The Braves had no choice. Jordan Schafer was at sea. It made no difference if the team around him was steaming or sinking. A prized young property was in danger of washing out at age 22.
There’s a reason baseball teams try not to rush kids. They don’t want them to fail. Schafer was hitting .204 with 63 strikeouts against two home runs. That’s not someone who’s in a slump. That’s the sign of a young man who has lost his vocational way.
After two months it was clear the Braves could do nothing to help Schafer at the big-league level. Chipper Jones had been designated as his mentor, and even the counsel of one of the game’s finest hitters was having no effect. I asked Frank Wren last week how much longer the Braves could go with Schafer — Wren politely declined to answer — and when finally they demoted him they acted not a day too soon.
Baseball isn’t as much about speed and strength as technique and self-assurance. Schafer’s technique had deserted him, and how confident can you be when you’re hitting .204? And nobody can ever be sure that egregious failure at a tender age will be surmounted.
There was once a young center fielder who arrived in the majors on a wave of boundless hype. He’d been hitting .477 in the minors, but he got to the big leagues and went 1-for-26. (The hit was a homer in his 23rd at-bat.) Distraught, he begged his manager to send him down, saying the pitching was just too good for him.
The manager, name of Durocher, told him he was going nowhere, and the kid wound up being named the 1951 National League rookie of the year. But the point isn’t that the guy turned out OK; the point is that even Willie Mays, one of the five greatest players in the history of the sport, had cause to doubt.
Jordan Schafer is where he needs to be: In Class AAA with Gwinnett, away from the bigger ballparks and the brighter lights and the harsher critics. He has a chance to find himself down there. There was nothing else to be found in the majors this summer, maybe not this year.
He just wasn’t ready. Now he can go get ready.