0

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Johnny Jackson

At 755 Hank Aaron Drive in Atlanta, Ga., there is a league of gentlemen who confoundedly walk this earth and touch the stars at the same time.

Have you seen them at Turner Field? Have you seen them around town? Have you heard about the gentlemen?

Nearly enough has been said about the Atlanta Braves rookies this year. In this instance, that will not change.

Instead, there are some less-talked-about veterans on the baseball team who deserve accolades too.

The immovable force drawn through the center of the diamond deserve to be mentioned if only briefly.

First is John Smoltz.

The Braves pitching ace seems to believe he is Superman. And who would argue against it? The fans seem to believe it. And his teammates appear to be keeping the secret.

You think, if he wanted to, he could leap tall buildings or outrun speeding bullets? Good thing he has a sensible ambition--mostly.

The man of steel was a virtual lifesaver for the Braves when he moved to the closer role in 2001. And who knew, after that, he would repeat some of his 1996 Cy Young performances?

This year, it took a fearless Kyle Farnsworth to fill Smoltz's former role as closer. And Farnsworth too makes a tight argument for himself, especially in this close National League Eastern Division race. He has six saves, so far, in six opportunities and a noteworthy ERA; it's 1.00. Braves fans understand the significance.

Yes, the race is deep and getting deeper, which begs the question: 'Could the Braves have gotten this far without free agent shortstop Rafael Furcal?'

Though he was toughly criticized for his on-base percentage, Furcal managed to steal whenever he got on base. He eventually turned his game around, resulting in a career high in stolen bases.

Probably the most talented shortstop in the majors, he has actually been caught stealing for beating a throw and over-sliding second base. Same with his fielding, his extraordinary range creates errors sometimes, and his arm is the strongest in the league--the ball travels faster when you see it in person.

He should rejoin his infield twin Marcus Giles next year. Together, they make one of the best underrated duos in the majors.

Giles is enormously underrated, particularly as a presence in the Braves lineup. He bats for average and does his part in walking and extending pitch counts. He stands five-feet eight-inches, but he is no small player. He plays all out, all the time. Did you see that play in shallow right? Oh, well just pick one.

Then, there is Andruw Jones in center field. None is better defensively, and few come close these days. Such is rumored in Braves Nation. Argue if you like.

Jones is producing some career numbers this year. But most of his accomplishments pale to his capabilities. Besides, there is not much else to say for him that baseball has not already given him credit...

Johnny Jackson is the education reporter for the News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 or jjackson@news-daily.com .