Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ten Things You May Have Forgotten About John Franco

Photo courtesy of Associated Press/New York Mets

Earlier today, the Mets announced that John Franco will be inducted into the team's Hall of Fame in a ceremony prior to the June 3rd game against the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.  Franco will become the 26th member of the Mets' Hall of Fame and the first to be inducted since Davey Johnson, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Frank Cashen were bestowed the honor in 2010.

Many people know that John Franco played more years for the Mets (14) than any player not named Ed Kranepool and was the team's last captain.  It's also fairly common knowledge amongst Mets fans that Franco holds the club record for saves (276) and is the all-time leader for saves by a left-handed pitcher (424).

But what about the things you may have forgotten about the Brooklyn-born Franco?  He was much more than just a pitcher who racked up saves and years played with the team.  In fact, I've come up with ten things you may not remember about the man who came into games as Chuck Berry serenaded him over the Shea Stadium speakers.  In honor of the newest member of the Mets' Hall of Fame, I present to you...


Ten Things You May Have Forgotten About John Franco

1.  Before Mike Piazza became synonymous with No. 31, John Franco wore the number.  In fact, he wore it longer than Piazza did as a Met, but gave it up to the superstar catcher upon his arrival in May 1998.  Franco switched to No. 45, the number he wore as a player at St. John's University and the number of his childhood hero, Tug McGraw.

2.  When John Franco was traded from Cincinnati to the Mets in December 1989, he was the Reds' all-time saves leader with 148.  In 1994, Franco recorded his 108th save as a Met, taking over the team's top spot from Jesse Orosco.  For ten seasons, John Franco held the No. 1 spot in saves for both the Reds and the Mets until Reds' closer Danny Graves surpassed Franco in 2004.

3.  John Franco is one of only two Mets players who played for both Davey Johnson and Bobby Valentine, joining his battery mate, Todd Hundley.  Johnson was fired as Mets' manager during Franco's first season in New York, while Valentine dialed Franco's number in the bullpen 295 times.  Unfortunately for Johnson, Franco gave up two runs in two-thirds of an inning during a loss to the Padres on May 27, 1990.  It would be Davey's final game as Mets' manager.

4.  Although most fans remember Tom Seaver throwing out the first pitch at Citi Field, it was actually John Franco who threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the inaugural baseball game played at the Mets' home.  On March 29, 2009, Franco took the mound before the college baseball game between St. John's and Georgetown, opening up the ballpark with its first toss to the plate.

5.  The Mets lost the 2000 World Series to the Yankees in five games.  Who was the only Mets' pitcher credited with a victory in the first Subway Series in 44 years?  None other than John Franco, who earned the victory in Game 3 after Benny Agbayani's RBI double gave the Mets an eighth-inning lead.

6.  John Franco was once relieved by Matt Franco.  On Fireworks Night in 1999, Matt Franco traded in his pinch-hitting role to be the "pinch-pitcher" after John Franco left the game with a strained tendon in the middle finger of his throwing hand.  Franco (Matt) would give up a three-run homer to the first batter he faced, adding two runs to Franco's (John) pitching line for the night.  The Mets would go on to lose the game to the Braves, 16-0.  That wouldn't be the only thing lost that night, as Franco (John, not Matt) lost his job as Mets' closer to Armando Benitez because of his injury.

7.  Darryl Strawberry and David Wright are widely considered to be the two best homegrown hitters in franchise history, with both players popping up all over the Mets' all-time offensive leaderboards.  John Franco is the only player who was a teammate of both players while with the Mets.  Franco's first season in New York (1990) coincided with the Straw Man's last year as a Met, while his last year (2004) was the year David Wright made his Met debut.

8.  John Franco is one of only three Mets' relievers to finish in the top ten in the Cy Young Award vote in a particular year.  In the strike-shortened 1994 season, Franco led the National League with 30 saves and placed 7th in the Cy Young vote.  Jesse Orosco (3rd in 1983) and Billy Wagner (6th in 2006) are the other Mets who have received Cy Young Award votes in addition to Franco.

9.  With 33 saves in 1990, John Franco became the first Met ever to lead the league in saves.  He repeated the feat in 1994 when he saved 30 games for the Mets to pace the NL.  To this day, Franco remains the only Mets pitcher to lead the National League in saves.

10.  John Franco is one of only two men to pitch for the Mets at age 44.  In 1965, Hall of Famer Warren Spahn became the first player to accomplish the feat, pitching in 20 games (19 starts) for the Mets at the age of 44.  Franco's final appearance as a Met (October 3, 2004) was also his only appearance as a 44-year-old.  That's not the only thing Spahn and Franco have in common.  Both pitchers are first all-time in wins and saves for left-handed pitchers, respectively.  Spahn's 363 career victories and Franco's 424 saves lead all southpaws in major league history.

4 comments:

metsilverman.com said...

Awesome info, Ed. Though I will say that Matt Franco actually pitched twice in 1999, so he actually relieved both Franco (who got hurt) and Chuck McElroy (whom Bobby V. actually moved to left field). The first time Matt Franco pitched in July on Fireworks Night everyone thought it was kind of fun since no Mets position player had pitched since 1991 (Bill Pecota). When Matt Franco took the mound for the second time in a month, fewer people were amused. Worked out fine in the end.

Ed Leyro (and Joey Beartran) said...

Thanks for the correction on Matt Franco relieving twice in 1999. I was at the game where Franco relieved Franco because I never missed a Fireworks Night. It's amazin' how one year Fireworks Night featured the most lopsided shutout loss in Mets history (16-0 in 1999) and the following year featured the 10-run eighth inning against the same team, the Braves.

I think Bill Pecota was still a Royal in 1991. The game in which he became the first position player to pitch in franchise history was in 1992. I think it was in late September (not sure on that) but I do remember him relieving Jeff Innis and giving up a homer to Andy Van Slyke. Hey, not everyone can pitch like Desi Relaford, right?

DyHrdMET said...

I saw Matt Franco pitch twice in 1999 in person. Fireworks night and Jewish Heritage Day (a Sunday later in the season against the Dodgers). Despite that, 1999 was a fun season to be a Mets fan.

Ed Leyro (and Joey Beartran) said...

1999 was indeed fun. For me, that season can be defined by two words. Pat Mahomes. Grand Slam Single? That was nothing. Todd Pratt's walk-off HR against the D-Backs? Pigeon feed. Pat Mahomes was the true MVP of that team! That's all I have to say about that.