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John Franco, A Hall of Famer at Heart



By Mike Silva ~ January 26th, 2012. Filed under: New York Mets, NY Baseball Memories.

Today, the Mets announced John Franco as the latest inductee into their Hall of Fame. I discussed how Tom Seaver might have been “Born to be a Dodger” earlier this week, but if someone was ever born to be a member of the Mets, it’s Franco.

Born and raised in the Marlboro Projects in Brooklyn, Franco starred at Lafayette High School and St. John’s before he was selected by the Dodgers in the 5th round of the 1981 draft. Listed at 5’10”, it’s unlikely that Franco could get a scout to look at him today, much less be selected in the draft.

The Reds acquired him in 1983, and he became a fixture in their bullpen in 1984. The call to New York finally came in December of 1989 as the Mets swapped closers with Cincinnati, dealing Randy Myers for Franco. Who would have thought his tenure in a Mets uniform would last 14 seasons.

There are quite a few memories I have of Franco. The earliest one came on May 6th, 1988 when Darryl Strawberry hit a game winning home run off him at Shea. This was even more significant as Franco was particularly nasty on Straw throughout his career. In a display of the type of player he was, Franco was brought in to face Strawberry as the tying run when the Mets visited Cincinnati later that season and promptly struck him out.

His first season in New York had its ups and downs. After a hot start he stumbled, like the team, in September. Franco lived with it throughout the offseason as the hero homecoming was spoiled by a second place finish. Who would have known it would be years before he would pitch in meaningful games again.

There was also the April night in 1996 when he collected his 300th save in the fog against Montreal. Visibility was so poor that I still don’t know how Lance Johnson ran down the final out in centerfield.

Franco was known throughout his career for his “Houdini act” in the ninth inning. Always pitching to contact, he rarely had a 1-2-3 inning. Late in the ’98 season the Mets were a game behind the Cubs for the Wild Card. They had lost to a last place Marlins team the night before when Franco blew a save. He was called on the next night, a game in which I was in attendance, to close the door on a one run game they had to win. There was a walk, a single turned out by Rey Ordonez, another walk, and a hit batter. With the bases loaded and two out he would get Mike Redmond, who crushed lefties, to chase his signature change on 3 and 2 to end the game. The Mets would finish behind Chicago, but that was the biggest out of the season that night. Considering it had been 8 years since the Mets played meaningful September games, it meant a great deal to the 52,000+ at Shea.

Franco finished second all those years in Cincinnati. He fell short in 1990 and 1998 with the Mets. It was fitting he finally made the postseason in 1999, but his work in 2000 was huge. He pitched a scoreless 8th inning at Yankee Stadium in Game 1 of the World Series. Armando Benitez would blow a lead, and the Series, in the ninth. It made you wonder if the roles were reversed would the Mets have won that game and changed the course of the Series.

John Franco is not the best pitcher in team history. He probably isn’t the best reliever or closer. He certainly isn’t a Hall of Famer, but there is no doubt he belongs in the Mets Hall of Fame. You have to look past the numbers to appreciate what John Franco meant to the Mets franchise. You can’t measure what he symbolizes in FIP, WAR, or ERA+.

No one embodies New York and what it’s about than Franco. He wasn’t the tallest and didn’t throw the hardest. He was flawed, but he fought his opponent every night. If you put Franco’s guts in Armando Benitez’s body you might have a pitcher better than Mariano Rivera. He survived during a time when many of his managers, teammates, and front office brethren were run out of town. The fact he was born and raised here is the cherry on top of the story.

There is no denying that Franco caused the fans many stressful nights. He also broke quite a few hearts along the way. We see so many players do less with more in sports. Why not celebrate someone who maximized his talent and left it on the field – win or lose.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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1 Response to John Franco, A Hall of Famer at Heart

  1. Chuck Johnson

    “You can’t measure what he symbolizes in FIP, WAR, or ERA+.”

    Can’t measure anything with FIP, WAR, or ERA+.

    At least nothing of significance.

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