Atlanta Braves slugger Jason Heyward entered Major League Baseball with big expectations.
A top minor league prospect in 2011, at only 19 years old, this kid from Atlanta was expected to be the Braves’ savior.
While the “savior” tag may have been premature, Heyward certainly made his mark in the league quickly in 2010, hitting a home run in his first at-bat and finishing behind Giants catcher Buster Posey in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.
After such a stellar rookie campaign, expectations were sky high for Heyward’s sophomore season. Unfortunately, minor injuries have nagged the young right fielder and he has been forced to the DL, limiting his time in the lineup.
Heyward’s injuries might explain his paltry .214 average and the 14 RBI’s accumulated so far in 2011, but for veteran Braves third-bagger Chipper Jones, Heyward’s injuries are not severe enough for him to stop playing.
Jones recently called Heyward out, saying the youngster needs to “learn how to play hurt.”
While Jones is a future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, a veteran, and a clubhouse leader, calling Heyward out was not a smart move.
The immediate issue this creates is that it could cause locker room troubles for the Braves.
If Jones is calling out Heyward, will he start calling out other players?
And what about Heyward?
Is he going to be mentally strong enough to handle being accosted by one of the game’s premier leaders?
The pressures on Heyward are high and having a great player like Chipper Jones question your toughness does not help.
As for the validity of Jones’ statement, that players need to learn to play hurt, there is some truth to it, but there is also a shade of grey.
If the issue is something small that will go away, then the player should probably grit his teeth and grind it out until the injury is dealt with.
If the injury is something that could get worse with wear and tear, then the player is making a smart move by sitting a few games out, particularly in a game like baseball, which is a marathon, not a sprint.
If Heyward is worried about what effect these injuries may have long-term, then he did the right thing by stepping aside.
Chipper Jones may have been a world-class player, but in this case, he was wrong to call out Heyward who has the rest of his career ahead of him.