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What is Jeff Francoeur?

A youthful contributor? A veteran presence? A clean-up hitter? A clean-up pitcher? A human-shaped pile of gerbils all scrambling to escape from their flesh prison?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Francoeur has been drifting around baseball for years, yet is somehow only 31 years old. Can you remember a time when he wasn't on a team? Can anyone? What the hell is he?

I used to be a far more volatile writer/person. That's something I'll say every few years for the rest of my life, but it's also my excuse for at one point writing trash like this:

So, let's take a journey back, and examine the frothy, ignorant word sewer that is Jeff Francoeur's mouth, and the toxic leakage it has spilled in recent memory.

Hey somebody found out about! Way to go, young writer. You're going places.

That's an excerpt from a list of Jeff Francoeur quotes that I was picking apart and insulting, piece by piece, because there was a time when that's just what cool people were doing on the internet. I really didn't like Jeff Francoeur, which was crazy, given my zero personal interactions with him.

No, like most rational people, my hatred spawned from a sports rivalry, which at that point was the Phillies-Mets dynamic that had intensified briefly around 2006-08. Francoeur was always saying things that got my goat - once he cited the Phillies' success as being mostly due to their prolonged health; I miss having that be the kind of stuff I got upset about - and I would respond to him on blog posts nobody read. It was a thing we had.

I've still never met him, but viewing him through the filter of reasonable objectivity, Francoeur seems like a fun, friendly person from out here. He's always smiling and high-fiving. He's gullible, but he laughs at himself. He has a good time, but he gets frustrated. He can laugh stuff off.

And he has to, because it seems like every so often he temporarily defaults to "weird, goofy fuck-ups." Like, suddenly not being able to touch the baseball during a live play. Or, being convinced one of his teammates was deaf for half a season. Or, this.


His explanation of that situation was even better than the headline.

[Italian mobster stereotype looks around shiftily as Jeff Francoeur writes out $35,000 check.]

JEFF FRANCOEUR: Hey thanks again for buying my parents a car for me.

MOBSTER: What? Uh, yeah. Sure.

JEFF FRANCOEUR: They've been so supportive. I can't way to see the looks on their faces.

MOBSTER: [Twitches as siren goes off in the distance] You almost done?

JEFF FRANCOEUR: Whoops. Hang on a sec. Is it... is it 'e-u-o'... or...

MOBSTER: [massages temples]

Everybody forgets that Francoeur isn't 37 because he's been through several careers worth of stuff already. He's been the next big thing, a burn-out, the Braves' future, the Mets' present, and a floating utility guy for a host of useless Rangers and Giants and Padres squads. He's asked penetrating questions that have put him on the fringes of baseball philosophy, as he wondered in 2009 what was so important about getting on base; in baseball, remember. The sport with "base" in the name.

I don't know how clutch Francoeur was considered on some of his past teams. I can recall at least one moment in which a moment of clutchness was smothered by what would be the center point of Eric Bruntlett's entire life. But on the 2015 Phillies, maybe it just doesn't take as much to be a hero.

Friday night, he wonked a home run with a wrong-looking swing that gave the Phillies a three-run lead. Jonathan Papelbon almost squeezed him to death when his strong throw from right nailed a runner at the plate to end a game and seal Paps' Phillies franchise record in saves. It was all of two weeks into the season before the Phillies were using him as their clean-up hitter. And when the team needed a position player to throw his body onto the gears of the Orioles' powerful offense, Francoeur was the one who gave them 80 pitches in a relief appearance. When he, once again, wasn't starting on Saturday, the public clamored for their hero.

At only 31 years old, if Francoeur had been a better player, he'd still be in his prime. His .427 SLG is third among Phillies with over 100 AB this season. When he fields the ball in right as a runner rounds third, the possibility exists that a play could actually ensue. It was thought for a while that Aaron Harang's solid numbers made him the cheap pick-up who the Phillies could flip for younger parts at the trade deadline, but Francoeur's season is the one that has attracted suitors.

So, what is Jeff Francoeur? In the end, he'll probably be the last guy having fun in a Phillies uniform this season. And maybe that's why it just seems weird.

"I like it here," [Francoeur] said.  "I really do. I've enjoyed my time here and I'd love to come back. That's the front office's job and I'm going to stay away from talking about that."