Jeff Francoeur: The Next Dale Murphy?
In a special preview for BravesCenter.com readers, Bill Shanks shares a part of his new book, “Scout’s Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team.” This chapter deals with outfielder Jeff Francoeur, who was recalled from AA Mississippi Wednesday night. The story picks up right after Francoeur had been drafted by Atlanta in the first round of the 2002 MLB Draft and the two sides were trying to strike a deal.
The Braves used a trick that many teams use when trying to sign a draft pick. They invited Francoeur to Turner Field to take batting practice with the big league team before a game with the Montreal Expos. The team had set up a locker for him with his name on a uniform. It was a chance for him to make an impression, to make the Braves know they needed to sign him, and a chance for the Braves to let Francoeur hit in the stadium he had dreamed of playing in for many years. Francoeur had not hit in several weeks, so he wasn’t sure how he was going to do.
“It was a little bit overwhelming,” Francoeur admits. “I knew they were trying to get me down there to schmooze me a little bit. That’s what you do.”
Francoeur stepped into the batting cage with all eyes in the stadium on him. Instead of placing him with the pitchers in the BP lineup, the Braves threw him right into the fire, right between Chipper Jones and Gary Sheffield. Stan Kasten, John Schuerholz, and Bobby Cox were all watching. The first three pitches Francoeur popped straight up right into the cage. Not a good first impression.
“I was swinging hard,” Francoeur admits.
“I thought we could forget about that extra couple hundred thousand that we needed to get to,” Georgia scout Al Goetz jokes.
Then Francoeur showed the Braves why he was so important to sign. After fouling off the first three pitches, he hit eight straight balls out of Turner Field.
“It was neat,” Francoeur says, understating the obvious. “It was fun to be out there with Gary Sheffield and some of those guys. It definitely made me see where I wanted to be someday.”
Goetz knew an impression had been made when Expos catcher Michael Barrett, himself an Atlanta resident and a friend of the scout, came over and asked him to go hear what the Expos relievers were asking.
“Michael said to those pitchers, ‘Tell Al what you just told me,’” Goetz remembers. “They go, ‘Well, we’re just trying to figure out how to pitch to this Francoeur guy tonight.’ I went over and told Roy and John and Stan, who said, ‘Well, I guess we can give him a couple of hundred thousand more.’”
But the biggest impression on the Braves may have been made afterwards when Francoeur joined the Braves in their clubhouse.
“It didn’t faze him one bit,” Goetz says. “He walked in the clubhouse and Greg Maddux said, ‘Hey, I hope you don’t sign. I want them to re-sign me and we’ll use that money.’ I walked around and introduced him, then minutes later he was in there playing cards with Chipper and everybody else. He was an eighteen-year-old high school kid. Everybody else that age would have been hiding in the corner.”
“After taking batting practice, we met with Al and Roy and all of them and got talking,” Francoeur says. “We could tell that we were getting closer. Then they said, ‘we’re going to go up a little bit. We’ll talk to you in the next couple of days.’ At that point, I knew things were going to get done and that I was going to sign. It was just a matter of time.”
Just a few days later, the Braves signed Francoeur to a contract with a $2.2 million dollar bonus. For the scouts that had stayed on top of Francoeur, there was no doubt that he was worth every dime.
“He was a player with a lot of options,” says Dayton Moore. “He made a commitment to sign with us. So obviously he respects what we do and had a trust level with us that would allow him to be part of it. The makeup of Jeff Francoeur is what sets him apart.”
“With his gifted abilities to play this game and with his special talents makeup-wise, he’s got tremendous leadership qualities,” says Roy Clark. “I’d love to get a guy just like him every year. He’s what we’re looking for.”
In “Scout’s Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team” you can learn more about Francouer and the rest of the Braves. "SCOUT'S HONOR" is available at all bookstores, including Barnes & Nobles, Borders and others, and online at amazon, bn.com and others. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.