Around the elbow, Franklin still has the scar from a failed suicide attempt, when he tried to jump through a fourth floor window at the Arlington County Courthouse. More than that, though, if he tries to use that arm now, the 58-year-old feels a numbness throughout that once rocket-like limb.
“I can’t throw a ball from here to that tree without it hurting,” he said between puffs of a cigarette, motioning to a towering oak tree some 15 feet away from the patio of his sister’s home in Warrenton.
Franklin still gets autograph requests and is happy to comply, but — diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic — his life is more about survival than reliving the good old days of a player who dominated Northern Virginia high school baseball and was selected second overall by the San Diego Padres in baseball’s amateur draft in 1971.
At Madison High in Vienna, Franklin posted a career record of 28-1 with 363 strikeouts, three no-hitters, seven one-hitters and 15 shutouts. While a few dozen scouts showed up to watch Franklin each time he pitched, he could not remember ever seeing a radar gun, though he was told he threw 95 mph. It was also at Madison that he picked up the nickname Jay; with five players named John, Warhawks Coach Tom Christie needed a way to keep everyone straight.
“John was legendary,” said 1969 Madison graduate Mike Wallace, a pitcher who went on to play five seasons in the majors.
Since Major League Baseball started its first-year player draft in 1965, the Washington area but has produced just three other players taken in the top 10 picks: McLean High grad Seth Greisinger went sixth overall to the Detroit Tigers in 1996, while Severna Park natives Gavin Floyd and Mark Teixeira went fourth and fifth, respectively, to the Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers in 2001. On Monday night, St. Albans School graduate Danny Hultzen, a pitcher at the University of Virginia, is expected to join that select group.
None of those players rose as rapidly as Franklin, nor fell so steeply. After three weeks in the majors at 18 years old, Franklin never made it back.
‘Expecting so much’
First he had elbow problems. Then it was his shoulder, overcompensating for the elbow. He bounced around the minor leagues for a few years, then returned to Northern Virginia and worked as a laborer, in quality control and delivering packages.
His wife left him, taking their two children to California. His father committed suicide. Shortly thereafter, Franklin was committed to a mental hospital. He now lives in an Annandale group home and attends sessions aimed at improving his ability to socialize; he said his therapist is changing his diagnosis to depression disorder.