Uggla's streak puts spotlight on DiMaggio
So, with the whole world watching -- or at least those bleacher-filled sections of the universe that are into baseball history -- Dan Uggla's hitting streak with the Atlanta Braves is going, going ... well, it's not gone.
It has reached 30 games and counting, but just wait a while. These things always end. It's just that some go longer than others.
Like for 56 consecutive games.
We're talking Joe DiMaggio territory, where no one has entered since the Yankee Clipper himself did so 70 years ago. His hitting streak ranks as one of the most unreachable records in sports. Just in baseball, it sits somewhere on the invincibility scale between Cy Young's 511 career victories and Cal Ripken Jr. playing in 2,632 straight games.
As a result, whenever somebody such as Uggla tugs at DiMaggio's ghost just a little, it becomes noteworthy.
It also becomes magical. I know, especially since I followed two of baseball's longest hitting streaks up close and personal. There was 1978, when Pete Rose tied Willie Keeler for second place on the all-time list at 44 games. Then there was 1987, when Paul Molitor soared into seventh place after reaching 39 straight games. During both of those streaks -- as the days turned into weeks, and with the hits still coming, and through the growing amount of media attention -- Rose and Molitor, respectively, seemed as if they were exorcising that DiMaggio ghost.
You know the rest. DiMaggio's ghost still lives. In fact, when all of those other hitting streaks died, the reaction was the same: Folks shook their heads and asked, "How great was DiMaggio?"
DiMaggio was this great: Despite Uggla's impressive streak, he remains just over halfway to the record. He reached 30 consecutive games Tuesday night against the Florida Marlins in Miami after he hustled for a single in the fifth inning. It was his ninth infield hit during the streak, and he became just the 55th player in Major League history ever to manage a streak of at least 30 or more.
Andre Ethier did so earlier this year for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the only other Atlanta Braves player to do it was Rico Carty, when he had a 31-game streak in 1970. The Boston Braves' Tommy Holmes established the franchise record 25 years earlier, at 37.
Speaking of Holmes, the first time I heard of the guy was in 1978, when I worked for the Cincinnati Enquirer. Back then, I was among the many local reporters who didn't know for the longest time that we were covering at least parts of Rose's streak in some capacity. That's because these streaks appear out of nowhere. They don't become interesting until they reach double digits. Even then, they deserve only a shrug until they get somewhere in the low 20s.
All of a sudden with Rose, it was late June, and he still was hitting game after game in a streak that began weeks before. Then came the end of July, and he was sprinting past that nobody to us in the record book named Holmes (as opposed to Tommy Helms, a former Reds second baseman). It was the longest streak in the National League since George Sisler's 41-game run in 1922.
That got everybody's attention.
The day before Rose's streak reached 40, I went to Cincinnati's old Riverfront Stadium to do an off-day story on the Reds. To my surprise, Rose was in the batting cage taking rips.
Not coincidentally, Rose spent the next day keeping his streak vibrant during a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies. In fact, one of the most amazing things about his streak is that he continued it through three doubleheaders overall.
Rose's streak ended on Aug. 1 in Atlanta. In the bottom of the ninth, he swung and missed a Gene Garber breaking ball for a strikeout, and the highly competitive Charlie Hustle wasn't pleased -- with the streak ending or with Garber. Said Rose afterward, "He pitched me like it was the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series."
The man wanted fastballs. Mostly, he wanted to become that exorcist regarding DiMaggio's ghost, but it didn't happen.
Neither did it happen nine years later with Molitor, a future Hall of Famer with the Milwaukee Brewers and others. He made everything look easy with his bat after he'd perform his meticulous routine at the plate. He'd smooth out the dirt in the batter's box to his liking, and then he'd dig his right foot into the ground, and then he'd take a single practice swing before scaring the pitcher with his laser focus toward the mound.
As was the case during Rose's streak, the crowds were loud, colorful and electric for Molitor -- both home and away. There was no Internet back then, and nobody ever heard of bloggers. Plus, sports talk radio wasn't much, and you lacked the 24/7 coverage of cable television. Even so, you heard about the Rose and Molitor streaks everywhere and often.
For Uggla, the whole world is watching, but only quietly. You wouldn't expect more than that for a guy who was among the biggest busts in baseball at the plate during much of this season.
Through games of July 4, Uggla consistently hit under .200. This was after he spent his opening five years in the Major Leagues as a rising star with the Florida Marlins. Just last year, he hit .287 with 33 home runs and 105 RBIs before joining the Braves. But along came his brutal slump, and that was followed by his ability to unleash one of the most improbable hitting streaks in baseball history.
Uggla's streak began on July 5, when he went 2-for-3 at home against the Colorado Rockies. After spending most of the year below the Mendoza Line, his batting average soared to .178.
Now, it's at .220.
I'm guessing DiMaggio's ghost isn't worried.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.