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Did the Braves' Leadership Just Sail Away?

Does leadership matter, and who takes Hudson and McCann's place as the team's leaders?

Daniel Shirey

Kris Medlen is the most tenured Brave.

Just let that sink in. The player with the most time spent on the current Braves roster is a guy who has been with the Braves for the last 4 years and 137 baseball days. If you want the player who is the oldest and has spent the most time in the major leagues, that would be Gerald Laird at 34-years-old and just over 9 years of MLB service. There's no doubt this team is young -- it had the 2nd and 4th youngest position players and pitchers, respectively, last season among all 30 teams -- and it just lost two of its older players in Tim Hudson and Brian McCann.

The losses weren't unexpected -- Hudson's certainly more than McCann's -- but they were emotional. Putting production mostly aside, losing both players hurts from a fan perspective. Hudson came to Atlanta as one of the bigger trades in recent Braves history, and he mostly lived up to the billing. McCann was the last great player the Braves developed until the recent crop, and he was often seen as the next Brave-for-life with the departure of Chipper Jones. It may have been illogical to expect them to stay, but the desire is always certainly there. Both players will certainly be missed.

And they'll be missed by more than just the fans who watch on TV or from the stands. Each player had a personality that jelled well with the rest of the team, and they were definitely well-respected. Huddy was the good ole southern boy who played the part of trickster, but he was also a guy the young pitching staff could look up to and ask questions. McCann was less of a jokester, but he was always well-respected and well-liked. When two of those guys leave, it hurts the overall leadership of the team, and when those are the two longest-tenured Braves, it leaves a void at the top. That part is indisputable.

What is disputable is how much it really matters. One of the most significant battles in recent baseball analysis has been over intangibles and leadership. Some say it matters a lot, and others say it doesn't matter at all. By this point, I hope most of us have moved past that sort of black-and-white thinking. Things are rarely that simple, and this subject certainly isn't.

Let's first look at the "it matters a lot" side. It certainly makes sense. Most of our learning in life has been done by watching other people, and many of those people have been older mentors - parents, teachers, coaches, etc. People who are older and have more experience tend to be listened to, and as a result of the additional experience, they also tend to know some things that the young whippersnappers don't. By virtue of that same experience, they've learned how to make adjustments, make it through an entire season, and deal with the ups-and-downs of a major-league career, and they can lessen the impact of those adversities for the younger player(s) willing to listen. In my opinion, it's simply foolish to think that age and experience have no impact on younger players.

But then again, the argument has mostly been that there's no real way to quantify or even isolate the impact it has. Older players aren't always the best examples, and there's always the possibility that older players resent younger players taking their jobs. It's also incredibly difficult to figure out what's going on in the clubhouse. Despite professions to the contrary, reporters are not in the clubhouse for everything, and the most important things are often done behind closed doors. When players are asked about the leadership of an older player, do you really expect them to say, "#@$% no, that guy's a @#$!ing moron"? And there's always the matter of getting along better with some than others, and a leader won't impact everyone equally. While leadership probably has an impact, the issue comes with ascribing who actually exerts leadership that matters, figuring out how much it matters, and finding out who actually benefits from it.

Leadership is not an easy subject, and it's one that quite often just gets glossed over. It's easy to dismiss either side out of hand because... well, they're often both ridiculous to some degree. But we, of course, shouldn't do that. Leadership has an impact. But frankly, we don't know how much it has an impact, and we, especially as fans, have very little actual evidence of who is actually exerting positive leadership over the clubhouse and over whom. The only thing we usually get are quotes from players, but like I said earlier, they aren't going to trash a supposed team leader. The only people who really know are in that clubhouse, and you really can't take anything they say at face value.

But the Braves are remarkably young, have a lot riding on this season, and have lost a remarkable amount of leadership in the past few years - Chipper Jones (*cries*), David Ross, Eric Hinske, Martin Prado, Hudson, and McCann. It's one thing to lose a guy here and there, but is it okay to lose THAT much? Players can often step up to fill the void, but do the Braves have such a player?

My answer is pretty simple - they have a lot of players like that. These Braves are pretty young, but they aren't inexperienced. Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Mike Minor, Medlen, and Craig Kimbrel have been through the wars with the Braves -- the 2011 collapse, the 2012 rise and disappointing loss in the Wild Card game, and the 2013 division championship -- and it's not like Laird, BJ Upton, Justin Upton, and Dan Uggla have no experience handling pressure. Most of them have also had their rises and their falls - Kimbrel and that 2010 NLDS, Heyward and the injuries, BJ and Justin have always been straddling the line between disappointing and heroic, Minor started with a rough career and the 2012 first half wasn't friendly, and goodness knows Uggla's been through the shredder enough. Bottom line -- these Braves have basically experienced it all in one way or another.

Together, they make one heck of a leader, and considering how "well" they've gotten along in recent seasons, there's no real reason to believe that they wouldn't help each other. You could, however, ask about how "well" they've gotten along. It's a bit of a chicken or the egg question. Did the winning breed a good clubhouse, or did the good clubhouse breed winning? We could go around and around in that discussion, but there's little reason to doubt that they "can" get along well. Most of the team, after all, is back in 2014.

I understand why fans are worried about the team's leadership. The people labeled as the team's leaders have all pretty much left in the past two or three years, and there aren't any obvious candidates top step up as the big guys. But I wonder if it HAS to be one or two guys. The Braves have a young but experienced core that has shared the same clubhouse for a number of years now. They don't lack playoff experience. They don't lack experience in adverse conditions. They don't lack for on field displays of camaraderie or times when they backed each other up. They aren't a bunch of rookies. And while there's no clear front-runner for team leader, there's no reason that one or two can't hug their way to the top.

After all, they've had some pretty good leaders to learn from.

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