Jeff Francoeur’s journey to the Braves’ broadcast booth may have started when he was playing for the El Paso Chihuahuas in 2014.
A major-league career that opened with wild expectations in 2005, when the Braves’ rookie outfielder was labeled “The Natural” on the cover of Sports Illustrated, had fizzled. Francoeur found himself trying to work his way back to the big leagues via the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A farm team.
“When I spent three-four months down at El Paso in 2014,” Francoeur said, “I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t start thinking, ‘What am I going to do next? Because I’m definitely not going to be stuck in El Paso for two years.’”
As it turned out, Francoeur got back to the bigs, playing for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015 and the Braves and Miami Marlins in 2016. But then, at age 32, his playing career ended, the one-time phenom a career .261 hitter with 160 home runs in 12 seasons on eight teams. And an idea he had considered during that summer in El Paso – broadcasting – became more real.
After dabbling in broadcasting the past two seasons, Francoeur’s second career took flight last week when he was named the lead analyst on the Fox Sports South and Fox Sports Southeast telecasts of Braves games, replacing long-time broadcaster Joe Simpson in the role. Simpson will remain on the Braves’ broadcast team, working a large number of games on radio and a limited number on TV next season.
Francoeur took advantage of his time with the Phillies in 2015 and the Braves in 2016 to pick the brains of both teams’ broadcasters.
“Talking to all of them, it really became something I wanted to try,” Francoeur said. “And as I realized in 2017 that I wasn’t going to be playing, it seemed like a fit to broadcast some games and just see how I liked it.”
Fox Sports South/Southeast executives Jeff Genthner and Randy Stephens gave him the opportunity, putting him in the booth as an analyst for nine telecasts in 2017 and 25 in 2018, as well as on some pregame and postgame shows.
“I felt I had the personality and the people skills to do something like this,” Francoeur said. “And once I got up there (in the booth) … I just loved talking the game and going through situations. I think this year, even more when you start to realize how young and fun this Braves team is, it was like, ‘Man, this is something I really want to do.’”
By the end of the 2018 season, Genthner and Stephens were convinced of Francoeur’s broadcasting ability. They were concerned that if they didn’t make a more significant spot for him another network would.
“There was something about him that we just felt he gets it, if you will,” said Genthner, general manager of Fox Sports South/Southeast. “To be able to bring energy and knowledge and to communicate through the booth so that fans understand the player point of view … is not as easy a trait as one might think for former ballplayers.”
Francoeur’s only real reservation about accepting his new role was his respect for Simpson.
“Joe has always held a special place in my heart, from age 8 growing up listening to him and then how great he was to me when I came up to the big leagues and the last two years how he has helped me, telling me things to do and things not to do as a broadcaster,” Francoeur said. “It wasn’t ever one of those things where I was trying to step on Joe’s toes or go behind Joe’s back, and he knows that.”
Francoeur, now planning to broadcast about 100 games next season, is one of two rookies from the 2005 Braves – the Baby Braves, as they were known – to land new roles with the organization recently. The other, catcher Brian McCann, signed with the Braves after spending the past five seasons with the New York Yankees and Houston Astros. Both Francoeur and McCann grew up in Gwinnett County, and they remain close friends.
Now that McCann is back with the Braves as a 34-year-old catcher and Francoeur as a 34-year-old broadcaster, “we’ll have a few golf matches on the road on days he’s not catching,” Francoeur said with a laugh.
Then, the analyst Jeff Francoeur offered his opinion on the Braves signing McCann to a one-year, $2-million contract: “To me, if you couldn’t get a guy like (Marlins catcher) J.T. Realmuto, this was the perfect situation. Instead of spending $12-13-14 million a year on a guy like (Yasmani) Grandal, or signing a (Matt) Wieters-type fill-in, it’s perfect. I think for Brian at this point you understand it’s not about money. He wants to play here in Atlanta in front of his kids and win. He heard a lot from me two years ago about how special it was to come back and play in front of your hometown crowd.”
Now they’re both home, one on the field and one in the booth.