John Anthony Franco (b. September 16, 1960 in Brooklyn, New York) is a left-handed relief pitcher who most recently played for the Houston Astros, and is considered one of the greatest closers of all-time. For 14 of the 20 years in his career, he played for the New York Mets, and he remains a baseball icon in New York City sports.
Franco was originally selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 8, 1981 in the 5th round of the amateur draft. Before reaching the Major Leagues, however, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds on May 9, 1983 with Brett Wise for Rafael Landestoy. Franco debuted with the Reds on April 24, 1984.
On December 6, 1989, at the age of 28, he was traded with Don Brown to the New York Mets for Randy Myers and Kip Gross. He remained with the Mets organization until the end of the 2004 season. During his time with the Mets, he won the Rolaids Relief Award in 1990, become team captain and remaining the closer until 1999, when he moved to a setup role in front of Armando Benitez. He reached the postseason for the first time in 1999 and the World Series in 2000, when the Mets lost to the New York Yankees in five games.
Injuries caused Franco to miss the 2002 baseball season, but he made a successful recovery from surgery and returned in June 2003. He signed a one year contract for the 2004 season. He finished with a 2-7 record with 36 strikeouts and a 5.28 ERA in 46 innings.
In January 2005, he was signed to a one-year deal with the Astros, at the age of 44, making him the oldest currently active pitcher in Major League Baseball. On July 2, 2005, Franco was designated for assignment, and he was subsequently released. So far, Franco has not announced retirement, but has also not been claimed or signed by any other MLB team.
Growing up, Franco's father was a New York City sanitation worker. He graduated from Lafayette High School in Brooklyn and St. John's University in Queens, where he pitched two no-hitters in his freshman year.
Career accomplishments (through 2004)
- Pitching record: 90-86
- Saves: 424, 2nd most in major league history behind Lee Smith, and the most for any left-handed pitcher.
- Strikeouts: 959
- ERA: 2.84
- Innings pitched: 1230.2
- Games pitched: 1088
- 4-time All-Star (1986-87, 1989, 1990)
- Postseason record: 2-0, one save, 1.88 ERA in 15 postseason appearances.