Yesterday in a game against the rival San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodger shortstop Rafael Furcal broke his thumb sliding head first while stealing a base. The Dodgers have no other option than to place Furcal on the disabled list. Furcal, since signing with the Dodgers, has had numerous injuries including a back injury that required surgery and a lengthy recovery. It seems that Furcal is the victim of his own bad luck.
The reason I mention Furcal, other than the fact that my political writing has slowed to a stand still, is because he is a player I have watched from his first day in the big leagues and I admire him greatly.
As a rookie shortstop with the Atlanta Braves in 2000, Furcal won National League Rookie of the Year. He had some great years in Atlanta and it was hugely disappointing when he left for L.A. (something another Brave, Andruw Jones, would do several years later with much less success).
I've continued to watch Furcal's career with the Dodgers, but the real reason I've become such a fan of Furcal is because we had spinal surgery around the same time (something I mentioned here in 2009), his surgery in April, mine in September. Furcal sat out much of the 2008 season with a surgically repaired herniated disc, playing in only 36 games. He came back just before the 2008 playoffs. He was extremely rusty, his range wasn't there. Of course, anyone that has had any type of spinal surgery knows that range is one of the first things you notice is missing. His microdiskectomy was much less physically traumatic than the surgery I had, but I sympathized with the obstacles he was encountering. Perhaps most memorably, Furcal committed three errors in the fifth inning of the fifth game of the 2008 National League Championship Series against the Phillies. He looked defeated, a defeat I've felt quite frequently in my own struggle with my back. But then something amazing happened--2009.
In 2009, Furcal played in 150 games with 613 trips to the plate. He hadn't played in that many games since his 2006 debut with the Dodgers. His numbers looked like the Furcal of old. He had a more than impressive 165 hits, slightly less than his All Star season with Atlanta and comparable to the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki who came in 5th in NL MVP ballots in 2009. He has 28 double, 47 RBIs, and a season batting average of .269. He played like the Furcal the Dodgers thought they were signing in 2006.
In 2010, Furcal spent more time on the disabled list, but his back was healing and allowing for him to steal bases. His speed and general shape coming out of spring training this year was thought to show the kind of season he'd have and as the Dodgers' lead-off hitter, the kind of year the Dodgers would have. That all came crashing down yesterday with the broken thumb.
Now that Furcal sees yet another stint on the DL in his future, he has been talking about retirement. At least he says that he thinks about retirement. He's only 33 years old, but you can't blame the guy for wondering if this is the kind of player he will be from here on. As he says, his back was finally feeling good and now this. It's a depressing position to be in and I only hope Furcal has people around him who will remind him of his love for baseball and who will help him remain positive about his health as well as his future in the game.
When I was recovering from my back surgery and while I was working my way through an ungodly two year rehab process with physical therapy, I had two pictures of Furcal printed out to serve as a reminder to me that if Furcal could go back to being the amazing shortstop he was prior to his back injury, the least I could do is relearn things like walking, sitting, standing, etc. One photo was of Furcal making an insanely difficult and acrobatic play at short where no part of his body was actually touching the ground. The second photo was of Furcal sliding into home with a catcher bearing down on him. One photo was near my desk at work, the second near my treadmill at home. I may not have those photos now, but even on the rough days when my back is getting the better of me, I still think about Furcal's return to baseball after his back surgery. A guy like that deserves better luck than he seems to have.