The Atlanta Braves — who shed the contract of veteran Nick Swisher a mere few days ago — made an announcement that made Braves fans of yesteryear pretty happy. Jeff Francoeur — who captured the nation’s attention as a rookie — is back for the last season at The Ted.
Simply put, it’s a great move.
I do. As a matter of fact, I remember his first home run. Frenchy and his family came into Jocks and Jills where I was working after his first big league game — where he blasted his first big league home run.
“Hey, didn’t that kid just launch a homer like an hour ago?”
He did. Francoeur blew up on the scene. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting after getting called up in mid-July and playing only 70 games. Those 70 games though, man. He tore it up, blasting 14 home runs and batting .300.
He became the jewel of the Tomahawk Nation’s eye, the next great homegrown Atlanta Brave, the next — dare they say — Chipper Jones. However, what Frenchy really became was a precautionary tale of too much too soon.
Francoeur had a decent second season, his first full year in the bigs. He hit 29 home runs while batting .260, but his glaring weakness was exposed. Francoeur was a free swinger, and pitchers could make him look foolish. There wasn’t a pitch that Frenchy didn’t like as he walked a mere 23 times on a season in which he led the league by playing in every game. Putting that in perspective, he walked 11 times in his 70 game debut the year prior.
Frenchy bounced back the following season with a .293 average and a career high .338 OBP. He hit 19 home runs and posted his second consecutive 100 RBI campaign, however that strikeout to walk ratio was still alarming. He got the walks up to 42, but still struck out 129 times.
That’s where his career took a sudden turn. Pitchers likely figured out that Frenchy would chase. The power went away, the average continued to fall as the walks seemingly disappeared. The Braves faithful received the ultimate kick in the cajones when at the trade deadline in 2009, Frenchy was shipped off for merely nothing in return… to the New York Mets.
Frenchy has survived, bouncing around the league, have a nice renaissance in 2011 with the Royals when he hit 20 home runs while batting .285. But that’s not why it’s important that the Braves decided to keep Frenchy around this year.
Mallex Smith. Ozzie Albies. Dansby Swanson. These are just a few of the bevy of young superstars in waiting the Braves have on their farm. Most of them have already been hyped up and are on the radar of fans, analysts and reporters across the nation. The Braves hope they will soon be household names.
Frenchy was another in a long line of elite prospects who took the world by storm in a small sample size and was made to believe they were the best. My personal earliest recollection of this was Gregg Jefferies. He came up and in a 29-game span for the Mets at the end of the 1988 season, he suddenly became the “next Mickey Mantle“, a five-tool superstar who could do it all.
Jefferies suffered the same fate as Francoeur — too much too soon. While he played an admirable 14-year big league career, the next Mickey Mantle never scored 100 runs (Mantle did it eight years in a row), never hit 20 home runs in a season (Mantle did that 14 times) and although Jeffries ability to not strikeout is one of the best in history, he walked a quarter of the time The Mick did.
Too much too soon.
The difference between Frenchy and Jeffries was that as they quickly faded from the spotlight, their teams still had veterans and stars on their rosters. The 2016 Braves do not.
Not only do these kids need to come up and take they world by storm, they need to continue to do so, or John Hart‘s master plan is all for naught. If the majority of these prospects are misses instead of hits, the Braves new stadium is in a bit of a pickle.
And that’s where Frenchy comes in, now a wise old sage that can let these kids know that even if you steal the cover of Sports Illustrated one month into your career, even if you are dubbed The Natural after arguably the greatest fictional baseball player ever created, that nothing is guaranteed.
Your stardom can fade as quickly as it rose. And when that happens, fan bases turn on you, and when you lose the support of the fans, your game goes south.
So, even if Francoeur plays one game a week, he serves a much more important role on these Atlanta Braves. You can argue that it is the most important role that any Brave has this season.
How would that be for the ultimate form of redemption?