When rollicking through the box score of a Braves game the other day, I noticed that Dan Uggla had been sent in to run for Chipper Jones. Not so unusual. Several times pitchers have sent in to run for some Brave or another, when the game is running long and the bench is reduced to trainers and overweight coaches.
But it occurred to me that this must be the first time that a player with a $62-million contract had ever been sent into a game as a pinch runner. It’s kind of like entering your Lambroghini in a stock-car race.
It only serves to emphasize the state of indignity to which Dan Uggla’s situation has fallen since his arrival was heralded. “Big Steal for the Braves” one national sports section headlined it. “Ten Reasons Why This Makes Braves Favorite in National League East” read another blaring headline.
Truly, leaping to the post position in pursuit of the Marlins’ former second baseman gained the Braves a carload of favor around the league, not to mention that Atlanta itself enjoyed a state of self-glorification. All of this, understand, about a husky infielder who, just five years before had been playing second base for a minor league team just up the road in Chattanooga.
In between, though, the Florida Marlins had taken a flyer on a minor league infielder the Arizona Diamondbacks had left vulnerable to one of those cheap major league drafts. It costs only $50,000, and if the drafting team decided it was a losing move, the player could be turned back to his old team and get half their money back.
And here Uggla was, considered the Braves’ “big steal” — but that was only part of the story. Atlanta had to sweeten the Marlins’ pot with two players, a pitcher and a backup infielder, and give Uggla a five-year contract for $62-million. That made Uggla the highest-paid second baseman in the history of the National League.
The Marlins had offered their second baseman $48 million for five years, but he thought he could
do better, and he did. But did the Braves?
I can’t say I didn’t like the deal. I did. I liked what I’d seen of Uggla, but not for $62 million. Or, even $48 million. Just a season before the Braves had turned loose a good second baseman, Kelly Johnson, who could
field, steal bases and hit home runs (Just last season Johnson had hit 26 home runs at Arizona).
Now, at a recent moment, Uggla's production was 34 runs, 11 home runs and 48 runs batted in shy of his previous average. He was in the throes of a horrendous stretch some are inclined to call a “slump,” but the truth is, Uggla has no record as a Brave to consider worthy by which to compare a slump.
His entire season with the Braves has been a slump. Twice Manager Fredi Gonzalez has benched him, before the pinch-running duty. Gonzalez had four seasons of Uggla when he managed the Marlins, but this is not the Uggla he knew there.
Heaven only knows where this is going from here. Surely, Uggla has some firepower left in his muscular body, but even in the field he has not been the same defensive producer he was in Miami. And look at the standings, the Uggla-less Marlins in second place, ahead of the third-place Braves. One of the strangest and most perplexing stories I’ve run across since the major leagues came to town.
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.