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There are a few fossils active in sports

July 10, 2005

Independence Day is a great day for concerts, parades, grilling, swimming, and of course, the beverage of one's choice.

Oh, and it's a great day for baseball, too.

Not only is it a great day to go see a ballgame, it - along with Memorial Day, the July 31 trade deadline, and Labor Day - is a great day to take stock of the baseball season.

Notwithstanding the Orioles' success this season, the one thing that stands out to me this season is the performance of a few grand old fossils of baseball. Julio Franco, about to turn 47 on Aug. 23, is seemingly setting some Jurassic record every game: Oldest player with a multi-homer game, oldest player with a multi-steal game, oldest player with a grand slam.

Only 14 players since 1900 have even played in a game in the season in which they turned 47. Six are pitchers, notable among them Phil Niekro, Hoyt Wilhelm, Satchel Paige and Jack Quinn. Of the eight position players, all of their appearances could be considered gimmicks. They combined for 18 appearances, going 6-for-24 at the plate. Franco is the oldest position player ever to play a significant role for a team. Coming into play on July 4, he had posted a .281 average with six homers and 25 RBI. His .477 slugging percentage was actually higher than his career mark of .420.

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I begin with Franco in this fossil discussion because he's doing some things no player has ever done, and a little bit below the radar for the most part. A player who hasn't been below the baseball radar since he went 24-4 for the Red Sox in 1986 is Roger Clemens. Clemens, who turns 43 on Aug. 8, has a paltry 1.41 ERA. If the Astros had given him any run support early in the season, he'd have more than seven wins, and be on his way to a seventh 20-win season. In his 100 decisions since the start of the 2001 season, he's a mere 75-25. Clemens is setting the bar higher than ever for the 40-something pitcher, higher even than his idol Nolan Ryan.

With 40-somethings like Franco, Clemens, Randy Johnson (41, 7-6 with the Yankees), Jamie Moyer (42, 7-3 with Seattle), Steve Finley (40, with 39 RBI for the Angels), and even B.J. Surhoff (40, hitting .288 for the O's) having success this year, we haven't heard a lot of media talking heads opine about how these players are ruining their legacies by hanging on too long. I've always thought that was garbage. A player is the only guardian of his own legacy.

We've also seen it in football all the hand-wringing over Jerry Rice's decision to play at least another year. I say, rather than lament the player who sticks around too long for our taste, we celebrate the player whose competitive fire still burns. There should be only 31 people to determine when a player is done - himself and the 30 general managers in the league who can offer him a contract. To the Rickey Hendersons and Julio Francos of the sports world, I say thank you, and don't let them take that uniform from your back without a fight.




"A Voice From The Crowd" is a weekly feature in The Herald-Mail which gives sports fans an opportunity to be a sports columnist. This week's guest columnist, Chris Strovel, is a resident of Martinsburg, W.Va. Comments on his column can be sent to sports@herald-mail.com

If you are interested in becoming a contributor to this column, e-mail Sports Editor Mark Keller at keller@herald-mail.com

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