Franco Keeps On Truckin'

<B>Julio Franco</B> is 45 years old - yet for the last three years he has been a valuable cog in the Atlanta Braves win machine. Braves Assistant GM <B>Frank Wren</B> talks about 19 year MLB veteran and the impact he has made on the Braves during his tenure with the club.

Veteran first baseman Julio Franco no longer denies that he is 45, but he doesn't like talking about his age. The repetition is irritating, for one thing. And then there's the age prejudice.

"I don't think it's age prejudice at all," Braves assistant general manager Frank Wren says. "In our profession, we depend on history. Historically, when players get to be 40 years old, they're not playing on a higher level.

"When you're making judgments on how much to pay a player, how much to depend on a player, what position you expect him to play and do, you rely on past experience, and past experience for 40-year-old players is not that great.

"Julio is the exception. There are fewer and fewer opportunities for those players. Defining a role and finding that spot for them is hard. [Teams] start balancing salary, role, all those things, it gets harder.

"What happens is, from year to year, it's kind of cyclical. There may be years when there are no first basemen's jobs open where they see enough playing time for a guy like that. Therefore, the offers aren't there.

"[After the 1994 strike] he decided to go to Japan where he could get a better offer, more playing time. Those are the kinds of decisions veteran players have to make. When you get past your prime, now you're trying to pick your spots. It's not that unusual. The unusual part for Julio was that he was out of the big leagues for so long and he's come back to play as well as he has."

BY THE NUMBERS: 1991 -- The year Braves first baseman Julio Franco and Braves' hitting coach Terry Pendleton both won batting titles, Franco in the American League, Pendleton in the National League.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I do weightlifting, I do yoga, I do power pilates, I eat well, I don't drink, I don't smoke. Once in a while I eat dessert but I don't like sweets. I don't like chocolate and I don't like sugar. I take vitamins. I eat red meat, [beef] filet or bison." -- 1B Julio Franco, on how he stays fit.

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