What people can miss about leadership is when it is shown by indirect actions.
You expect leadership to be someone calling an inspirational meeting – telling their peers that they will do whatever it takes to lead the charge, fire up the troops, get what needs to be done.
The Atlanta Braves had every definition of a dynasty from 1991-2005 as they won 14 consecutive division titles, with a brief run of resurgence from 2010-2013 making the playoffs 3 of 4 years. Then, when three members of their starting rotation all got hurt in 2014 it was back to the drawing board.
Jason Heyward traded. Defensive wonderkind Andrelton Simmons – gone. Veteran Brian McCann? Out of here. Throw in the Upton brothers and the all time Braves leader in saves Craig Kimbrel too. Only Julio Teheran and Freddie Freeman remained.
Chipper Jones was the emotional leader of the Braves first run, finishing up in 2012 and transitioning the team from Bobby Cox to Fredi Gonzalez. The leadership mantle was passed to Brian McCann – who wore it with bravado as evidenced in this clip.
So when McCann left – it was left to Freddie Freeman who had also been inked to an 8 year extension in 2014 that will keep him with the Braves through 2022. They expect him to lead a resurgence starting hopefully as soon as 2018.
This year, when he went down with a wrist injury, the Braves quickly picked up Matt Adams who was a forgotten man for St. Louis and he has turned a career renaissance more than proving his worth. Meanwhile, the Braves haven’t been able to find a good third baseman since the departure of Mr. Jones and their starting third baseman Adonis Garcia was recently hurt again for two months but hasn’t done a lot to engender confidence anyway.
So when the news came out yesterday that Freddie, who should be back in a month, will likely come back as a third baseman, it made me smile and also made me recall a former Braves leader.
This is Freddie’s team. Sure, Matt Kemp is playing great again this season, Dansby Swanson is an exciting rookie to watch, Matt Adams is playing great so far and all that – but this move proves it even more than his 30+ home runs and All Star nod last season.
The Atlanta Braves of 2002 couldn’t find a good left fielder for anything so they instead signed the veteran Vinny Castilla to play third base which would put Chipper Jones in left field. This experiment never quite worked out the way the Braves were hoping but Chipper mostly sucked it up for the team. He was back to third base by 2004 but did end up with 352 games in left field.
Now Freddie is ready to take the plunge. As he told David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution,
“I want to do it, we’ve got to keep Matt’s bat in the lineup and I’ll do anything to win. This is what it came to. I’ve got a couple weeks until I’m back out there so hopefully I can get (acclimated) with third base pretty good.”
The Braves are clearly a much better offensive team with Freeman, Kemp, and Adams in the lineup. The biggest concern is more how Freddie’s wrist will be when he returns. He was on his way to his predicted MVP award when he went down. The Braves sit at 33-38 and though in second place in the NL East – the Nationals clearly have this division wrapped up. They seem to be playing with everyone else in how bad their bullpen is but a trade or two should fix that in the next month. Meanwhile the high quality play of the NL West has both the second and third place teams holding down both wild card spots with even the 2016 Champion Chicago Cubs on the outside looking in.
The Braves current season allows them to run experiments like this one. Will Freddie be able to handle third base? Will Matt Adams keep hitting like he has been? Starting in about a month we get to find out.