By Robert Dominguez
Not bad for an old guy.
During the 2004 season, whenever the Atlanta Braves were in a late-inning pinch they often turned to an unlikely source for help — 45-year-old Julio Franco, who on this day in béisbol, May 18, delivered big-time.
Batting in the eighth inning with the Braves losing 4-2 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the grizzled veteran came off the bench, grabbed a bat and hit a game-tying, two-out, two-run homer to take the game into extra innings.
Atlanta ended up losing in 11 innings, but it was a memorable night anyway for Franco, the Dominican Republic native playing in his 20th Major League season.
The four-bagger made him the oldest player ever to hit a pinch-hit home run, at 45 years, 269 days old.
The player whose record he broke was … Franco himself, who two weeks earlier had come through with a pinch-hit homer against the Padres.
Franco, who retired in 2007 at age 49 after 23 seasons, eight teams and a lifetime .298 average, stuck around long enough — and played well enough — to establish some more records. In April 2006, another pinch-hit homer made him the oldest player to go yard, a record he’d keep breaking until he reluctantly retired.
He’s also the oldest player to hit a grand slam (at 46 years, 308 days old), and the oldest to hit two homers in a game (46 years, 299 days).
Robert Dominguez is co-author of “Bronx Bummers: The Unofficial History of the New York Yankees’ Bad Boys, Blunders and Brawls” and writer of the upcoming “El Salón: The Trials and Triumphs of Baseball’s Latino Hall of Famers.”