So Julio Franco has been designated for assignment, which means that if no one claims him off of waivers (and I don’t know what that means) or trades for him, in 10 days he will be a free agent, which, almost certainly, means the end of his Mets career.
I meant to introduce this as a running gag much earlier in the blog, but last year, mainly in the lead up to the post-season as pitcher after pitcher went down with injury and Mets.com remained cheerfully optimistic about the situation and refused to contemplate the team’s impending doom, my Dad and I started to joke about the similarities between the Mets’ website and the Soviet Newspaper, Pravda, and eventually started referring to Comrade-Coach Willie Randolph (whose assurances were treated, by mets.com, as essentially the equivalent of wins). One of my plans for when I am finally shit out of ideas for posts was to cut and paste a mets.com bit into Word and then use the Find-and-Replace feature to change “runs” for “tractors,” “player” for “worker” or “comrade,” and “the Atlanta Braves” for “decadent Western capitalist bourgeoisie pigs.”
Anyhow, during the past year or so, in which I have (embarrassingly) read virtually every piece to appear on Mets-Pravda, none of them have seemed quite so Pravda-ish as the announcement of Franco’s designation for assignment. It perfectly evokes the feeling of being written by a harassed, low-level functionary whose only purpose in life is to flatter half a dozen sprawling, petty, and incompetent bureaucracies, all of which have the power to ship the writer off to Siberia for life, if they feel that his reportage does not do justice to their heroic endeavors on behalf of the people.
According to Mets-Pravda, Comrade Franco had, in fact, formed the resolution to leave the club, even before the members of the Politburo, in their wisdom, decided that they were better off without his services. Franco, apparently, thinks that his goal of playing until he is fifty (a little over thirteen months from now) would be best served by going somewhere where he could play more often. The Mets, apparently, felt that their goal of winning a championship would be best served by having a pinch hitter who could, you know, hit.
Indeed, Franco has, apparently, been feeling that he has been receiving inadequate playing time since last year, and it was only perseverance and optimism that kept him around Flushing for this long.
The Mets were motivated in their decision to release Franco by a desire to keep Sandy Alomar around, who is a spring chicken at a mere 41. Alomar frees up Ramon Castro to pinch hit; with a 3rd catcher they don’t have to worry about Lo Duca having to leave the game (due to injury or ejection—neither unlikely) after Castro has been used and handing the catcher’s mitt over to a guy with a god-damn knee brace. But they were also wanted to have his “leadership” around.
But according to Mets-Pravda, wasn’t Franco coming through with leadership by the tractor-load? And what 48-year old ball player would think that he could get more playing time on a baseball team other than the one unhinged enough to sign him in the first place? Was Franco’s deranged desire for more chances to ground weakly to second turning him into a team cancer? Was he the one tampering with their mojo and leading to a break down in team-chemistry?
An alternative theory, which touches on an issue that various people on the internet had picked up on before Franco was even released, is that there is a slight conflict inherent in having Franco as a player, and Ricky Henderson as a coach. Franco and Henderson are contemporaries and Henderson has been adamant that he can still play—once MLB was done with him he knocked around in semi-pro and independent baseball, and re-stated his desire to play recently, in response to the Yankee signing of Roger Clemens. Franco on the field would have been a constant provocation to Ricky, and probably Franco’s release was necessary, just so that Willie Randolph wouldn’t have to listen to his hitting-coach constantly asking to pinch-hit: “hey Willie, those guy’s can’t hit as good as Ricky. Why don’t you let Ricky hit? Ricky might even steal a base.”
GAME IN PROGRESS NOTE: It’s official: when I grow up I want to be El Duque. After walking the pitcher, with two outs, to load the bases, and giving up two runs as a consequence, what does he do in his at bar in the next inning? Singles, and then steals freaking second, the second or third steal of his entire American career. That guy is the man… either that or Ricky’s tutelage is already paying off.