Dan Uggla’s hitting streak reminded me of the old television series, The Twilight Zone. One of the best motifs on many of the original Twilight Zone episodes concerned ordinary people. An average person with nothing very special about them would suddenly be faced with a fantastic situation.  There was the episode “One for the Angels” where a lifelong salesman, Ed Wynn, gets to do a last sales pitch to save the life of a child. There was “Mr Dingle, the Strong,” where Martians arbitrary picked bar-room braggart Burgess Meredith and gave him the strength of three hundred men. There was the episode where mentally unstable William Shatner faced a nasty Gremblin on his plane trip in “Nightmare at 20,000 feet.”  Also, there was the classic baseball episode, “The Mighty Casey,”where journeyman baseball manager Jack Warden finds a robot pitcher to help his last place team.

In major league baseball most of the players are extraordinary athletes. For every ten thousand kids who dream about becoming a major league baseball player, only one makes it. Yet among major league players, 99% do not have extraordinary careers. Most hang in for six to ten years at the major league level between the ages of 25 and 35, have a couple of good seasons, four or five average one and a few poor ones.  This was the trajectory of Dan Uggla until July 5th, last month when he entered the twilight zone. He went on a 33 game hitting streak. He is now tied for the 15th longest hitting streak in the last 100 years. Yet this streak is perhaps the most amazing of all because he was not an extraordinary player before the streak.

There was nothing really special about Uggla before the streak began. His six year career starting in 2006, included two good ones, 2006, his rookie year (27 homers, 90 RBIs and .282 average) and 2010 and three average ones in between. He did have a good year last year, finishing 5th in home-runs and RBIs in the National League with a career best .287 batting average. Before that, the only category where he finished in the top ten was strike-outs, in 2007, 2008, and 2009. In those years he batted very average batting averages of  .245, .260 and .243. Up to July 5th this year, when the streak started, it looked like whatever small promise he had shown was over.

Half the season was gone and he was hitting just .173. Usually, if a guy hits .173 for that long, he is out of the starting line-up, and shortly thereafter out of the game. It was then that he entered the Twilight Zone and had a streak that many of the greatest hitters in baseball history never had. Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriquez never had a streak that long.  Over the last 100 years, only 15 other players ever have (Ty Cobb did it twice).

Here is a list along with their lifetime batting averages and the the year they did it.

  • 1. Joe Dimaggio – .325 (1941) 56
  • 2. Pete Rose – .303 (1978) 45
  • 3. George Sisler – .340 (1922) 41
  • 4. Ty Cobb – .366 (1911) 40
  • 5. Paul Molitor – .306 (1987) 39
  • 6. Jimmy Rollins – .272 (2005-06) 38
  • 7. Tommy Holmes – .302 (1945) 37
  • 8. George Sissler – .340 (1924-1925) 35
  • 9. Ty Cobb – .366 (1917) 35
  • 10. Luis Castillo – .290 (2002) 35
  • 11. Chase Utley – .293 (2006) 35
  • 12. George McQuinn – .276 (1938) 34
  • 13. Dom Dimaggio – .298 (1949) 34
  • 14. Benito Santiago – .263 (1987) 34
  • 15. Rogers Hornsby – .358 (1922) 33
  • 15. Heinie Manush – .330 (1933) 33
  • 15. Dan Uggla – .258  (2011) 33

Of the 15 other players who had streaks of 33 games or more, Uggla had the lowest lifetime batting average at .256. Nine of them had lifetime averages over 300. Six had less: Jimmy Rollins (.272), Luis Castillo (.290), Chase Utley (.293), George McQuinn (.276), Dom DiMaggio (.296), and Benito Santiago (.263).

We should note that player’s lifetime averages tend to drop at the end of their careers. At the time some of these men had their hitting streaks, their lifetime averages were higher than their final career averages. These were the lifetime averages at the time those with averages under .300 started their streaks:  Jimmy Rollins. .273, Luis Castillo .282, Chase Utley .290, George McQuinn .270, Dom Dimaggio .293 Benito Santiago .295.

Thus, in the past 100 years, nobody with a lifetime average less than .270 had ever had a hitting streak of 33 games. No one until Dan Uggla with a lifetime average of just .256 did it. The amazing thing is that this is not an episode of the Twilight Zone.