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Uggla's chances to surpass 56 slim, but chase still dramatic


Dan Uggla extends his hit streak to 31 games in his first at-bat vs. Florida on Wednesday. (Getty Images)  
Dan Uggla extends his hit streak to 31 games in his first at-bat vs. Florida on Wednesday. (Getty Images)  

With no rainouts, no oh-fers and few jitters, the Braves' Dan Uggla will arrive on history's doorstep a month from now. If he keeps laboring, he'll greet the great DiMaggio just after Labor Day.

I can see it already. The Man continues to punch out hits as consistently as a certain Lady, fans will go gaga ogling Uggla. Early September, the NFL will look like yesterday's women's soccer news. Back to school will screech to a halt as Atlanta sends even its 'A' students home to watch this latter-day Georgia Peach.

Uggla will aim to tie Joe DiMaggio's record 56-game hitting streak in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Sept. 6, then be in position for No. 57 the next day in the series finale in Philly and. ...

Wait. I'm dreaming.

You bet I'm dreaming!

Longest Single-Season
Hit Streaks Since 1980
Player, TeamYearGames
Paul Molitor, Brewers198739
Jimmy Rollins, Phillies200536
Chase Utley, Phillies200635
Luis Castillo, Marlins200235
Benito Santiago, Padres198734
Dan Uggla, Braves201131
Vladimir Guerrero, Expos199931
Ken Landreaux, Twins198031
Click here for all-time list

Right here, right now, in today's game ... darned few things would be cooler than 56.

The air has been sucked out of all home run drama, career or single-season. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire ... those feats have faded away into the shadows next to the empty steroid cartons.

(People can't even summon the energy for Minnesota's Jim Thome, who is on deck to become only the eighth man in history to reach 600 homers. Given the deafening silence, you'd think Thome was two away from some sacrifice flies record.)

Denny McLain's 31 wins in 1968? Awesome. And unobtainable today, when most starting pitchers are granted their exit papers for the evening before your old third-grade bedtime.

Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA in '68? Incredible. And since the Flat Earth Society took charge of Gibson's pyramid-style pitching mound immediately thereafter, forget it.

"The 56-game hitting streak probably is going to be one of the three that's always the toughest to break," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle says. "The other two are pitching. I don't know if you'll ever knock down Cy Young's complete games record [749] or Walter Johnson's shutouts [110].

"A 56-game hitting streak, there are certain numbers of hitters you can look at that have nothing to do with steroids, nothing to do with home runs, and you can gauge them through the steroid period to get a good feel for the game. ..."

Fifty-six is one of the last pure numbers in the game that is both realistically obtainable ... yet all but unreachable.

At 31 consecutive games, Uggla now has produced the season's longest hitting streak, and the game's longest since Philadelphia's Chase Utley hit 35 in 2006.

Realistically, his chances of catching DiMaggio probably stand somewhere between that of Joe D. himself coming back to life and Pete Rose's reinstatement from the suspended list by week's end.

Heck, Uggla's chances of even extending his current streak another nine games to join Rose as the only men to reach 40 since DiMaggio's 56 in 1941 are remote. Rose ratcheted up to 44 consecutive games in 1978 before his ended against the Braves on Aug. 1 that summer.

Even a 40-game streak would be enough to command strong national attention.

But were Uggla -- or anyone else in our lifetime -- to approach 56, now that would be one of the sexiest accomplishments we could ever see.

"It's definitely up there," says Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, whose 39-game streak in 1987 remains the longest since 1980 -- and the second-longest since DiMaggio. "I think you can make an argument that other numbers are not so well known.

"A hitting streak captures people's imaginations. And with DiMaggio holding the record, it adds to the allure."

Even at 31, Uggla currently is tied for the sixth-longest single-season streak in the past 31 years.

"It's not easy, because you get a lot of media attention. That's the first thing," says White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who was a coach on the Marlins' staff when Luis Castillo reached 35 consecutive games nine summers ago. "Second of all, you're under pressure to get a hit every day and don't worry about it.

"You have to be strong mentally to prepare yourself every day. It's not easy. And right now, you are facing different pitchers -- relievers, lefties, righties. Baseball is different now."

Uggla so far has faced 60 different pitchers during his 31-game streak. Earlier this season, the Dodgers' Andre Ethier battled 62 different pitchers during his 30-game streak.

In '41, DiMaggio faced only 55 during his 56-game streak.

But while Guillen is among the chorus of those citing specialized pitching as one big reason why it is more difficult to build a hitting streak of any serious length today, the flip side is that today's players do have certain advantages over those from DiMaggio's era.

"You have more travel, but it's better," Molitor says in a nod to chartered flights and catered meals. "And ballparks are better."

And while a streaker like Uggla may face multiple pitchers in a given game, he can study every nuance of each pitcher via video, an advantage that was unavailable years ago.

That's certainly not to say things are easier today. But it's also not across-the-board harder than the old days, either.

Mostly, hitting streaks are made of the same ingredients as always: Skill, focus, discipline ... and randomness. It's that last variable that, more than anything, adds the intrigue.

Uggla, who next faces Carlos Zambrano as the Braves open a series against the Cubs in Atlanta on Friday night, is hitting .355 during his current streak with a .409 on-base percentage. And as colleague Danny Knobler notes, his 12 homers are the most of any streak of 30-or-more games since DiMaggio, who thumped 15 during his 56-gamer.

"I don't think it's impossible," Molitor says of a 56-gamer today. "You'd have to have the right individual who could handle it day-in and day-out. Streaks in the mid-20s now gather a lot of attention, and it increases in the 30s."

Molitor's streak ended at 39 games in memorable fashion: With him in the on-deck circle in the ninth inning. He was 0-for-4 and the Brewers were locked in a scoreless game with Cleveland on Aug. 26, 1987, when Rick Manning socked a game-winning single ... and was roundly booed by his own fans in old Milwaukee County Stadium.

"There's a number out there where you're going to end up," Molitor says. "Whatever it is, you want to make sure the pressure isn't the reason it stops."

If that number even runs up to within, say, a dozen of DiMaggio, whoever it is, count me in.

Already, it's cool enough that Uggla pulled Rico Carty's name back into the conversation Wednesday by equaling the Carty's Atlanta-era record hit streak of 31.

But, 56? Something that's been done only once, and 70 years ago at that? Paul Simon probably would even mention the guy in song.


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