Overlooked and under-appreciated, Dodgers’ shortstop Rafael Furcal goes about his business in a quiet and dignified manner, which may help explain why he’s been selected to only one All-Star team, even though one of the best at the position.
It’s fair to say Furcal is the glue that holds the infield together, for it seems when he plays well, the team wins. When he doesn’t, or isn’t in the lineup due to injury, the club suffers.
Furcal is a leadoff hitter with surprising power from both sides of the plate, averaging a dozen homers, even though only 5-foot-8. His secret is that he packs 195 pounds of muscle into that body.
The Dodgers (45-36) are in contention in the National League West, and Furcal’s hitting is one reason why.
Furcal is batting .338, which would be the third time in his 11-year career he’d top .300.
In 50 games, the Dominican Republic native has blasted four homers, with 28 runs batted in, 12 doubles, five triples, a .384 on-base percentage, and a .500 slugging percentage.
Eight times Furcal has been on clubs that have been to the playoffs, a clear tribute to his value.
That the Atlanta Braves, the team that drafted him as a free agent in 1996 at the age of 18, and the Dodgers, where he’s been a standout since 2006, have not made it to the World Series, is hardly his fault.
In 41 career playoff games, Furcal has batted a decent, but not spectacular .241, along with a strong .332 on-base percentage.
In a short series, hitters face the best pitchers, and sometimes there are circumstances out of their control, like a relief pitcher blowing a lead, or a starting pitcher having an off-game.
Watching Furcal gracefully glide to his left or right, and then gunning the ball to the first baseman is a work of art. Nearly every big-league player makes this look easy, but with Furcal, there is a special elan. More than anything, it’s when he releases the ball, and the speed that it generates as it approaches the fielder is what makes this so breathtaking.
There is hardly a game that Furcal’s cannon-like throwing arm isn’t mentioned by Vin Scully, the longtime Dodgers’ announcer, who is closing out his brilliant tenure that began in 1950.
When Furcal came up in 2000, he was a bonafide base stealer, swiping 40 bases. He then stole 103 bases over the next four years, before stealing a career-high 46 in his final year with the Braves.
As a player ages, so do his legs, and with that his desire to steal. In his first season in the Southland, he swiped 37 bags, and then added 25, but has picked off only 32 over the last three seasons.
Right now, that’s not what the Dodgers want from their 32-year-old infielder. His job is to get on base and score runs, which Furcal has done 41 times this season, and 92 the previous outing.
There are enough sluggers in the Dodgers’ lineup, from center fielder Matt Kemp, who crushed his team-best 15th homer during last Sunday’s 3-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, right fielder Andre Ethier with 13, left fielder Manny Ramirez, who was just placed on the disabled list with eight, and third baseman Casey Blake with eight.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.