Monday, October 3, 2011

It Was Uggla

The Braves collapsed because they could not score runs while the Red Sox collapsed because they could not stop the opposing team from scoring runs. The Sox averaged scoring a little over five runs a game from April through August, and kept it up during September. Their downfall was that they allowed an average of two more runs per game during the last month of the season. Fortunately for the Braves, their collapse has been over shadowed by the Red Sox, especially now that 'Tito' Francona has been forced out as manager. Boston did underachieve though, coming in at 90-72 when their Pythagorean (runs scored vs runs allowed) W-L record was 94-68. The Braves, on the other hand, over performed to the tune of four games. Their 89-73 record should have been 85-77.
Terry Francona is a fine manager and I have rooted for him, not only because to root for the Red Sox means seeing the Damn Yankees lose, but also because he, along with his teammate, Buddy Bell, were in my Buckhead Safety Cab when they were both in town with the Reds to face the Braves in the mid to late 80's. Terry was amazed that I knew so much about his father, Tito, who had played for the Braves in 1969, one of my favorite seasons because the Braves won the Western division title. What the hell they were doing in the 'west' along with the Dodgers & Giants, both on the left coast is anybody's guess! I told Terry that it broke my heart when the Braves sold his father to the Oakland A's that summer. I thought it was a big mistake since Tito was a 'professional hitter', and he proved it by hitting almost .350 down the stretch with the A's, after hitting almost .300 with the Braves. He said I would get a good tip, so I told Buddy that I had several of his father's baseball cards from the early 60's, when he was over 30 and declining, but I knew from the back of the cards that Gus had put together some real good years in the early to mid 50's. Buddy said he would double the tip! They asked me to suggest a bar with good food and I took them to Aunt Charley's, where they invited me in and bought my meal while we talked baseball. And yes, the tip was HUGE!
After the Braves lost one of the tv men asked Dan Uggla, "How can you explain it, Dan?" Uggla said, "We went out and left everything on the field." Yeah, right. I thought of my favorite baseball movie, Bull Durham, when Crash is trying to tell the kid how to talk to interviewers when he gets to the show. "Just fill 'em with cliches."
Earlier they had shown the 'game changing moment' which was Uggla's 3-run homer in the third inning. That would be all the runs the Braves would score. I thought the 'game changing moment' occurred in the bottom of the sixth when Uggla failed to score when he was tagged out at the plate. There were two outs, with Uggla on second and Freddie Freeman on first, after both had drawn base on balls. Jack Wilson hit a line drive single to right field which was fielded by Hunter Pence. Uggla, not a fast or good baserunner, rounded third and I could not help but think of Pete Rose in the All Star game when he rounded third with his head down heading for home. In what has become a defining moment for 'Charley Hustle', he barreled into the catcher, Ray Fosse, who had tried to block the plate, like a torpedo, and scored. Uggla took a look at the right fielder after he rounded third, which seemed to slow him down. The Phillies catcher, Ruiz, was blocking the dish with his left leg as he awaited the one-hop throw. Uggla had two choices at this point...He could have slid in with his feet first, as is taught to every player since little league, and maybe his foot would dislodge the catchers leg. Or he could have taken the Pete Rose route and crashed into the Ruiz, the preferred method. Uggla did niether. He slid into home face first and never even touched home plate! That was an unforgivable baseball sin. He was out and it was like you could see the Braves balloon deflate. If he had come hard-charging into home and blasted Ruiz he would have made a statement and fired up his teanmates, even if he had been out. Even if he had 'slud hard' as ol' Dizzy Dean used to say, with his feet first, it would have shown something. Instead, the Braves with Uggla as an example, with down meakly, like wimps. It was the Braves season in a microcosm.
One of the tv guys said he had talked with someone in baseball who said the Braves could only score runs with the home run. No one typlfied that as much as Dan Uggla. With him it was all or nothing. He averages striking out once a game, and has done so over his career. His on base % fell to only .311 this year, below major league average. To score runs a team must have a sustained offense. The Braves OBP was only .308 this year, below average. Good things happen when a batter gets his bat on the ball as shown by the blow from which the Braves could not recover, a soft, broken-bat, floater, hit by Hunter Pence, a batter who chokes up on the bat, and still hits 20+ home runs. As pointed out by the announcers, if Freeman had not been holding the runner on first, the ball would have been caught.
Uggla salvaged his season this year with his good second half. Still, it did not make up for the abysmal first half. His defense, by any measure, is not up to major league standards. For example, defensively he rated -1.6 in Wins Above Replacement, which means some guy in triple A could field better than Uggla. An example would be when the umpire saved Uggla's butt in the top of the sixth. After Utley singled, Pence hit a ground ball to Uggla, who made a backhand flip to the SS that had nothing on it whatsoever. By the time the SS caught the ball he was way off of the bag, and the runner should have been called safe, but the ump called him out and the SS completed a double-play. The commentators mentioned it, saying, "He was in the vicinity."
Actually, losing could have been the best thing that could have happened for the Braves. The Braves were being discussed on ESPN and they were talking specifically about Greg Kimbrel's failure to close out the game and earn a 'save'. Bobby Valentine put the blame on the manager, Fredi Gonzalez, for his abuse of his young relievers all year. Kimbrel could not find the strike zone and Bobby V said, "First goes the control and then goes the arm." He also mentioned that Greg had logged more innings than any other 'closer'. I followed the Braves mostly by box score this year, watching only a dozen or so games. It sure seemed that Kimbrel and Venters were brought into far too many games in which the Braves had a 2 or 3 run, or even more, lead. Kimbral's ERA for most of the year was around 2.00, but balooned to over 4.50 in September. The last thing the young relievers needed was to have to hurl more innings in high pressure situations this year. As it is they will be fortunate if at least one of the young guns does not blow out his arm next year.
When a team collapses the manager must accept responsibility. It is kinda like the captain of a ship. The buck has gotta stop somewhere. One of the biggest decisions facing any manager is the problem of the under performing former star. An example of it would be how the Damn Yankees manager, Joe Girardi, handled the situation with 39 year-old Jorge Posada. Joe slotted Jorge in the ninth position in the batting order and the vastly over paid former star refused to play after whining like a little girl. It seems batting last was too much for his fragile ego. He should have been happy to be in the lineup in lieu of on the bench, where he belonged! Later on in the season the manager finally put him on the bench, where he was still drawing his gargantuan salary, I might add. Joe did it for the good of the team and the organization.
The Braves mamager faced a similar situation with his former star, Chipper Jones. Chipper had a damn good year considering his age, 39. His WAR was a positive 2.8. Offensively it was 3.1, but on defense it was -0.3. In the top of the 12th inning on the final day of the season the first batter hit a hot shot to Chipper's left, which went through for a base hit. One of the announcers said, "A lotta big league third basemen woulda scooped that up but Chipper's 39 year old legs cost him half a step." Someone chimed in with the fact that Chipper was playing with a knee that was "bone on bone." It hurt just to hear it...
In game number 150 on Wednesday, September 14, vs the Fish, a game the Braves won, Chipper went 0 for 4. There was an off day the next day. From game 151 until the end of the season, Fredi put Chipper's name in the lineup in every game but one, #156, a game in which Chipper pinch-hit, making an out. In the final 13 games of the season Chipper went 8 for 46, an average of .174. He went 2 for 4 in game #160, with a home run and a double. In only one other game during that stretch did Chipper get two hits, with that being in game 152, and one of the hits was a double.
In an article in the NY Times newspaper after the Braves lost to the Phils on Sept 27 it was written, "Just after Chipper Jones agonizingly lugged down the first-base line Monday on a double-play grounder in the eight inning, Braves Manager Fredi Gonzales whistled to get his attention. Gonzalez invited Jones, with a gesture, to consider leaving the game. No, came the answer, via a shaked of the head."
The thing is that the above was NOT included in the online article on the NY Times website! (
I sent this to my friend, the Discman, regarding the story: Since when did a manager hafta ask his aging 'star' if'n he wants to come outta the lineup?! What the hell kinda weak-assed manager ASKS?! If the guy cannot perform, the manager OWES it to the team and the organization to get his ass offa the field! Can you imagine Billy Martin asking anyone if'n he wants to come offa the field?!!!
It was terribly sad to read about and see Chipper play during the final stretch run. It was more than a little obvious that he was hurting, and hurting his team by playing. Chipper WAS a great player; a sure HOFer if ever there was one. But by the end of the season Chipper Jones had become Chi Jo at best. The manager had other players who could have played who were not injured, and could have helped the team, in lieu of hurting it. It was the manager's responsibility to put the best players on the field, for the good of the team and the organization. It was obvious that Chipper was not gonna come offa the field unless forced to do so. For that Fredi Gonzalez should be forced to seek employment elsewhere, for the good of the team and the organization.

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