For as long as he plays Major League baseball, Dan Uggla probably will be defined by the streak, a magical 33-game whirlwind of hits that signaled a dramatic U-turn in his season.
08/29/2011 12:14 PM ET
Uggla gets noticed for streak
Braves second baseman hit in 33 games straight
By Hal Bock / MLBPLAYERS.com
Until his July 5 home run against Colorado, Uggla had seemed lost at the plate, flailing and failing, batting an unsightly .173. It was the lowest batting average in the National League among qualifying hitters. And he wasn't close to the second lowest. The Braves traded two players for Uggla and then signed him to a new $62 million contract. And now their expensive new second baseman couldn't buy a hit. It was a situation that bordered on the embarrassing.
"I felt like I was the unluckiest person in the bigs," Uggla said. "Whether I hit the ball hard or I hit the ball soft, I wasn't finding any holes. I felt like I was letting everybody down. I was in a rut all year. It wasn't easy. But my teammates were terrific, really supportive. They knew it would click sooner or later, and I would be able to pick them up."
Uggla had some history working for him. A Rule 5 draft choice by the Marlins, he had made himself into a solid hitter, a long ball threat and even an All-Star. In five seasons with the Marlins, he batted .263 with 154 home runs. He had a record four straight 30-homer seasons -- a mark he stretched to five seasons this year -- something no other second baseman, including Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby and Joe Morgan, had ever accomplished. He had impressive credentials.
So what went wrong?
He may have been trying to do too much, trying to live up to the big contract. He displayed little patience at the plate. His mechanics and timing seemed out of whack, sometimes looking too far gone to be retrieved. Manager Fredi Gonzalez moved him up and down the lineup to no avail. He was easy pickings for opposing pitchers.
And then, just like that, it changed.
It started with the home run and over a 33-game stretch, Uggla had 49 hits in 130 at-bats, a .377 pace. He had 15 home runs during the streak, the same number that Joe DiMaggio hit during his landmark 56-game run in 1941. Uggla never thought he was a legitimate threat to break DiMaggio's record. He is not that kind of consistent hitter. But from July 5 through Aug. 14, nobody in baseball was more consistent.
"I was just having fun," Uggla said. "I didn't care about anything that had happened before. I didn't think it was a big deal."
His streak was at 12 games on July 22 when he had a day off. He came off the bench as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning at Cincinnati and delivered a go-ahead, two-run homer, pushing the streak to 13 games. Those kind of dramatics open people's eyes and, suddenly, baseball realized Uggla was on a roll.
That was one of 22 games during the streak in which Uggla had just one hit, the third highest number of one-hit games for any hitting streak since 1900, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. DiMaggio had 34 one-hit games during his streak, and Pete Rose had 26 of them during his 44-game streak in 1978.
Uggla's streak ended with an 0-for-3 day in Chicago. He was robbed of a hit on a diving catch by second baseman Darwin Barney, a reminder of the frustrating days in the early part of the season. The 33-game streak was the longest in the Major Leagues in the last five years.
"That's more games than I ever thought I would have," Uggla said.
And more than anyone who watched his frustration over the season's first three months ever would have expected.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.