Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: Late Career John Franco


Mets fans have every right to be salty.

John Franco was the closing pitcher in Queens for 10 years, notched 268 saves in that time and averaged 27 saves per season. Franco was a rock for the Mets in one of the rockiest decades of Mets baseball since the 60s, lasting from the end of the Strawberry era to the rise of Mike Piazza. And because he was phased into a middle relief role for his last four seasons in New York, he doesn't get the kind of respect that the...OTHER...New York City closer who was there for a decade or so does. 

John Franco isn't Mariano Rivera. He's John Franco. That's awesome enough.

But still, by 2003, Franco was seeming less and less of a factor in the Mets' bullpen endeavors. Armando Benitez already usurped the 9th inning gig for the 2000 postseason run, and after missing the 2002 season, was still a middle relief guy behind Benitez. 

In 2004, Armando Benitez was gone, which meant Franco had another shot to close games...except he pitched a 5.28 ERA in 52 games. His velocity was going, he wasn't as masterful as he was in the 90s, and he was pitching his age, at 43. The closing gig went to Braden Looper, and Franco's days of closing were essentially over.

The Mets didn't re-sign Franco after the 2004 season, and everyone figured the 20-year MLB veteran was done playing. Not so. 

Yes, that's right. John Franco played for a team that wasn't the Reds or Mets. In 2005, the Houston Astros were building their NL Champion bullpen, and signed Franco to a minor league deal. Surprisingly, Franco made the team, and was a solid middle relief option behind closer Brad Lidge. In 31 games, he had a 7.20 ERA and 16 Ks, which wasn't exemplary, but for a 44-year-old, it wasn't bad, and it was solid work. Franco was released in mid-July, so he wouldn't see the Astros head to a World Series, but he was at least a part of the ramp up to it.

Topps didn't do either year's Franco card possibly due to space or indifference, but it would have been nice to see Topps send-off John Franco officially. 

1 comment:

  1. Topps did make one Franco card in 2005, but it was in Topps Total...and he had to share it with Astros teammate Fernando Nieve as though he were a rookie. Not a fair end for a player with such a distinguished career.