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Julio Franco

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Julio Franco
In an interview with Japan PB, Julio Franco talked about his year with the Chiba Lotte Marines and his desire to return to Japan.

"I will never ever play on GM Hirooka's team!!"  ..Julio Franco


When Chiba Lotte Marines' manager Bobby Valentine was fired at the end
of the 1995 Japanese baseball season, almost nobody talked about Franco
quitting.  Franco used to say, "I will play in Japan for the next
six years."  Yet Franco left Japan after only one year.  He wasn't
fired.  He decided to quit.  Playboy Japan decided to ask Julio
Franco why he decided to quit Japanese baseball and leave the Chiba Lotte
Marines?


"I'm pretty sure I'm going to play in Japan again sometime."



Cleveland Indians' spring training camp - Winter Heaven, Florida 1996. 
Franco walks into the club house after a days workout of weight training
and batting practice.  He looks exhausted.  Franco turns down
the volume of the music and goes into the shower.  His body is covered
with sweat.  When Franco returns, he is cleaned and refreshed. 
Wrapped only in a towel, his powerful muscular body shows.
Hard work, wasn't it?

Franco:  Yeah, it's a Japanese style workout.  It's tough
for me, especially if I skip a workout because of my age [Franco will be
35 this season.]  I run and do the weight training exactly like I
used to do in Japan.  I'm going keep training this way.  I like
it and I need to keep doing it in order to stay in shape.
How's it feel to be back in the Majors after a one year absence? 
How did it feel to play against the Yankees the other day?

Franco:  It feels great, but I've got a lot more work to do. 
The majors have changed a little since I came back.  I can adjust
so it won't be a big problem.  I was pretty relaxed during the game
against the Yankees.
What's it like to be a Cleveland Indian?  I heard Latin music being
played loud in the club house.

Franco:  We've got a great bunch of guys.  There are
lots of players who speak Spanish, too.  We're having a lot of fun."
What do you think you can contribute to the Indians?  The Indians
got a swept by the Braves in last years World Series.  A lot of people
think the Indians will win the championship this year.

Franco:  I am sure I can contribute to the team in both offense
and defense.  I also can help some of the younger players.

"Hirooka is a Rookie GM"  ...Julio Franco




Finally we ask Julio about Japan.  We ask him about the relationship
between Julio Franco and the Chiba Lotte Marines.  Franco just explodes
(like a volcano) with information.  It was almost as if we did not
even need to prepare any questions.

Franco:  The reason why I went to Japan was because I wanted
to play baseball.  I'm different from a lot of players who only play
in Japan for the money.  [We think he is talking about Kevin Mitchell
who played for the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, but Franco never mentions any names] 
And this is another reason why I trained so hard in Japan.

I also play to win.  I read that some of the Japanese sports papers
said, "Franco made an agreement with Marines because he only wanted money." 
But that's not true!  I was paid 3.5 million dollars when I was in
Japan playing for the Chiba Lotte Marines.  Now I get 2.5 million
dollars from Indians.  That's a loss of one million dollars. 
If I wanted the money, I would have stayed in Japan.

I want my fans in Japan to know about this.  I'm sure that I will
play baseball again in Japan, before I completely retire.  But I will
never play on a team that Chiba Lotte Marines' GM Hirooka manages. I don't
think Hirooka knows what he was doing.

First, Hirooka is a rookie GM.  A GM is supposed to work hard
and get along with all the players and coaches.  He brought in Bobby
Valentine to manage the Marines.  And thanks to Bobby Valentine, the
Chiba Lotte Marines finished in second place in the Pacific League. 
(This was Chiba Lotte Marines best finish in the last 10 years)  It's
not fair to fire Bobby before giving him a chance to win the pennant this
year.

Next I hated Hirooka's style.  Even though there were two batting
coaches, Takagi, Hirooka's assistant GM tried to teach the players how
to hit.  Even the Japanese newspaper reporters were trying to coach
the players.  (Assistant GM, Takagi has never played professional
baseball.)  I thought it was insulting to the players and to the other
coaches.

One more thing, Hirooka would tell us to how to wear our uniforms,
especially our socks, and other stupid stuff like that.  I personally
think as long as we win and play hard, things like this don't matter. 
That's not smart thinking.  Not smart baseball.

See, I can understand that it's supposed to be GM Hirooka's style. 
But, I don't care.  We finished in second place and it has nothing
to do with how we wear our uniforms.  We played well.  GM Hirooka,
showed up three days before the season and started saying, "You guys are
like a high school team." He was treating us like a shit and embarrassing
us.

I know that Japanese baseball players from a very young age are taught
to respect elders and their bosses. Even if these elders and bosses tell
them the wrong things to do, Japanese players would never disagree with
them. Yet these higher and older individuals shouldn't be abusing their
power. If Hirooka had been a baseball player himself, he wouldn't have
said such a thing.

We're all grown ups. We have emotions.

All the players work very hard for themselves and also for the team. 
The GM should be supporting the players.  I think Hirooka should never
say to the team that it reminds him of a high school team.  We might
look young but we are profesionals.  And we played good baseball last
year.

There were so many little problems like that, in Japan.  I would
say things are the same in life, too.  How you start is not important,
but how you finish is.  Hirooka treated us like high school kids. 
This is why I can't play for the Chiba Lotte Marines while GM Hirooka is
there.


Franco seemed to have finished saying what he wanted to say, but then he
wanted to share some more information with us.

Franco:  I even asked the Marines to trade me.  Some other
teams were interested in me (the Orix BlueWave, Yomiuri Giants, Daiei Hawks,
and Seibu Lions).  I think there were some teams who could really
use me.  I want to play on a good and fair team.  GM Hirooka
was never fair.  He needs to know that.  He is not the best GM
in the world.  He acts and manages like a rookie.  Rookies make
mistakes.  I make mistakes, too.  That happens.  We're all
human beings.  At first, we make mistakes.  That's why we practice. 
He has to understand that he is not perfect and he makes lots of mistakes.

Franco finished talking about GM Hirooka, so we asked him about baseball
in Japan.

Franco:  There were no major differences.  However, players
don't want to take risks in Japanese baseball.  They don't even want
to try to steal a base.  They're afraid will get thrown-out trying
to steal.

But, wait a minute.  Sometimes you need to take chances when you
play baseball.  Can I go from the first base to third on a hit? 
You never know unless you try.  Japanese teams should try to hit and
run more.  They do not have to always bunt.  There are no rules
in baseball.  It's strange to think that the second batter has to
bunt when the lead off batter gets on base.

Umpires are very different, though.  They're terrible.  I
heard the strike zone was wider in Japan.  I don't have a problem
with that.  I learn to adjust to each umpire's strike zone. 
However, the umpires change their calls and strike zone all the time. 
Umpires change their strike zones during the game.  It was kind of
low at the beginning of the game, but it is much higher by the end of the
game.  How are you supposed to deal with that?  It was obvious
that the umpires wanted to finish the game as early as possible and go
home.

Japanese pitchers are smart.  They can throw the balls to the zone
where the umpires call strikes.  Yet, a lot of those pitches are balls,
not strikes.

Pitchers in Japan are clever but the umpires are terrible.  That's
why foreign players cannot do better in Japan.

When I told one umpire that he changed the strike zone, he told me that
this was the strike zone in Japan.

Japanese Style?  Amigo, I don't think so.  Bats and balls
in Japan are flat, too, right?  You don't start running from third
to first, do you?  This is baseball.



"I still love my teammates and the fans." ..Julio Franco





Did you have any problems with Japanese culture?

Franco:  I loved it. [He repeated this 5 times with lots happy
remembrances in his face.]  "My wife was having a good time, she liked
shopping (even though everything in Japan was too small for her). 
She really liked all the different foods in the grocery stores.

I liked Ginza.  I liked to get on a train, sit by the window and
watch the sites.  I like Japanese customs, too.  The people are
very polite.  I never had any problems with that.  I read a 
lot of books about Japanese customs and went to the library many times. 
We had some neighbors who could speak English and our baby-sitter helped
us out a lot.  She even came to the Dominican Republic to visit. 
[Franco's home country.]  She is a great woman.

Of course, I cannot forget about my fans and teammates.  I still
love the fans.  I hope they go and watch Chiba Lotte games this year. 
I also became good friends with many Chiba Lotte players, especially pitcher
Komiyama and shortstop Hori.  Please say "hello" to the rest of the
Chiba Lotte Marines.  I really miss them.  Ichiro was great,
too.  I had so much fun with him.  I wish I could have stayed
longer in Japan.  I'll probably play in Chiba Lotte Marines stadium
again, someday.  But, as long as Hirooka is the GM for the Chiba Lotte
Marines, I will be playing for the visiting team.


We told Franco about the problems many Japanese players were having trying
to leave their teams to go and play in the Majors.  We told him about
the trouble they were having about their status and this is what Franco
said.

Franco:  Is that what's happening?  I personally think
that it's not a very good idea for teams to make players their own property. 
In Japan, corporations own players and when they retire, they can work
in the corporations.  I think it's all right for the future, but the
players are not allowed to have any rights while they're playing.

I don't like the way Ichiro has to do things.  Ichiro is just doing
what the team tells him to do.  He never complains about his salary
to the owner, or about the length of contract.  He just listens to
the team.  He's a superstar.  It would be easy for Ichiro to
get 4 million dollars to play in the Majors.  Why does he have to
work for peanuts?

What if Ichiro gets hurt and won't be able to play any more?  Suppose
Orix, the parent corporation of the BlueWave gave Ichiro a job.  How
much would Ichiro get paid?  $50,000?  People say it's Japanese
style, but I disagree with it.

The most important thing is how much money Ichiro brought to the company. 
If he didn't play, nobody would go and watch the Orix BlueWave games. 
Now, I think many young Japanese baseball players are paying attention
to Nomo, and how he has a guaranteed contract, with a promising future. 
Nomo is getting a lot of money, more than he could earn in Japan, right? 
There are at least 10 players who are better than Nomo in Japan."


What do you think about the proposal to hold a Japan-America baseball series?

Franco:  It's wonderful.  I think it will be a hard fought
game.  I know Japanese baseball players are good, because I played
in Japan.  I know there are lots of superstars in the majors, but
I noticed that lots of Japanese pitchers pitch exactly like Nomo. 
Japanese batters also hit 30 home runs in only 130 game seasons. 
There are some good Japanese baseball players, like Ichiro and Kokubo. 
I think someday the Japan-America series will happen.  It depends
on how it is organized and if they can solve all the logistic problems,
like schedules.


"I'm looking forward to playing in Japan again some time in the future." 
...Julio Franco


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