Mets Hall of Famer Franco likens 2012 Mets to 2000 team

Former Mets pitcher John Franco as get get

Former Mets pitcher John Franco as get get plaque from Mets Jay Horwitz, left, of the Mets. (Credit: John Roca)

On a weekend that began with Johan Santana making new history, the Mets reached into their past Sunday night to honor John Franco, the Brooklyn-born closer who spent 14 seasons in Flushing.

Franco came aboard in 1990 and shared the early part of his Mets career with members of the 1986 World Series championship team. His final season as a Met was 2004, when he met a 21-year-old rookie named David Wright.

Franco became the 26th person to be inducted into the Mets' Hall of Fame. It was, as master of ceremonies Howie Rose noted, the continuation of quite a weekend at Citi Field for a fan base that would like nothing more than to have a Cinderella team to fall in love with.

Santana's no-hitter Friday -- the first in franchise history, in case you didn't hear -- has led to a feeling among Mets fans that this could be a special season in Queens.

Franco, who attended the no-hitter with his son, J.J., feels it, too.

"I think the fans are starting to believe a little bit," he said. "Each day it's someone different doing the job, and it seems like there's something special going on here."

The Mets (31-23) are in a virtual tie with Washington and Miami for first place in the NL East after Sunday night's 6-1 victory over the Cardinals. St. Louis, the defending World Series champion, didn't score for the first 252/3 innings of this series. Incredible.

In the first season of the double wild card, can a Mets team that went 77-85 in 2011 really make the playoffs? Franco, whose Mets made it as far as the NLCS in 1999 and World Series in 2000, says why not.

"I just told David now, 'This team reminds me a little of the 2000 team,' " he said. "Nobody kind of gave us a chance. We had one superstar in Mike [Piazza] and they have David. We had [Mike] Hampton and [Al] Leiter and they have Santana and [R.A.] Dickey . . . Everybody else is contributing. Guys who get hurt, guys who are coming up are doing the job. This team reminds me of that. They're a bunch of scrappers. Blue-collar guys."

Franco, of course, knows all about real blue-collar guys. He always wore an orange New York City Department of Sanitation T-shirt under his uniform to honor his late father. Among the first people he thanked Sunday night were the Sanitation Department members who turned the left-centerfield party deck into an orange-clad salute to Franco.

"It means a lot to me," Franco said of his induction. "Growing up in Brooklyn and rooting for the Mets as a kid and always dreaming about one day playing for your favorite team, and [having] the opportunity to play for your favorite team, and now being [inducted] into your favorite team's Hall of Fame with guys that were my heroes, the Seavers, the McGraws, the Tommie Agees, Bud Harrelson, and to be on the wall with those guys, it means an awful lot to me."

Harrelson was there, as was his 1969 and 1973 teammate Ed Kranepool. From 1986 and 1988, you had Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Mookie Wilson. Al Leiter and Todd Zeile were among the 1999-2000 group.

Wright, whom Franco praised during his speech as "a great leader," is the only Met left from the 2006 NL East champion team. That's the last time the Mets went to the playoffs.

Franco called on Mets fans to support this year's team. A few more weekends like this one and they might do more than that. They might fall in love all over again.

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