From the first day Jeff Francoeur got inside his first Braves uniform, he was destined to become a star in his hometown. He and his bosom friend, Brian McCann, moved about as a team. Rome, Myrtle Beach, Mississippi, almost in lock-step. Neither ever thought of the other on any other team but the Braves.
But it happened. Here they were. Francoeur was found in the Visitors Clubhouse, sitting at a table playing cards with three New York Mets. The hated Mets.
He and McCann were still connected. Brian had given him a lift to Turner Field for the night’s game. But once there, they went in separate directions. McCann was hitting .243, not a blistering pace, but catchers can weather storms more acceptably than fielders. Francoeur had hit more home runs, driven in more runs, but his .212 batting average won’t suffice for an outfielder. So he had been benched for a couple of games. He would be back tonight.
A slump, the most infamous word in baseball, always gets attention, especially for a player like Francoeur. It was a dismal slump that got him out of town, separated him from his pal McCann.
All the Braves got in return was just another body, Ryan Church, now holding down a place on the bench in Pittsburgh. Jeff finished the season with a flurry in New York, and picked it up when this season began. Then, poof! There it went again.
I should have known that players don’t talk slumps with one another, not in the kind of way they talk about where to have dinner that night, or the movies they see. But, nevertheless, I mentioned something about it to McCann before I caught myself.
“No, that’s not a good question,” he said. It was not my coziest moment of the day.
A Mets locker room is usually like a subway station at quitting time. It seethes with people of all varieties.
It was noisy, not at all enhanced by a big screen TV with a clamorous movie raging on. Francoeur eased back in a chair at his locker, cordial, not one sign of slump in his smiling features.
The last time we had talked in such a situation was when he confided in me that he was headed to Texas after the season for a session with Rudy Jaramillo, the Rangers hitting coach. All of which may have complicated his status here. (Note: Jaramillo has since relocated with the Cubs, cut loose in Texas.)
“I got off to a pretty good start this spring,” he said, “then I started thinking. I’ve got to get my mind off my swing. Get to the plate, relax, see the pitch, hit the pitch.”
Did he regret that he took the furtive flight to Texas?
“No, I’m glad I did it. It was good for me.”
It hadn’t created any problems with Terry Pendleton, a man of even disposition and easy countenance.
“No problem. We talk and he has been a lot of help. He tells me I have to be more selective about the pitches I swing at.”
Life in Manhattan has been tough on his wife. She usually heads for Atlanta when the Mets are on the road, and such time as when Jeff did a tour of Scottish golf courses in the off-season. (“Man, that Carnoustie is the toughest golf course I have ever played,” he said.)
Not that the slump died with the swing, but he hit his fifth home run, tied the score, and though the Braves eventually won, he had a feeling the old swing is back. Stand by for further developments.
Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures likes Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.