A year after the fall, a toughened Francoeur looks forward

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — It was a different Jeff Francoeur who took the field Wednesday for the first full-squad workout of 2009. He’s thinner. He has a new swing. Mostly he’s different because he bears a layer of scar tissue.

Last season hurt him. In one flailing summer the Golden Child learned the harsh lessons he’d managed to avoid in the first 24 years of a remarkably charmed life: That fame is fleeting; that people are fickle, and that the child’s game he plays for a living is actually a bottom-line business.

“My first two years [as an Atlanta Brave] were nothing but a fairy tale,” Francoeur said. “But fairy tales end.”

By any standards, he had a terrible year. He hit .239 with only 11 home runs and 71 RBIs. His on-base percentage (.294) was among the worst in the majors. For an athlete who had never failed at any level of any sport, such failure was stunning. That said, nothing could have prepared Francoeur for the rancor directed his way by fans he believed had come to really, really like him.

“In this day and age, it’s, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ and you’re always going to hear the negative,” Francoeur said. “But I was a lost dog for much of last season. I didn’t know how to handle it.”

On the morning of the Fourth of July, the homegrown hero discovered that even his organization had lost faith. The Braves sent him to Class AA for a weekend, and there came a moment late on a Saturday night in Pearl, Miss., when he stood in right field and thought, “What the hell am I doing here?”

Recalling the demotion, Francoeur said: “It was a wakeup call. It made me mentally tough … People ask me about arbitration, and I say, ‘After what I went through last year, I can handle anything.’ ”

Francoeur is scheduled to fly to Phoenix on Thursday for his arbitration hearing. The Braves have offered $2.8 million and he’s asking $3.95 million, and an arbitrator will hear each side’s case and pick one number or the other. Hearing your own club nitpick your worth is never a pleasant experience, and Francoeur was asked if, between the July demotion and the upcoming hearing, he’ll ever feel as warmly toward the Braves.

“I don’t think there’s any way I can 100 percent,” he said. And then: “I want to play here forever; I’ve said that all along. But the business part of it is different.”

(Update: Francoeur and the Braves settled for $3.375 million late Wednesday night, thereby avoiding arbitration.)

Much has been made over Francoeur’s refusal to sign the long-term contract the Braves offered in 2007. Brian McCann, his former roommate, accepted a similar offer, and some bloggers seek to paint McCann as the loyal worker and Francoeur as the prima donna.

“There’s no competition between us,” Francouer said. “Brian’s my biggest fan and I’m his biggest fan. He was my shoulder last year … It’s a business. At no point do I regret not signing that contract.”

As for 2009: “Nobody was more ready for last year to end than I was, and nobody is more ready for the new season than I am … I can’t tell you I’m going to hit 35 home runs, but I am going to get back to smiling on the field … I didn’t smile much last year.”

He arrived in Florida on Feb. 9, nine days ahead of schedule, and he has been working daily to calibrate his new swing. He stands with his feet closer together, his front foot slightly open, and he takes a small stride. He’s also holding his hands lower and pulling them backward in a cocking action. He looks comfortable, it should be said, in the batting cage.

What was the genesis of his redesign? “Some guy,” and on the record he would say no more.

That bit of mystery aside, Francoeur has set this as his spring mission: “I’m going at it as if I have to win the right-field job. I’ve been working my [rear] off.”

The Golden Child just turned 25, and the old tag no longer seems apt. Francoeur no longer seems so golden, nor does he sound as youthful. He has matured in the way that maturity descends on most of us: Via abject disappointment.

“I was bitter for a while,” he said Wednesday, “but last year was last year and that’s where I’m keeping it.”

He unleashed a familiar full-bore Frenchy smile. “Last year,” he said, “is a distant memory.”

89 comments Add your comment

Jan Spiro

February 18th, 2009
3:35 pm

” after what I went through last year”. I’m I missing something? Did he have cancer? Did his parents die?
He had a bad year playing baseball for a living. If he loses his hearing, he will make 2.8million this year. Poor thing. Another pool soul, hurt by this recession. I think I’ll have a good cry.

Football Ken

February 18th, 2009
4:10 pm

He better get “it” back, because if he falls this year, the boo’s will be louder and clearer.

leland

February 18th, 2009
4:17 pm

Dear Mr. MB–I disagree with Jan’s note. I thought you wrote a thoughtful review of JF’s troubles in 2008, and you avoided sappiness. Life is troublesome for all of us at some time, and everybody knows it’s how we deal with it that counts. JF seems to be doing fine. Your pal, Leland

Dwight Schrute

February 18th, 2009
4:18 pm

No, don’t call me a hero. Do you know who the real heroes are? The guys who wake up every morning and go into their normal jobs, and get a distress call from the commissioner, and take off their glasses and change into capes, and fly around fighting crime. Those are the real heroes.

Dwight Schrute

February 18th, 2009
4:20 pm

I saw “Wedding Crashers” accidentally. I bought a ticket for “Grizzly Man” and went into the wrong theater. After an hour, I figured I was in the wrong theater, but I kept waiting. Cause that’s the thing about bear attacks…they come when you least expect it.

Mark Bradley

February 18th, 2009
5:06 pm

Thanks, Leland. It’s always a pleasure.

Mark Bradley

February 18th, 2009
5:09 pm

A joke from “The Sopranos:” Tony and his brother-in-law Bobby were driving somewhere, and Bobby says, “My dad and I once went hunting, but we saw a sign that said ‘Bear Left.’ So we turned around and drove home.”

Tony Soprano wasn’t amused. Perhaps you will be.

T-Bone

February 18th, 2009
5:20 pm

Dwight, you’re on the wrong blog.

I agree with Jan. I’ve got no sympathy for JF. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, and I certainly don’t hate him. But I don’t understand how he can say that he doesn’t feel “100 % warmly” toward the Braves. Did it insult him to be demoted last July? Well, get over it, Jeff! If you had done your job, you would not have been demoted. Sure its a business, but loyalty goes both ways. You refused a contract and now you get arbitration based on .239/11/71. Warmth isn’t part of the equation. The Braves certainly didn’t feel any warmth from you when you refused their contract. [Besides, 2.8 mill ain't a bad way to lose.]

And the rancor from the fans came because you weren’t producing and you were insulted at having to go down to MS. Demotions happen when you hit .239. I do hope that Jeff has come to ST in order to win a job. They don’t give jobs to .239 hitting whiners.

T-Bone

February 18th, 2009
5:26 pm

Oh, but I did enjoy the article. Thanks, MB. Good work.

Mark Bradley

February 18th, 2009
5:33 pm

On another matter, how’s the weather in Atlanta? (I ask because I’m sitting on a plane bound for you-know-where.)

Daniel

February 18th, 2009
5:34 pm

Good get ‘em Frenchy

Daniel

February 18th, 2009
5:34 pm

Enter your comments here

oldbravesbag

February 18th, 2009
5:38 pm

The weather in Florida is spectacular….a little chilly at night….but during the day…perfect!!! We might have a little rain tomorrow night….:)

country boy

February 18th, 2009
5:40 pm

Stances… smances !!! Learn the strike zone Frency.

T-Bone

February 18th, 2009
5:43 pm

Mark, there is a tornado watch up here in Hall County, near Lake Lanier.

Mark Bradley

February 18th, 2009
5:49 pm

I was afraid of that. There’s a 30-minute gate hold here at the Orlando airport. I know because I’m sitting on a plane at a gate, holding.

Paul from richmond

February 18th, 2009
5:50 pm

Lost faith in him??? How many teams would have let this kid play every day in a key part of the lineup even though he consitently blew it with men on base? He got treated far better than he deserved. As did Andruw when Bobby let him occupy a cleanup spot with a pitchers batting average.

No – I remember his bragging last year. His webpage and all the other bs that he assumed would be his just for showing up. Now he better learn the lesson and come to appreciate how good he has it.

Brad

February 18th, 2009
5:54 pm

I’m really pulling for JF. I remember when he can B Mac came up. It was fun to watch them playing. My wife is a cards fan, but started watching the braves more because she enjoyed watching them play.

Jeff, I hope the smile comes back. I will keep pulling for you, as will many others. We are not angry shouting fans, but I really feel we are the majority.

braveUK

February 18th, 2009
5:56 pm

His attitude isn’t good even now.
He played exceptionally badly last year.
It is a business and the Braves were too loyal to him in keeping him on the field last year, and by not cutting him this off-season.
No other club would sign him now for 2.8M on a 1 year contract , let alone 4M.

samurai99

February 18th, 2009
6:04 pm

Jeff obviously needs to start having fun again on the field. I think the real news here is that he and McCann have each others backs, that bodes well for the upcoming season. Great article.

Allen

February 18th, 2009
6:07 pm

Here is what I don’t understand. JF has a completely awful approach at the plate, just like Andrew Jones did. He can change his stance and lose and gain weight all he wants, but unttil he changes his approach at the plate he will continue to look foolish. The league has him pegged as an aggressive hitter which does not work long term at that level. Each at bat is more like a chess match between the hitter and the pitcher. Being terminally behind in the count is always going to favor the pitcher – get a clue JF. All it takes is to change your thinking, even I could do that for pete sakes.

Mark Bradley

February 18th, 2009
6:07 pm

Thanks, Samurai.

Mark Bradley

February 18th, 2009
6:09 pm

Oh, and Allen, I’d wait to see Francoeur’s new stance — and new approach — before writing him off. I think you’ll be impressed.

T-Bone

February 18th, 2009
6:16 pm

Still on the runway, Mark?

EMS

February 18th, 2009
6:22 pm

It’s tough not to like a kid from Atlanta playing for his hometown team. That said, I found the way Frenchy dealt with the demotion last year a bit off-putting. He had to expect it — everyone expected it. That said, I would love to see the kid hit .300 and have a few 25 or so jacks.

Good article MB. It was good to hear that Jeff made some adjustments in the offseason. As for the weather, if it makes you feel any better, it’s snowing here in Chicago. Man I miss Atlanta.

varoadrunner

February 18th, 2009
6:35 pm

Jeff, I sincerely hope you all the best in ‘09. Both for you to rebound and to help the Braves with their pitiful power numbers last year, BUT, you must make a decision to hit the ball where it is pitched or, since MLB pitchers have figured out the “hole” in your swing. (low and outside – either a slider or at the end even a fastball out there)…. as you know by now, you looked really bad at the plate – even worse at the end of the season.

Hit the ball where it is pitched and don’t think HOMERUN. They’ll come. Good luck

monty

February 18th, 2009
6:37 pm

I like Jeff. I sincerely hope he does well, that said, he makes 2.8 million for playing a kids game with a 4 month vacation, I think I could take a few boos for that kind of lifestyle! Millions of people go to jobs they hate every day, that pay $9 per hour with no health insurance. They get 1-2 weeks off per year but can’t really afford to go anywhere. Suck it up kid, last year wasn’t that bad!

varoadrunner

February 18th, 2009
6:37 pm

I said that previous post poorly, but I think you get the point.

On The Mark

February 18th, 2009
6:48 pm

I don’t see Frenchy as an egotistical ball player. He definitely hit bottom last year, but you could tell it was killing him. Bottom line, however, is that you earn your job every day no matter what you do for a living. I wish him the best.

adam

February 18th, 2009
6:52 pm

“The league has him pegged as an aggressive hitter which does not work long term at that level.”

Thanks for the analysis Allen. Not comparing Jeff to them, but there are a lot of aggressive hitters that are very successful in the bigs. Vladamir Guerrero ring a bell? Why dont you let the professional coaches handle his game and not some little league coach with no clue.

Alan

February 18th, 2009
6:59 pm

Good column, Mark. I like you style even though I don’t always agree with you. This time I do. Francoeur remains a key part of this team, and I’m certainly rooting for him to have a comeback-player-of-the-year season. He’s made physical adjustments, which is great. He says he’s made mental adjustments, too. That’s every bit as important, if not more so.

The Truth Hurts

February 18th, 2009
7:17 pm

He won’t smile if he doesn’t hit.

I lost a lot of respect for the guy after he handled the demotion so poorly. As if he wasn’t killing the Braves every time up.

And now there’s no way he can feel 100% “warmly” toward the Braves? You mean, for paying him $3 million, for drafting him and giving him an opportunity to earn a job…all because he didn’t like being called into Cox’s office last July?

He’s got making up to do for the fans…it’s not the other way around.

Grow up, Jeff.

TS

February 18th, 2009
7:21 pm

It’s not like fans turned on Frenchy in a New York minute last year. It was extraordinarily painful to watch him suck so much for so long. Last spring he came to camp talking about his great offseason program, hitting homers, and stealing bases. Didn’t work out so well. I am rooting for him again this year but I won’t feel like I’ve somehow let HIM down if he’s hitting .239 in the middle of the lineup in June and I let a frustrated boo slip out.

P.S. Takes a real pair to have a season like his 2008 and go all the way to the arbitration hearing looking for $4M. Hope he shows the same fortitude at the plate in 2009.

Bill in VA

February 18th, 2009
7:31 pm

Jeff, Get over it and try to act like a man! We’ll pull for you to have a good comeback season. Just stop your whining, for Pete’s sake and let the bat talk for you.

Navigator

February 18th, 2009
7:31 pm

He needs to work on his head as much as his physical conditioning. His life before the Braves was about being the biggest star with the most accolades. Now he’s just another player with others being the star, and I think it’s been hard for him to accept that. Maybe someday, he will return to those heights, but for now he needs to accept that isn’t even the best player on his team.

Bill in VA

February 18th, 2009
7:34 pm

PS: Jeff, “Stop Whining,” includes pulling the plug on the hearing and get on the field!! ….like a man would!

Idiots

February 18th, 2009
7:44 pm

I’m tired of all these idiots on here telling Jeff he’s not worth the 3.95 mill he’s asking. First of all if any of you knew what he was worth you would be an agent or gm. But your not, get a life he’s not actually listening to you. Yeah he’s actually going to read what you ignorant da’s are saying and hes gonna say “you know what I think I do deserve $500,000 no so get over it. Its the business of baseball. I believe if you were with a company for 5 years making 15.00/hour every year then it came time for a raise you would fight for what you are worth you wouldnt take less because you did worse in year 5 than you did in the first 4 years would you?

Big Dave

February 18th, 2009
8:22 pm

As with Andrew, pitchers know they can get him out wihtout throwing strikes.

Big Dave

February 18th, 2009
8:22 pm

Enter your comments here

Pat

February 18th, 2009
8:39 pm

THE AJC SCREWED THE GRIFFEY DEAL. ONE REPORTS HURTS A SENSITIVE BALLPLAYER, BOOM HE CHANGES HIS MIND. WAY TO GO FISHWRAPPER. How bout you stop circulating with your liberal obama nation racist views. Terrence Moore find another profession

Mike McDonald

February 18th, 2009
8:39 pm

Jeff “Can’t miss” Francoeur will miss out, big time, if he continues to be in denial about his career performance in the majors with the Braves. From his rookie start, he was an oddball … setting a record for fewest bases on balls per at bat. He lashed out.. slashed out … struck out … with reckless, uncontrolled abandon. He seemed to be mesmerized by his press clippings that put him on a pedestal. One that elevated him to a level of super star entitlement. He never made the slightest adjustment, so confident he of his divine endowment.

The proverbial, poster boy for “Can’t miss” MLB talent was Clint Hartong, a mid-twentieth-century, NY Giant who had “all the tools” to rewrite the baseball record book … and lasted two years in the majors. Jeff Francoeur reminds me of Clint, in many ways.

Clint never made it. I hope that Jeff does.

Step one for Jeff is to admit that he has, despite his athletic prowess, failed to shrink his swelled head, and recognize that he is not a major league hitter … nor even close. What you were doing in Mississippi last July was what you deserved to be doing and where you should have spent the rest of the season, preparing yourself as a big league hitter.

The Braves organization has bent over backwards for JF. The MLB arbitrator should not give him an inch. The Braves have damaged (attitudinal) goods and unless there is a 180 degree turn, should trade him at the first opportunity.

David C

February 18th, 2009
8:40 pm

Jeff was in Miss 7/4 because he was the worst rightfield bat in the majors the first 100 games last year. We are not fawning coaches, teachers and giggling girls. Perform or find another job. Its not personal , its business.

Pat

February 18th, 2009
8:41 pm

BOYCOTT THE AJC. TERRENCE MOORE IS AN IDIOT

Pat

February 18th, 2009
8:42 pm

BOYCOTT THE AJC

AJC SUCKS

February 18th, 2009
8:44 pm

Thanks, AJC for the breaking news story of Griffey joining the Braves. Could the AJC be the worst paper of all time?

KENT

February 18th, 2009
8:45 pm

MARK BRADLEY ITS ALL YOUR FAULT GRIFFEY ISN’T DOWN HERE. WHY DID YOU DO THAT, WHY. YOU KNOW YOU HAVE A BIG PULL, way to go idiot

kent

February 18th, 2009
8:47 pm

Does the AJC conspire how to make life under the Obama Administration worse than it already is.

kent

February 18th, 2009
8:47 pm

I HATE THE AJC

kent

February 18th, 2009
8:49 pm

Is there an IQ test required to work at the AJC?

kent

February 18th, 2009
8:51 pm

What about educational background checks, Staffers at the AJC should really be embarrassed for giving the city of Atlanta an awful name. Please DO US ALL A FAVOR AND STOP CIRCULATION! Stop the PRESSES