This Refractor Needs More Orange in the Photo

Refractor cards are all about bright, shiny colors. The John Franco card appearing in the 1993 set is certainly as colorful as any other card in the checklist, but it is missing the most Franco-esque part of any of his baseball cards: A bright orange NYC Department of Sanitation shirt.

Franco had grown up in a working class Brooklyn family that was in love with the local New York Mets. Franco’s father was particularly involved in baseball fandom and encouraged his son all along the way to becoming a professional player. The elder Franco spent his career with the city’s sanitation department, dying at the wheel of his garbage truck just months prior to his upcoming retirement.

John began wearing NYC Sanitation t-shirts under his uniform in honor of his father, a tradition that soon endeared him to fans as a true New York representative on the team. The best Franco cards are the ones where this shirt is featured prominently, such as the 1995 Donruss example shown below. Topps really missed an opportunity to highlight what would have been a very colorful addition to the ’93 set by showing him in a cold weather uniform that completely hides the famous shirt.

Franco spent the next decade-plus after joining the Mets as the team’s closer. His 276 career saves for the team are nearly double the second highest ranking reliever in team history (Armando Benitez, 160) and his career total of 424 still ranks 5th all-time. The Mets named Franco as the third Team Captain in team history during the 2001 season, filling the cleats previously worn by Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter.

Perhaps the most interesting stat connected to Franco is his adjusted fielding independent pitching (FIP-). His FIP- of 86 indicates much better pitching skill than average hurlers, yet he allowed a greater number of walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP) than most others exhibiting that level of skill. Essentially, Franco would give up hits and walks, but pretty consistently prevented opposing teams from actually inflicting much damage. With Franco on the mound, a ninth inning was never boring (and resulted in a save about 80% of the time).

There’s actually a lot more I would like to know about Franco’s pre-Mets days when he played for Pete Rose’s Cincinnati Reds, but the details are buried in testimony from shady characters. I don’t think a definitive book has yet been written about the era and am not sure Franco would garner much of a mention if one did get published. Franco has been adamant that he had nothing to do with Rose’s activities and the Dowd Report on the Rose investigation makes zero mentions of Franco and has no allusions to him.