Relief pitcher John Franco spent twelve long-suffering years as a member of the New York Mets
, before finally getting a chance to pitch in a World Series
in 2000, his sixteenth major league season. Franco was born in Brooklyn
, New York
, in 1960, and made his debut with the Cincinnati Reds
Franco is an unlikely success story. He stands only 5-foot-10; unusually short for a pitcher, and lacks an overpowering fastball. The lefthander instead relies on a changeup-slash-forkball. The pitch is especially devastating against righthanded hitters, as it appears to be coming in on the outside corner at the knees, before dropping to shoetop-level at the last moment. Franco has enjoyed many effective seasons as a closer because of his ability to retire righthanded power hitters.
In his career, John Franco has racked up 422 saves. This is second only to Lee Smith's 478. Due to his age and injury history, it is highly unlikely Franco will break the record.
Franco was an instant success for the Cincinnati Reds. In his rookie season, 1984, he won 6 while losing 2, and was even better in 1985, when he won 12 games in relief, saved 12 more, and posted an earned run average of 2.18. In 1986, Franco became the Reds' fulltime closer, and saved 29 games. In 1988, his best season, he posted 39 saves with an ERA of 1.57.
After the 1989 season, Franco was dealt to the New York Mets for their closer, Randy Myers. It's hard to say who got the better of the deal. Myers was younger, threw harder, and immediately helped the Reds to a World Series victory in 1990. Franco pitched well in his first season in New York, saving 33 games, but the Mets as an organization were in free-fall. Franco had some difficult seasons; in 1992, he lost 9 games in relief, and in an injury-shortened 1994 he posted only 10 saves and a 5.20 ERA. Met fans dreaded Franco's ninth-inning appearances; he put on baserunners, worked deep counts, but almost always managed to escape. Franco enjoyed two excellent seasons in 1996 and 1997, saving 64 games combined, and in 1998 posted 38 saves, but also lost 8 games and blew a critical late-season save to the basement-dwelling Florida Marlins, and the Mets missed the playoffs by one game.
In 1999, Franco suffered an injury to the middle finger on his pitching hand, and lost his closer's role to Armando Benitez. Franco returned as Benitez's setup man late in the season, and the Mets made the playoffs as the NL Wild Card team. It was Franco's first playoff appearance, at the age of 39.
Franco was effective in the setup role in the 2000 season, and pitched well in the postseason, as the Mets dropped the World Series in 5 games to their hated crosstown rivals, the New York Yankees.
Franco was slightly less successful in 2001, and again blew an important game late in the season. At season's end, Franco had elbow surgery. He attempted to come back for the 2002 season, but was unable to throw without pain, and an examination of his elbow revealed a ligament tear that would require a second surgery. As of now, Franco has not said whether he will attempt to come back, or retire.
In 998 career appearances over 17 seasons, Franco has won 88 games while losing 76. He has saved 422 games, and his career ERA of 2.75 is the third-lowest among active pitchers with more than 1,000 innings pitched.