Watching Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig run roughshod over Major League baseball this past month of June — his first in the bigs — has brought back the memories.
It was 2005 and the Braves were writing what turned out to be the final chapter of their 14 year run of division titles, one that was highlighted by an influx of rookie talent led by a pair of local yokels named Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann.
Frenchy was the one who turned the baseball world on its ear, seemingly capable of doing no wrong with a magical bat and golden arm that made him a Sports Illustrated cover boy under the title “The Natural.”
Just as Puig has done in the opening month of his career (.427 batting average with 7 home runs, an on-base percentage of .457 and a slugging average of .708 in his opening 23 games), Francoeur did it all, too. The Frenchman was a human highlight reel and attention magnet from the very moment he first took the field for Atlanta, batting .432 with 8 homers, slugging at an .827 clip and posting a .430 OBP in his first 23 contests that had him on the fast track to stardom.
Eventually though, as the next few years passed, Francoeur’s star faded while McCann’s became a consistent source of energy. Mac was a regular all-star and Frenchy couldn’t hold down a regular spot in the starting lineup, as opposing pitchers figured him out and reduced the one-time Superman to less than mere mortal status.
Demoted to the minors, eventually traded to the Mets, and following a quick cup of coffee with the Rangers and a three-year stint with the Royals, Jeff Francoeur was designated for assignment by Kansas City over the weekend. His baseball career — for a brief sliver of time the thing of legend — has now become uncertain, and on its whole less than ordinary.
The finest of people, a guy with a perennial smile on his face and a kind-hearted nature towards teammates, opposition, fans and media alike, Francoeur surely deserved better. But he’s living proof that the words of baseball Hall of Famer Leo Durocher unfortunately ring true sometimes: “Nice guys finish last.”
It remains to be seen what is next for Jeff Francoeur. And, if history has taught us anything, the same can be said for Yasiel Puig.