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Brooklyn's own

Franco still the heart and soul of the Mets

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Latest: Sunday October 08, 2000 02:44 AM

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By Jamal Greene, Sports Illustrated

John Franco has a five o'clock shadow. It's fairly rare for a ballplayer but it suits him well.

If anyone making $3 million a year can be an everyman, Franco's it. At a mildly rotund 5'10", 185 lbs., Franco looks more like Jack in Accounting than the major's second all-time save leader.

One gets the sense that he is in fact what Jack in Accounting would have been if Jack had ever learned to throw a change. In a way he's all that Barry Bonds, son of an All-Star ballplayer, is not.

Despite Bonds's apparent change in attitude towards the media this year (in May he agreed to speak to SI for the first time in seven years), he still refused to speak to reporters after striking out against Franco to end Game 2.

Franco, on the other hand, is always a willing quote who in 1996 received the New York Press Photographers Good Guy Award. When Franco faced Bonds with one on and a tie score in the ninth inning of Game 3, a reprisal of the matchup that ended game 2, when Bonds struck out looking at a changeup, it was clear what side the Shea crowd was on.

In Franco's case, they're not just -- as Mets diehard Jerry Seinfeld has quipped -- rooting for shirts. When Franco wears a home jersey it really is one. He attended Brooklyn's Lafayette High and Hillcrest's St. John's University, a 15-minute drive from Shea.

Franco lost his closer's job to Armando Benitez after injuring a finger on his left hand last July but, rather than take up the Mets' offer and request a trade in the offseason, he stuck around. Going to another team would have allowed him to pursue Lee Smith's alltime saves mark (he is 58 away), but Franco wanted to stay with a contender.

"Something like that, you never let go of it," Franco said during spring training, in reference to last year's playoffs. "To walk away now wouldn't seem right. I've come too far to leave this team now." It began to pay off in game 2, when after 420 regular season saves, Franco recorded his first in the postseason.

Afterwards Mets GM Steve Phillips said of his closer, "I get more and more impressed with John Franco as the days go by. The way he has handled this transition, which has not been without pain, it has cost him some sleepless nights ... and some painful days.I give John Franco a tremendous amount of credit."

Manager Bobby Valentine went still further, saying, "There's no one that I trust as much as I trust John."

Mets fans like loyalty. So it is with added passion that they roared after Franco struck out Bonds for the second time in two games. Franco marched off the field barking at the fans behind the Mets dugout. Once again in October, he was just one of the boys.

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