Thursday, August 11, 2011

Daniel Cooley Uggla

Dan Uggla, second baseman of the Atlanta Braves, has now hit in 31 straight games. He has tied the 'Beeg Boy', Rico Carty, for the Atlanta Braves record. The franchise record is held by Tommy Holmes at 37.
A long hitting streak is a very difficult thing to do. Ask Pete Rose. I was watching the game when Pete was held hitless on August 1, 1978. The Braves won 16-4, with lefty Larry McWilliams getting his third win. Gene Garber came on to pick-up his 16th save by hurling the last three innings.
I had always appreciated Pete's hustle because it was the way I played the game. It sickened me to hear him after being held hitless by the Braves pitchers. He blasted them for not challenging him with any fastballs. The thing is, Garber's best pitch was a change-up, so he had actually 'challenged' Pete with his best. The simple fact is that Pete could not hit it. It was not just what Pete said, but how he said it that sticks with me after all these years. He sounded like a petulant child; a cry-baby. I lost all respect for the man that night.
Last night on BBTN the streak was discussed. I learned that 80+% of hitters who have hit in 29 games go on to hit in 30, but that only 55+% of batters who have hit in 30 go on to make it 31. "What about from 31 to 32?" asked Orel Hershiser. The announcer said something about not having the number, saving it for tomorrow (tonight's) show. "I want to know NOW!" said Orel. Although it made me laugh, I was in agreement with him.
Bobby Valentine called Rico Carty the 'Big Man'. I think he must've confused the Beeg Boy with the recently deceased Clarence 'Big Man' Clemmons. I forgive Bobby V because I like him very much. He is astute when it comes to the game of baseball.
The Beeg Boy was my friend Tim Brookshear's favorite Brave. We actually met him at a sports memorabilia show. I had purchased a table-top baseball game, Pursue The Pennant, to give to my nephew. Naturally Tim and I had to try it out. I let Tim have the 1969 Braves and I took the Mets. I'll never forget the end of the game as long as I live. It was the bottom of the ninth with the Mets (me) clinging to a one run lead. I had brought on Tug McGraw to finish off the Braves. There was a man on when Rico Carty came to the plate. "Come on Rico," said Tim, "Show why you're called the Beeg Boy!"
Tim picked up the dice and shook them in his hand like he was shooting craps. I will never forget the look on his face when the number landed in 'Home Run' territory. "Shit," I said. "I don't believe it, Bacon. Is it a home run?" It was, indeed. Tim came up offa the couch gesticulating wildly, like he was at Atlanta-Fulton County stadium. "Braves win! Braves WIN! BRAVES WIN!" he yelled. (Skip Carey had nothing on Tim in 1991) It may have been the happiest moment of his life...
It is terribly difficult for Dan Uggla to have done what he has for the simple reason that he strikes out a great deal of the time. He is striking out over 25% of his at-bats. On average a player gets to bat 4 times a game, which means that Uggla has to get a hit in one of the other 3 times at the plate. He has raised his batting average from .173 to .224 during the streak, which is phenomenal. His WAR (Wins Above Replacement) stands at a +0.2, so that, because of the streak, he has become a little better than a replacement player.
I have been a fan of the game for over fifty years now and I cannot recall when a player has so completely turned it around in the middle of a season. There have been players who have come back from a bad year, but this may be unprecedented in the history of baseball. I will admit that if anyone had offered me a wager that Mr Uggla would compile a streak of this magnitude, I would've bet the farm!

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