Braves second baseman Dan Uggla questions a called strike three. Hopefully his new contact lenses will mean less of those questions. Phot Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Uggla Returns With Contacts - What took So Long?

When the Braves took the field in Milwaukee Friday night Braves second baseman Dan Uggla saw it in a new light . . .or at least more clearly thanks to his newly fitted contact lens.  I know he wasn’t out that long  but it took a long time to get him to try contacts and I still would like to know why.

Today an optimistic Uggla answered questions about the contacts and his vision issues and provided part of that answer. Reading those quotes it’s appears Dan is the stereotypical situation comedy man, unwilling to admit to himself that his body might be letting him down until forced to confront it then expecting instant gratification on the first try to fix it.

A Quick Recap

Uggla’s was told in spring training that he had astigmatism, was fitted with contacts but quit wearing them when he didn’t see instant improvement.  Carroll Rogers reports that after giving up on the contacts he continued to have vision problems at the plate telling her the ball looked like a blur coming in . That would be a problem as a hitter determines whether a pitch is a breaking ball by identifying the spin, that can’t be done on a white blur. he also admitted to having the wrong mindset.

“I was just doing it to try it, hoping that instantly, I’d be able to see twice as good as I could before.”

I thought that was just sitcom silliness but now I see that some of these men paid millions for playing a game continue to act like children just like on TV. So Uggla had sitcom duffus male syndrome but now he’s got contacts –again – and will have Lasik in the off season because it will take two weeks for him to recover. if the contacts work that’s fine. . .I guess. . .well no it’s not but that’s for later. The questions not asked because I assume they know the answer will be meaningless, still beg for answers. here are just a two.

1. Friday’s game in Milwaukee is the 75th of the year.  Uggla has been unable to see breaking balls during that period yet he didn’t feel the urge to go check with an eye specialist again until Thursday. Why?

2. Scott Fletcher‘s quote in the original post  “. . .it’s something that’s been bothering him for a while and only now is it something he’s really taking care of . . .” indicates the Braves knew he was having this problem. Why didn’t  they insist Uggla have further tests 50 games ago, it’s not like he’s been hitting well.  Were they afraid of upsetting him? He gets paid about $72K a day, for that money the Braves can ask him to do whatever they want. Besides Uggla doesn’t strike me as a guy who would argue about something like that. Perhaps in the day-to-day routine they just never found the time.  Whatever the cause it isn’t the first time in recent history that this has happened.

Recent History

The Braves front office – historically so concerned with the long term health of their players – have in recent times been seemingly unwilling to press for the examinations that would more quickly and accurately determine the problem. Think back to Jason Heyward‘s first year when he tried to play a thumb injury  that was obviously hindering his ability at the plate.  Dave O’Brien’s blog  said it perfectly.

. . .His left thumb is so sore that he hasn’t been able to grip the bat and load up his swing, he said this morning. It’s the first time he’s come clean, at least publicly, with how much the thumb has been bothering him. . .

I understand a rookie like Heyward trying to hide it and keep playing particularly knowing how Chipper Jones felt about things like that but, how did the training staff allow that to continue particularly under Bobby Cox‘s traditional wait one more game philosophy?

The next year it was Heyward again, this time his shoulder ailing him so badly that his numbers dropped to those of a fourth outfielder instead of a rising star.  Even after a stint on the DL they refused to sit him down presumably because of the silly – no make that  farcical – idea that 80% of Heyward was better than 100% of anyone who would have replaced him.  A .227/.219/.389 line is very replaceable, something highlighted when perennial 4A player Jose Constanza delivered a 303./339/.385 as a stand in that year.

In 2012 it was Brian McCann who played most of the season with a torn rotator cuff that required surgery. The GM made the decision that the contrast MRI was would not be ordered because McCann might miss a few days afterward. In March McCann confirmed what many thought, from July on the pain made it impossible for him to be effective.

“The middle of July is when it started getting to the point where I was starting to feel it a lot more than I had in May and June. . .It just kept getting worse.”

If Fredi Gonzalez, Frank Wren and the training staff didn’t know this they were the only ones. From August onward McCann was very replaceable; a shadow of previous years posting a .230/.300/.399 line. There were a multitude of catchers on the move for free in August of 2012 any one of whom could have put up the same or better numbers without being in serious pain with every swing. The GM continued to say the same old untrue things, refusing to say surgery was needed even though McCann himself said it was the previous day.  The result of that weirdness was surgery in October instead of August and McCann not starting the season on the active roster, something he would surely have done had the call been made in July.

That’s a Wrap

So, what? I don’t have answers just questions. It’s impossible to imagine a business with assets costing millions of dollars being unconcerned about the condition of those assets. When those assets are people it’s even harder to fathom any procrastination in getting care or insisting that they get examinations that might help them become more productive. To deny that treatment is needed when the facts are there for all to see is mind numbing.

I am well aware that late in the season every player is playing through pain. Everybody hurts, everything aches. The manager, training staff and front office are supposed to differentiate between acceptable soreness and extreme issues; they must  know when a line is crossed. Whether is physical pain like McCann and Heyward played through or vision issues turning a 30 home run 80 RBI player into the fourth worst strikeout machine in baseball, they get paid for making the right decision and that decision should always be the immediate and future health of the player and his ability to play without impairment.

In Uggla’s case you pull him aside and say Dan, let’s try those contacts again. If he says “they didn’t help” you say maybe we should get a specialist to look. However you word it, when he leaves the room he’s on his way to the an eye specialist. For Heyward a quicker and longer DL stint might well have helped and for McCann that August MRI would have jhad him on the field in April and might have put a better bat in the lineup last season. A Hall of Fame Player at 80% may be better than the alternative but most players don’t fit that description.  Major league players can play through everyday pain and they can play through minor injuries but, it when it becomes obvious their hitting or defense is being significantly affected by something physical it must be addressed now not later. I’m no longer sure that’s being done.

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