Former Big-League Stars Are Keeping Sharp On Foreign Shores

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Portly Pablo Sandoval, a one-time World Series MVP, is still taking his cuts.Chase N on Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0

By Dan Schlossberg

Douglas MacArthur once said, “Old soldiers never die. They just fade away.”

So it is in baseball, where some old-timers never quit. They just fade away to places like Korea, Japan, or Mexico.

Three prime examples are Julio Franco, Bartolo Colon, and Pablo Sandoval — all deemed too old, too fat, or too over-the-hill to compete in today’s major leagues.

Now that the designated hitter has become universal (as it was during the pandemic-shortened season of 2020), both Franco and Sandoval hope hitting-hungry teams will give them a look.

Franco, who admits to being 61, still maintains a frame that is perfectly chiseled. And he was an active player just a few years ago as a player-manager in Japan’s Baseball Challenge League, semi-pro circuit. At 56, he was in better shape that almost all of his colleagues in that loop.

“I don’t see myself out of baseball,” he told The Associated Press [AP] at the time. “I can go fishing, play golf, or go to Starbucks but at the end of the day, I love baseball and that is what I want to do.”

Franco broke into the big leagues with the Phillies in 1982, made the All-Star team three times with the Texas Rangers, and lasted in the majors until 2007, when he played for the Atlanta Braves at age 48.

He says he wants to stick around until age 66, so he has five years to find a taker.

Then there’s Bartolo, last seen throwing his considerable weight around for Acereros de Monclova in the Mexican League. He had a 4.55 ERA for the same team last year.

The portly right-hander, who weighs some 100 pounds more than he did during his prime in the majors, went 44-34 with a 3.90 ERA during a three-year stint with the Mets that ended in 2016. His lifetime earned run average is 4.12.

Colon, who admits to age 48, was a bust with the Atlanta Braves, who snatched him from the Mets with a lucrative but foolhardly free-agent contract. But he was a fan favorite in New York, where he also pitched briefly for the Yankees, and even hit his one and only home run six years ago while wearing a Mets uniform in San Diego.

Sports talk show host Boomer Esiason has been boosting a reunion. “I’m serious,” he said. “He was the first guy I thought of yesterday.”

Esiason was reacting to the wave of injuries that have hit the starting rotation in Flushing. Every starter the Mets have tried, including aces Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, has been hampered by injuries of varying severity.

As for Sandoval, he’s a 35-year-old slugger in a gargantuan body that makes him look like the position player version of Colon. But his bat still has life.

He’s hitting .281 with a .365 on-base percentage, .444 slugging average, and .810 OPS for Olmecas de Tabasco of the Mexican League after starting the season at Monclova. He had four doubles, seven home runs, 19 walks, and 29 runs batted in at last look. He’s hit .367 with four homers in 15 games since switching teams.

The 2012 World Series MVP for San Francisco, Sandoval was a third baseman then. Now he’s mostly a DH but occasionally a fill-in at first base (face it, guys, he has no range).

Unlike Franco and Colon, Sandoval was in the majors as recently as 2021. After delivering four pinch-homers for Atlanta in early-season action, he suddenly stopped hitting. He had a .178 average in 69 games when swapped to Cleveland for Eddie Rosario, who went on to be Most Valuable Player in the NL Championship Series.

There’s already one Sandoval in the majors — a starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels — but there’s plenty of room for two. He wouldn’t be a costly signing either.

Baseball history is filled with stories of long-retired and forgotten players (see Jim Bouton) who return after long retirements. Wouldn’t it be fun to see any of these grumpy old men in action again?

As a grumpy old man myself, I’d love it to happen.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is looking forward to covering the All-Star Game and Hall of Fame Inductions for forbes.com and to signing books in Cooperstown July 6 and 23 and Los Angeles July 17. E.mail him at ballauthor@gmail.com.

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