The Danger Of Chipper Jones' Thoughts On Jason Heyward

ATLANTA - JUNE 17: Chipper Jones #10 of the Atlanta Braves congratulates Jason Heyward #22 after Heyward's solo homer in the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Turner Field on June 17, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Chipper Jones wishes Jason Heyward would be more willing to play through pain. Statements like this can have dangerous consequences.

I don't know which thing I'd most like to change about professional baseball, but among them would be the average player's willingness to be honest and forthcoming about injuries. When he's hurt, how badly he's hurt, how long he thinks he'll be hurt, that sort of thing. So often we hear about players playing through pain, and so often we hear about these players doing more harm than good because of it.

With that in mind, I'll bring to your attention some things Chipper Jones recently said about Jason Heyward, if you haven't seen them already. First, Heyward said he wouldn't return to the Braves until his problem shoulder felt healthy. Now Chipper, via David O'Brien:

"What Jason needs to realize is that Jason at 80 percent is a force, and Jason at 80 percent is better than a lot of people in this league. And that there are a bunch of his teammates that are out there playing with discomfort and not healthy, and still going at it."
...
"It’s just a situation where, I don’t think he really realizes how much of an impact he has on the game just by his presence."

Chipper's heart is in the right place.

But his statements just reinforce that athlete machismo that's seemingly impossible to strip from the game, despite the damage it can cause by discouraging injured players from being honest and sitting out. Chipper Jones is a visible player, fully aware that his quotes would make headlines, and he went on record as saying that Heyward needs to return soon from his injury.

That's fine from Chipper's perspective, because from Chipper's perspective, Heyward is just a little below what he normally is. A recovering Jason Heyward might not sock 30 dingers, but he might sock 20 or 25, and that's plenty good.

But consider Heyward's perspective. This is a guy who's been dogged by aches and pains since arriving in the Majors. Playing through shoulder inflammation, he posted a .351 OPS in May before going on the DL. A year ago, playing through a finger injury, he posted a .689 OPS before going on the DL. When injured, Jason Heyward has not helped his team win, so can you blame him for wanting to let his injury heal up this time?

Additionally, there's this:

"That's why right now I'm shut down as far as my swing goes," Heyward said. "I don't need to create any bad habits or make it worse."

Bad habits developed to compensate for injury, once ingrained, can be difficult to shed.

That presence Chipper talks about that Heyward has when he's playing? Heyward has a presence because he's one of the game's top young sluggers. Were he to play and struggle through injury, that presence would be diminished, because his performance would sink. He might provide a brief psychological boost by hurrying back, but he likely wouldn't help the team score runs. Jason Heyward is most useful when he's healthy, so he should be allowed to get healthy without catching barbs.

From Jason Heyward's perspective, he's doing what is in his and the team's best interests by sitting out until he's healthy. In both the short-term and the long-term, he's almost assuredly right. And yet, instead of being praised for his caution, he's drawing criticism. Criticism from his team's most prominent leader, a leader younger players consider a role model. Chipper's statements reinforce an attitude that may or may not cause harm to Jason Heyward, but that will certainly cause harm to other players - and teams - down the road.

Honesty, understanding and patience - these are virtues, and should have a bigger place in the game, and in the clubhouse.

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