June 15, 2000
NL East Notebook
For most of the past decade, the Atlanta Braves have been about two things: winning, and winning quietly. The Braves made a postseason appearance an event as unremarkable as a Pedro Martinez shutout, a Felix Martinez rabbit punch or a security violation at Los Alamos; it's almost more interesting when it doesn't happen.
Through it all, the team has largely avoided the outsized personalities and clubhouse squabbles that many great teams are saddled with. Beyond the occasional Juan "Senor Smoke" Berenguer gunslinger move, or David Justice's tiffs with the Atlanta fans and Halle Berry, the Atlanta organization has acquired a reputation for being as businesslike as they are successful.
John Rocker took a chunk out of that reputation in the offseason, and he's made sure people don't forget about him with his recent blowup at the reporter who wrote the damaging Sports Illustrated article. Rocker is nothing more or less than an enormously talented left-handed pitcher who throws faster than he thinks. It's possible he's a legitimate immigrant-hating, gay-bashing kook, but people like that aren't nearly as common as those whose brain-to-mouth filters could use some refining.
What is most frustrating about the whole brouhaha is the polar opposites: those people who think Rocker should be booted out of baseball and into the wonderful world of stock brokerages, and those who believe that this young man has done something he should be given a standing ovation for.
Until the memory of the public relations gaffes has faded, John Rocker faces a challenge no matter where he pitches. In Richmond, two people were arrested for disorderly conduct due to their extensive heckling of Rocker. Journalists and fans hungry for a story will continue to give Rocker a very hard time. The sooner he can learn to keep his mouth shut, the better for all involved.
As good as Rocker can be, shortstop Rafael Furcal is much more important to this team's future. He's a good defensive player with great speed and on base skills, and the team has the rights to him for years. Furcal is sporting a .272 Equivalent Average through June 12, and as a 19-year-old, he's one of the best prospects in baseball.
But is he 19?
On the heels of Furcal's DUI arrest on Saturday morning comes a report courtesy of HBO's Real Sports that Furcal is 22, which clears him of the underage drinking charge but does a number on his expected career.
Here are Clay Davenport's translations for a 19-year-old Furcal as opposed to a 22-year-old version; pay close attention to the "Peak" column, which is the best EqA Furcal is projected to achieve in his career:
Rafael Furcal Born 1981 Age 19 Year Team BA OBA SA EQA EQR Val Peak 1998 Danville .216 .281 .261 .198 19 -9 280 1999 Macon___ .261 .326 .302 .233 34 1 314 1999 Myrtle_B .255 .296 .319 .220 17 -2 310 Minors .245 .304 .293 .219 53 -10 303 Rafael Furcal Born 1978 Age 22 Year Team BA OBA SA EQA EQR Val Peak 1998 Danville .201 .262 .246 .182 15 -12 228 1999 Macon___ .252 .318 .293 .226 32 -1 259 1999 Myrtle_B .255 .296 .319 .220 17 -2 256 Minors .236 .295 .284 .211 49 -15 248
DT's are age-adjusted, which explains the difference in the lines. To be sure, Furcal is playing better than we expected him to play thus far, but there's a tremendous difference in what you can expect from his career between the two ages.
How has all this drama affected the Braves? They're 41-23--that's the best record in baseball.
Dave Pease can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.