When I heard the news this spring that Rafael Furcal needed Tommy John surgery due to a damaged right elbow, the first thing I thought about was the arm. What's going to happen to the arm?
It's the arm that was the best in baseball among shortstops during most of Furcal's 13 seasons in the Major Leagues. It's the arm I saw often as a sports journalist based in Atlanta, where Furcal made his debut with the Braves in 2000. He later departed as a free agent in 2006 for six years with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Then, with Furcal still firing heat across the infield, he left to spend the last couple of seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.
It's the arm that was the best for a shortstop since the rocket-throwing days of Shawon Dunston, owner of the best arm at shortstop during most of his 18-year career through 2002.
"I just threw the ball, and I just threw the ball hard, because I had more control doing it that way instead of just flipping the ball over there," said Dunston, 50, now a special assistant for the San Francisco Giants. "My arm never hurt when I was younger, and it doesn't hurt now.
"Maybe it was just a gift from God."
Maybe? No, definitely.
Long before Dunston began his Major League career in 1985 with the first of his dozen years with the Chicago Cubs, he had a reputation for throwing harder than just about anybody on earth.
There were all of those times in Dunston's hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y., where his father, Jack, would grip the steering wheel of the taxi he drove with sore hands. That's because the older Dunston would dare to play catch with the younger Dunston.
"When I was about 9 or 10 years old, I was playing catch with my father for the first time, and he thought I couldn't throw," Dunston said. "I tried to break his hand. That's when he knew. He said, 'Wow, you can throw.' And I said, 'Yeah. I can throw pretty good, dad.'"
Years later, when a 16-year-old Dunston went to a tryout camp at Yankee Stadium, he baffled scouts when he told them he was ready after just five warmup tosses.
"They told me, 'This is very serious, son. You need to throw a lot more than that,'" Dunston said. "But I told them I was loose, because it doesn't take me that long.
"After three throws during the tryout, one of the scouts told me to stop. He told me that was it for me," Dunston said. "I told him, 'I thought I had five throws.' He said, 'That's OK, son. You just stop.'"
So this isn't surprising: According to baseball-reference.com, legendary Pittsburgh Pirates scout Howie Haak said -- using his club's rating system for arm strength -- he only gave a perfect score to two players: Roberto Clemente and Dunston.
The late Haak wasn't around to scout Furcal, but I'm guessing Furcal would have been near the top of that rating.
In fact, Dunston took less than a millisecond to answer the following question: In recent years, which shortstop has possessed an arm that has been closest to that of yours?
"My arm was stronger, but I'd say Furcal. Yeah, I'd say Furcal, and that's because he is more accurate than I was," Dunston said, chuckling, referring to his penchant at times as a shortstop for giving fans unexpected souvenirs on throws.
"I could throw flat-footed. Furcal can throw flat-footed. But there really are a bunch of shortstops I like."
Dunston began with Brandon Crawford, 26, who spent his first full season at shortstop in the Major Leagues last season. He helped the Giants win their second World Series championship in three years.
Courtesy of "sure hands" and "a very accurate and strong arm," Dunston said Crawford is a favorite of those who comprise the Giants' vaunted pitching staff.
"If you ask them about Brandon, they'll tell you that he's very smart," Dunston said, "He's also up for a Gold Glove."
It's just that Jimmy Rollins has characteristics similar to those of Crawford, and the Philadelphia Phillies shortstop has captured the National League Gold Glove Award four of the last six years, including last season.
Said Dunston, "I really like Rollins. He's complete. He reminds me of more of a Barry Larkin-type player. And I really like [Toronto Blue Jays shortstop] Jose Reyes, but he drops down a lot [to throw]. I threw over the top like Furcal, but Jose Reyes is a pretty good player, too.
"But out of all of them, I'd have to say that [Colorado Rockies shortstop] Troy Tulowitzki is the best."
Tulowitzki won the NL Gold Glove Award during the two seasons that Rollins didn't in recent years. Still, neither Tulowitzki nor the others can throw as fast as a healthy Furcal.
Furcal isn't healthy, though. His surgery occurred earlier this month, and his recovery will last through this season -- at least.
Remember, too, that Furcal is 35, with a history of injuries.
Which all makes you wonder if Furcal's arm strength will be the same when he attempts to play in the future.
"His strength is going to go down, because this is going to take away some of his velocity," Dunston said. "If his arm was a 10 [on a scale of 1 to 10], and if he drops down to an eight, he'll be fine, without a problem. The important thing is, he's very accurate.
"So he's going to be fine."
Let's hope so.