Hero? More like a zero
Jock justice pays off for Braves as Furcal belts game-winning homer
Posted: Friday October 8, 2004 5:11PM; Updated: Friday October 8, 2004 5:11PM
October baseball should be fun stuff, right? It shouldn't bring a blood-boiling burn that has you ready to jump up and scream at the TV. Yet that's where my head was while watching Rafael Furcal get hoisted by his Braves teammates like some conquering hero after his walk-off homer in the 11th inning Thursday evened Atlanta's National League Division Series with the Astros at 1-1.
Forget about playoff baseball and long balls. Rather than setting up shop at Turner Field or trekking to Houston this weekend, Furcal deserves to be locked away in the county slammer, his baseball knits exchanged for a bright orange jump suit.
Talk about jock justice. A few hours before taking the field against the Astros, Furcal stood before a judge with his attorney, finagling a deal to keep him out of jail until the Braves' postseason ends. According to the neat arrangement, the very next day, by 5 p.m., Furcal is to show up at a local county jail to begin serving a 21-day sentence for violating probation because of a second drunk driving arrest last month.
The latest charge came after Furcal was pulled over at 4 a.m. by an Atlanta cop, who clocked his Mercedes doing 90 mph. He was cited for reckless driving and DUI after his blood alcohol level registered at 0.127 percent. The state's limit is 0.08.
According to the officer, Furcal uttered the infamous plea: "I play for the Braves. Can you give me a chance? I play for the Braves, please. I've got one [DUI] already."
What he faced was a possible 49 days in jail for violating probation, which would have meant no baseball this postseason. Instead, at sentencing, Furcal offered to pay for a 28-day inpatient alcohol treatment program and the judge in turn bought his attorney's plan to delay what is now a 21-day jail sentence until his baseball season plays out.
"That to all of us was the most important thing," William "Bubba" Head, who represents Furcal, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I don't know what the Braves would do without him."
How about sliding somebody else into the job, like any other business would do? Most people wouldn't be in position to negotiate an accommodating jail schedule. And after an arrest on a probation violation, most would have spent a few days locked up awaiting so much as a hearing.
So it should come as no surprise that, like a lot of folks who see their name in print and bright lights, the Braves' shortstop doesn't get it. "That's a lot of days," Furcal said of the jail sentence. "It's bad for me. I've never been in jail that long."
Well, get over it, Raffy. Welcome to the real world, and get packing.
Do you think the guy who changes the oil in your car or, say, some kid out of college on the Braves' marketing staff might be able to craft such a sweet deal? How about a teacher asking to put jail on hold until school is out? Fat chance.
But, hey, this is jock justice.
Flip on the TV and catch Leonard Little, No. 91 for the Rams, flying around the backfield in pursuit of a quarterback. Little, drunk and speeding in his luxury Navigator SUV, killed a woman on a downtown St. Louis street in 1998. Last April, the Pro Bowl defensive end got ticketed again for suspicion of driving while intoxicated, but he remains free on $7,500 and still plays on Sundays.
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, openly hyped as the baddest man in the NFL, plea-bargained his way out of a double-homicide charge before the 2000 season but never missed a down, instead drawing a $250,000 fine for conduct detrimental to the league after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstructing justice. It seems the All-Pro lied to cops investigating the brutal murders. As part of his deal with prosecutors, Lewis testified against his co-defendants and friends, though the jury eventually acquitted them.
And now comes the saga of Ravens teammate Jamal Lewis [no relation]. The All-Pro running back dropped into federal court in Atlanta on Thursday to cop a plea rather than face drug conspiracy charges and the prospect of a 10-year prison gig. Lewis admitted to using a cell phone to facilitate a drug transaction for a long-time friend in the summer of 2000, just weeks before signing a $35 million contract with the Ravens.
Jamal Lewis, who like Ray Lewis is represented by high-profile criminal defense attorney Ed Garland, also as part of his plea agreed to cooperate in a case against his friend and co-defendant. The agreement calls for Lewis to serve four months in prison followed by two months in a halfway house and 500 hours of community -- all, appropriately enough, put off until after the NFL season.
If you're keeping score, Jamal Lewis is a two-time offender of the league's substance and alcohol abuse policy, most recently suspended for four games during the 2001 season. So NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue could suspend him for a year as multiple offender, but, hey, this is jock justice. Jamal Lewis reportedly will have to sit out only two games.
Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.