I thought it would work. I thought Jeff Francoeur would remember how to hit and the masses would forget he’d forgotten and all would be bliss for the hometown kid and the team of his dreams. But it’s not working, and I’ve come to believe it won’t.
Too much has happened. He got too big too fast. It wasn’t his fault. He was great from the moment of his big-league arrival in July 2005 and we — meaning the fans and the media and the Braves themselves — loved him and reveled in every detail of his charmed young life. But then, after two mostly solid full seasons, he stopped hitting. And everything changed.
Francoeur was upset when the Braves sent him to Class AA on the Fourth of July. “I don’t think there’s any way I can [feel as warmly toward the organization] 100 percent,” he said in February. “I want to play here forever; I’ve said that all along. But the business part of it is different.”
The Braves weren’t thrilled when Francoeur went to Texas to work with Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. Said Terry Pendleton, the Braves’ hitting coach: “I asked Jeff, ‘Why didn’t you come to me?’ Obviously he felt the need to go elsewhere. It’s his winter. [But] it bugged me at first. Not hearing it from him, that got me more than anything. I told him, ‘I thought our relationship was better than that.’ ”
Where once there was sunshine, there’s distrust and frustration. The Braves wonder if Francoeur can be coached. Francoeur wonders if the Braves have his best interests at heart. He tries too hard and falls back on bad habits. The Braves drop him in the order and struggle to be patient. And here he is, batting. 245 with a microscopic on-base percentage of .280. He’s on pace to finish with 11 homers and 71 RBIs — same as he did last year.
I thought it would work, but it isn’t working and I don’t believe it will again. Francoeur and the Braves need fresh starts. He needs to go somewhere where every swing and miss doesn’t stir civic angst. The Braves need a right fielder whose persona doesn’t outstrip production. Both parties need to breathe deeply again.
I would hate it if Francoeur played elsewhere. I’ve known him since he was a junior at Parkview — he remains the greatest high school football player I’ve seen in 25 years at the AJC — and he’s a fine fellow who tries to accommodate everyone. But I’d hate it more to see this psychodrama drag into August and beyond. It’s time for both sides to cut their losses. It’s time to trade Frenchy.
What could the Braves get for him? Probably not all that much, but that’s not really the point . They’d be better off without him, and he without them. He could slip into another uniform and be someone other than the homegrown Golden Child. He could relax. He could just go play ball again, as opposed to feeling compelled to sign every autograph and pose for every picture.
I am, as we know, wrong about everything, and I wouldn’t mind being wrong about this. I’d love to see Francoeur become the Francoeur we all thought he’d be, but the time for that seems past. I don’t see a happy ending for this player in this city with this team. Wish I did, but I don’t.