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MLB History: John Franco’s Long and Successful Career

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On this date 25 years ago, John Franco cemented his place in MLB history. The Brooklynite became the first left-handed pitcher to rack up 300 career saves by pitching a scoreless ninth inning to secure the Mets‘ 3-2 victory over the Montreal Expos. Franco would rack up another 124 saves in his career, and his 424 career saves are still the most for any southpaw in MLB history.

MLB History: John Franco’s Big League Career

Dodgers and Reds

John Franco was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He attended Lafayette High School and then St. John’s University. In 1981, the Los Angeles Dodgers selected Franco in the fifth round of the MLB Draft. He wouldn’t appear in the majors for the Dodgers though, as he was traded to the Reds in 1983 for infielder Rafael Landestoy.

Franco would make his MLB debut in 1984. While he wasn’t a fireballer, Franco became one of the best relievers in baseball with Cincinnati. During his time with the Reds, Franco pitched to a 2.49 ERA/3.26 FIP (153 ERA+) and a 1.269 WHIP with 148 saves and 367 strikeouts in 528 innings (6.3 K/9). Franco made three All-Star teams and won the NL Rolaids Relief Award in 1988, the same year in which he saved an NL-best 39 games. He also finished 12th in MVP that season. Unfortunately, the Reds didn’t make the playoffs at all while Franco was with them.

Mets

In December of 1989, the Reds traded Franco along with Don Brown to the New York Mets for Kip Gross and Randy Myers. Franco became a fan-favorite in Flushing, spending 15 seasons with the team. In 1990, Franco was an All-Star and won his second Rolaids Relief Award. He later was named the team’s captain and served as the team’s Players Union rep. Franco led the NL in saves in 1990 and 1994 and remained the team’s closer until 1999. In 1994, Franco finished seventh in Cy Young voting and 20th in MVP voting. On April 14, 1999, Franco recorded his 400th career save. He helped the Mets reach the NLCS in 1999 and the World Series in 2000.

Franco missed the entirety of the 2002 season due to an injury, but he returned to the Mets in June of 2003. After a rocky 2004 season, Franco’s time in New York came to an end. All told, Franco’s numbers in Flushing included a 3.10 ERA/3.60 FIP (132 ERA+), a 1.365 WHIP, and 592 strikeouts in 702.2 innings (7.6 K/9). Franco also appeared in a franchise-leading 695 games and racked up a franchise-record 276 saves. In 2012, Franco was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame. Fans have also clamored for the Mets to retire Franco’s number 45.

Houston Astros

In January of 2005, the 44-year-old Franco signed a contract with the Houston Astros. At the time, Franco was the oldest player in MLB. Unfortunately, Franco struggled in Houston, allowing 12 earned runs in just 15 innings pitched. In July of that season, the Astros released Franco. As a result, Franco retired from Major League Baseball.

MLB History: Franco’s Overall Numbers

Overall, Franco played in the majors for 21 seasons. He had a 90-87 record with a 2.89 ERA/3.45 FIP (138 ERA+), a 1.333 WHIP, and 975 strikeouts in 1,245.2 innings (7.0 K/9). His 424 saves are good for the fifth-most in MLB history.

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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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Mathias is a senior journalism major at The College of New Jersey. He has served as the Sports Editor and Opinions Editor for the school's newspaper, The Signal. He joined Overtime Heroics as a writer in June of 2019 and became an editor in December of 2020. Mathias is also a varsity swimmer and is the youngest of five kids.