At some point in our lives, it’s fair to hope, we all get our Dan Uggla moment. If you’re not watching his wholly improbable, borderline fictional hit streak at present, then Joe Posnanski this week brought everyone up to speed:
There’s no way, of course, that Dan Uggla will hit in 56 straight games. We know that. Heck, at this moment, he’s still hitting .224 for the year and .258 for his career. He strikes out a ton. If you put together the least likely every-day players to break DiMaggio’s record, he would be in the photograph. So, no, there’s no way.
And, like Posnanski writing on Friday, I’m worried that Uggla’s streak will end by deadline, so I’m trying to punch this pretty quickly on Saturday. There’s a bit of a hot-streak mojo that does come into play (it has been demonstrated statistically, actually) but mostly we’re watching a guy who hit .202 in April, .160 in May and .179 in June now hitting .442 in August. He has collected at least one hit in every game he has appeared in since July 5, at which time he was hitting .173 and must have been wondering how long he could stick in the Braves’ rotation. Now he has the longest hitting streak of the 2011 MLB season. And Apple, whose shares were trading under $4 in 1997, is now as rich as Exxon. That quarterback who falls to a sixth-round draft pick could turn out to be Tom Brady. Sure. Why the hell not.
Thing is, there’s no ironclad reason Uggla can’t hit safely in another couple of dozen more games. Posnanski’s right that on any given night a guy swatting .224 on the year is more likely not to get a hit than to get one. Uggla only had 33 hits in May and June combined, and now he’s going for a 33-game streak tonight against the Cubs? Eventually a little thing called Every Statistical Measure Known to Man is going to call in those chips. Until then, all hail Uggla, the new king of U-turns.
But why can’t Uggla catch DiMaggio, despite the ESMKtM forecasts? My guess is he has the right mindset, which for him is generally as close to “off” as possible. Michael Farber profiled Uggla in a 2008 Sports Illustrated piece, set when Uggla was leading the Majors in homers. According to Farber, Uggla
does not keep a book on pitchers because he figures, sensibly enough, that pitchers will not always throw him the same pitch on the same count. (He does, however, know the pitchers’ names “most of the time.”) “When I start thinking in the batter’s box, that’s when I get into trouble,” says Uggla, channeling his inner Yogi. If the nonthinking man’s guide to baseball makes him a dinosaur in this age of IsoP and the rest of the sabermetric alphabet, it should delight non-seamheads that a 5’11″, 200-pound see-the-ball-hit-the-ball righty with Popeye forearms and a swing more violent than a Peckinpah film can wallop the ball out of any park, Jurassic included.
“Nonthinking man’s” baseball is the key to streaking. You must forget the previous game or 32 games, and just slap cowhide. Having forgotten and since remembered how to hit a ball, Uggla could just keep on keeping on.
Side note: There was a kerfuffle in the comments on Posnanski’s story about whether the inestimable Stephen Jay Gould in fact wrote the best story ever on hitting streaks. You can judge for yourself here, where you’ll finds lines like this from Gould, who was primarily an evolutionary biologist and paleontologist:
The history of a species, or any natural phenomenon that requires unbroken continuity in a world of trouble, works like a batting streak. All are games of a gambler playing with a limited stake against a house with infinite resources. The gambler must eventually go bust. His aim can only be to stick around as long as possible, to have some fun while he’s at it …