hit .322 with 14 dingers (877 OPS) as a first baseman and designated hitter for the AL Central Champs.
The next season, GM John Hart tried to put Franco back at 2B at the age of 38, and he hit .284 with just 3 homers, before being released in August. He finished that year with the Brewers.
He played until age 48 with the Braves as a right-handed platoon bat, hitting .309 with an 818 OPS in 2004 at age 45.
In 2007 with the Mets, he homered off Randy Johnson, becoming the oldest man to hit a home run in the big leagues.
Overall with the Indians, the team he played the most games with at 1088, Franco hit .297 with a 752 OPS.
Unorthodox batting stance, pure hitter. Perhaps he should be put in the Indians' Hall of Fame.