This is a slump that has acquired its own name — an Uggla.
But we shall not dwell upon the unfortunately barren season being endured by the Braves’ $62 million second baseman, but rather just how cleverly it has been applied to their pennant thrust by their new manager.
Through it all, Fredi Gonzalez has kept his calm, but he has an advantage over the rest of us. He has managed Dan Uggla before, and he has seen our beleaguered second baseman have all-star seasons. No season like this, though, as barren as a desert.
This is a Braves team that has kept its oar in the pennant waters with a batting average of .237, just three rungs above the league’s worst.
It a pitching corps’ has a strangling earned run average of 3.87, featuring two of the leagues most fetching starters, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson. Backed up in the twilight innings by the stingiest bullpen in both leagues, and I cite here the names of Kimbrel, Venters, O’Flaherty and Sherrill. You may have noticed that this list does not include the Braves’ two highest-paid incumbents, Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson.
This a team breathing hard on the neck of the Phillies, and a pitching staff being paid enough to strain the budget of the Prince of Brunei. Thus, we have covered one remarkable side of this team, now to the other. In all my grey-bearded baseball seasons, I have never come across a player having such a wretched season after signing a bank-breaking contract, and yet unscarred by public scorn. Oh, yes, many a salacious comment has made it through public blogs, but the published and broadcast media have kept a stiff upper lip.
Here was an extravaganza investment with the promise of turning the Braves second base position into a scenic wonder.
Last season’s two second basemen hit .321 and .307, Omar Infante and Martin Prado. Uggla’s batting average is .175. Prado and Infante hit 23 home runs between them. Uggla has hit 13 to this point.
With the Florida Marlins, his seasonal homer average was around 33. Prado and Infante combined for nearly 100 runs batted in. Uggla drove in 100 runs in only one of his five seasons as a Marlin. He has driven in 29 runs in 85 games to this point.
There has been, however, a long, strange silence among the usual cynics. Is it the symphonic restraint among those of our press choral, or is it the bottom-line effect of the Braves’ heavy hand in the division race? It causes no suffering in this quarter, though I do take extra interest when it’s Uggla’s time at bat.
Been a strange state of affairs from signing to the moment, and how do you handle the rest of the $62-miillion investment. After all, a contract is a contract. Gulp!
Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.