Well, it’s May now, and I’m sure Dan Uggla can read a calendar as well as any of us. But his batting average still dawdles, and you know what they say in baseball about slow starters. The implication is that you can throw out April. A “wasted” month. But just hang in there.
Remember April a year ago? When Troy Glaus couldn’t find April on a calendar, then when May came around he became a terror. He jump-started the Braves’ season. Troy turned out to be a slow finisher as well, but he’d done his job. Besides he was fire sale stock.
Uggla, now that’s another story. Daniel Cooley Uggla is the highest paid second baseman who ever played baseball. No Charley Gehringer, no Joe Gordon, not even a Bobby Doerr, but we’re talking Hall of Fame there, and a totally different economic era. The Braves needed not just a second baseman, but they needed a right-handed bat, and there wasn’t another one out there like Uggla. Given that there are times when his glove seems to turn to iron, you can forgive a few bumps here and there for his bat.
His name began to become noticeable when it showed up in the Florida Marlins lineup, if — for no other reason than the name itself. Uggla is Swedish, I found out, and in Sweden “uggla” means an owl, or owlish, of which he is neither. He had spent five seasons in the minor leagues and found himself locked in the double-A minor league level, at Chattanooga of the Southern League, property of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Some alert scout of the Florida Marlins noticed that the D-Backs had passed him over, left him vulnerable to the Rule 5 major league draft, and there the Uggla career took a turn for the better. A Rule 5 draftee costs the drafting team $50,000, if he sticks, and the player can be returned for half the price is he doesn’t. What a bargain Uggla turned out to be, and the D-Backs are still trying out second basemen.
Uggla never looked back. He broke in with a .282, 27-home run, 90-RBI season as a Marlin, and soon “The Owl” was launched. He hit 154 home runs in five seasons — only Pujols has hit more — and he gave the Marlins a full day’s work every game he played. So, they offered him a $48-million contract, feeling rather comfortable about it, I’d guess. What the Braves did was up the ante to $62 million, $9 million this season and $13 million the next four. (So the Marlins will have to open that new zillion-dollar ball park without their showpiece.)
You hear it said that Uggla had always been a Braves fan, that coming from Columbia, Tenn., he would be closer to home as a Brave, and all the slosh that goes with such a deal. Makes a good story, but for $62 million he’d have taken a bus to Seattle. The Braves are keen on him, though he is no defensive artist, nor are they overjoyed at his batting average that just recently reached the .200 clime.
I enjoyed following his daily rise at Florida, and expect to enjoy him more in Atlanta — when he finally turns it on. And when some of those line drives turn into home runs. I didn’t expect him to set defensive records, but say this for him, each game he plays, he’ll give you a good day’s work, expensive as it may be.
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 profiling major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.