The weekend story of Dan Uggla reportedly showing up late for the Braves’ game Saturday in Chicago was peculiar and troubling. The last thing the Braves needed, in their battle for first place with the Washington Nationals, is a controversy with an irrelevant player stuck at the end of their bench.
But what was even worse was a secondary part of the story. When reporters were mingling around the Braves’ clubhouse Sunday after the Uggla story broke, one of the other Atlanta players was supposedly upset when he saw the story on ESPN’s bottom line.
So, was that player not upset at what Uggla had done, or was he simply upset that the word had leaked out about the suspension? Shouldn’t it have been more important that a teammate, one making $80,000 per game, had such little respect for his team that he didn’t even show up on time for a road game?
Now here’s one way to look at this. Uggla isn’t playing anymore, so who cares? He’s awful. He can’t hit. He can’t even pinch-hit. His defense is bad. Uggla has no value to this team whatsoever, so if he shows up a little late, so be it.
But it does matter. Even though the Braves want Uggla gone, and have tried to give him away, he’s still on the roster. Therefore, Uggla should obey the rules and simply show up on time. That’s not too much to ask for someone making that kind of money, right?
His teammates should have been furious. They like Uggla. He’s been a good teammate, even though his career has fallen apart. They’ve appreciated his hustle and his effort. But Uggla disrespected his teammates by getting to Wrigley Field only an hour before the first pitch.
Where are the leaders on this team? Or, maybe the more appropriate question is, “Are there any leaders on this team?” I don’t think so, and that may be the biggest problem the Braves have as we start the second part of the season Friday.
Last year’s leaders are gone. Tim Hudson is in San Francisco. Brian McCann is in New York with the Yankees. After Chipper Jones retired two years ago, Hudson and McCann took over. They were the veterans respected in the clubhouse by the younger players.
But the Braves decided they couldn’t afford either player. Hudson was coming off the bad ankle injury, while McCann was turning 30 and was just too big of a risk to sign to a long-term contract. But will the decisions to allow those veterans to walk away cost the Braves in the long-run?
Who has taken over for those two? No one has, at least not yet. Freddie Freeman is Atlanta’s best player, but he’s only 24 years old. All of the starting position players are under 30, and the most tenured Braves player, Jason Heyward, is also only 24 years old.
Leaders are usually players that have been around a while. B.J. Upton is the oldest starter, but he can’t be a leader when he’s hitting .215 and struggling to stay in the starting lineup.
It’s hard for a pitcher to be a leader, and the candidates are scarce there as well. Julio Teheran is the ace, but he’s only 23. Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana are older members of the rotation, but they’re both short-timers.
This was a concern in spring training. Some wondered if this team needed a veteran player to provide leadership. Who would be there to kick-start the team if it got into a rut? Who would handle a situation like what happened to Uggla the other day?
Last week Jones was asked by 11 Alive’s Jeff Hullinger about his biggest concern for the Braves. His answer?
“I think they’re missing a 36, 37, 38-year old leader on the ball club,” Jones said. “They need a guy who has been there for a long time, who has been around for a long time that is 35 or 36 years old. They don’t have that.”
Some don’t believe in leadership, and I suppose if the Braves have a good second part of the season and do well in October this won’t matter. But if this team does struggle, might we wonder if the lack of a true leader could be a reason?
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Listen to some thoughts about the pitchers and hitters as we prepare for the second part of the…