No one will ever have a worse All-Star game than Dan Uggla

No one will ever have a worse All-Star game than Dan Uggla

We are each assigned a certain and limited number of hours on earth, and there is no law or rule or norm that dictates that any of these be used to watch the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Even if you are among the Americans who still go to an office, and even if that office has not replaced its water cooler with something motion-activated and eternal on the frieze, and even if the cultural siloing and antisocial tendencies that go far to define the current era have not obliterated ancient rituals around the gurgling totem, I can promise you this: you will not find yourself out of the loop with your colleagues if you can not break down the “Battle of Luises” that competes between Castillo and Arraez in the fifth round.

Still, if you did not get the chance, you went to this blog for viewing advice: MLB All-Star Game is deeply lame. It offers the public poorer baseball played for lower stakes by more skilled but less interested players, against a backdrop of mawkishness at one end and pathetic relevance hunting at the other. At some point Tuesday night, John Smoltz will cry over Sandy Koufax; on another, Kyle Schwarber will record the least viral TikTok in history. But sometimes a man can raise the midsummer classic not by exceeding any of it, but by leaning – or, more precisely, by falling his ass-over-teak – into it. This perfect marriage between medium and artist is rare, but it has happened. In July 2008, Dan Uggla was baptized with the brush.

As an emblem of the changes baseball underwent for the most part – the slow and sudden embrace of certain statistics, abandonment in response to long-standing aesthetic conventions – Uggla was unassailable. He played second base, in the first moment in history when some of his proportions, skills and temperament were allowed to do so. Into the position traditionally staffed by some of the most graceful and intuitive athletes the sport has known, went this snarling and wildly overvascular rectangle, his name a Pynchonian bullseye, his turn a mad-on-daddy-overcut. He tended to either rocket a homer or corks himself thorax-deep into the dirt of the mixing box. He did not hit many grounders or put them convincingly. He was an anthropomorphized energy drink bred on Gary Sheffield highlights, a mitten attached to a blocking sleigh.

As it happened, Uggla was also an All-Star in ’08, for the second time in his three years with the Florida Marlins. He deserved it. During the first 95 games of that season, he got 23 homers and posted a .978 OPS, and paid off the effort the Marlins made when they claimed him in the White Elephant Party of the Rule 5 Draft back in 2005: that anyway glove-fluttering and his own shoelaces-trampling indignities he suffered defensively would be offset by his pioneering work in the forearm circumference. The owl was who he was, and when he showed up at Yankee Stadium, both the worst and most likely scenario seemed to be that he struck once or twice while Tim McCarver was talking about Joe Morgan.

Instead, Uggla, as part of the last wave of position players from the National League bench, went into the sixth round of a match that, disgusting and fun, was to go 15, and finish well over one in the morning. These were the days when the All-Star Game decided the home court advantage in the World Series, so no matter what anti-competitive decisions had been made in the spirit of inclusion—Joe Crede replaces Alex Rodriguez, reads a cursed excerpt from the baseball reference log – it had to declare a winner. The owl was therefore given nine and a half frames to write what is still an unparalleled masterpiece in the All-Star Game: an oh-for-four with three strikeouts and three errors, a ballet of muscle-bound misery.

Top of 8th1 on, no outs, NL 2, AL 2—K

Our hero survived his first and a half innings without incident, and even got a pop-up, before coming up to beat Jonathan Papelbon in the eighth. Papelbon threw a high heater; The owl swung late and under it. Not too shameful, all told, but he received a lovely intro from Joe Buck, who called the Owl “perhaps one of the best hits you’ve ever heard at home.” Buck continued, “All this guy does, a former Rule 5 pick from Arizona, is pound home runs.”

Top of the 10thrunners on first and third, one out, NL 3, AL 3—GIDP

In the tenth round, Russell Martin worked a bat in eight places for a single on Mariano Rivera. Miguel Tejada then pushed Martin to third place via a hit-and-run, with an assist from Michael Young’s shortstop styles. (Just a huge selection of gentlemen with stiff hips, here.) Better hitters than Uggla have stuck Mo’s cutter in the ground, on larger spots. Still, the boy did Dan ever break it. Anything but a double game, and Uggla could have been … well, if not a hero, the guy who let everyone go and get to what they wanted to do on a business trip in New York. But despite Uggla pulling down, Uggla failed to knock out a (not particularly steady or fast) relay from Ian Kinsler and Young. The match remained a draw. The game continued.

At the bottom of the 10thbases empty, no outputs, NL 3, AL 3—E4

The reason why marsupials have such short arms, according to Jim Cooper from Syracuse University, is that as little ‘roo tykes’, they need these things near full force mostly out of the gate, to pull themselves up in their mother’s bag. There is a trade-off involved: what is strongly early remains stumpy later. “The idea is that since they need their forelegs to climb over their mother’s womb at birth, they end up with this shape of their forelegs later in life,” Cooper said. I like to imagine a similar dynamic at work between four-year-old Daniel and the Uggla bench press family. Anyway, at the bottom of the tenth, he did not quite manage to reach a Young bounce. The official goal scorer judged it a mistake.

At the bottom of the 10thone on, no outs, NL 3, AL 3—E4

Already on the next course, Carlos Quentin rolled a routine double-play grounder straight at Uggla, who, as you may have guessed at the time, did something out of the ordinary. That it was struck between the feet triggered a recognizable one oops! oops! response, the ball and the Owl two smartphone-lowered pedestrians meet in the middle of the intersection. The owl slammed down on it in a way that, looking back now, triggers in me a flare-up of sympathy sciatica. The ball slipped under his glove, the Owl overturned, and Buck said, “Wow.”

A deliberate walk followed, and a merciful universe could have taken the resulting situation – full bases, no outs, one “second baseman” with embarrassment and rage on back-to-back beef – and ordered an end-to-end RBI. This spring, the National League came out of the jam, thanks in part to another ground ball that Uggla managed to throw to the home plate and not into his own kneecap.

The top of the 12thbases loaded, one out, NL 3, AL 3—K

If I’m a little naughty, it’s not because I know anything distasteful about Dan Uggla personally, but rather because he seems to me to be the hardest etched vector of artlessness and cynicism that had then begun to characterize the 21.stcentury iteration of his sport. The strain of Hedge Fund Brain, which had made the front offices understand and pack players like bundles of nested statistical variances, had by this time jumped off and started infecting the players themselves. The owl was its perfect host: without uniqueness, the algorithm as style. I hoped that baseball – and life, I guess – rewarded another mind, and therefore took his triumphs as insults and failures as good omens.

Joakim Soria, a replacement (and other former Rule 5 choice) who was hired after AL had exhausted his Papelbon-Rivera-Francisco Rodriguez trifecta, was in every way the opposite of Owl Glass. Meet the Owl for the first time in the life of 12th inning Soria started him with two fast balls and from these he pulled everything he needed to know. The third course was a 67-mile-per-hour curveball, rainbowed into the heart of the zone. The owl swung a thread of wet spaghetti. My soul sings.

At the bottom of the 13th (I mean, can you imagine?), Bases empty, one out, NL 3, AL 3—E4

This was not really his fault. A JD Drew grounder caught a divot on his last jump and shot up into Ugglas’ stomach, where he put it in and turned it around first, but not in time. McCarver (rightly, in my opinion) campaigned for the piece to go like a base hit. Still, this is the All-Star game we’re talking about, and if you’ve spent all night playing jai alai with your mitten, and you’ve got a chance to make up for it with a more treasuring than average play, you should just simply do some Star Shit! I thank the official goal scorer, who clearly agreed, for helping to justify this 14 years later blog.

When you no longer have fun.

Top of the 15thbases empty, no outputs, NL 3, AL 3—K

The whole strategic and analytical deal, with a guy with three true outcomes like Uggla, was that in the long run what he did and what he did not do would shake the team’s honor. In fact, the unattractive nature of his style was part of his value: where short-sighted clubs concerned that their midfielders “can stretch their limbs fully” can look at the micro – the turns and misses, the non-made acting plays – enlightened organizations driven by front-office viewers with deep rotations of elegant spectacle frames would wait for the homers to compensate for all this.

You can see why a show with one game might not be a great showcase for a guy like this. Nevertheless, he came to court in 15th with a chance to render the ideal Uggla experience in miniature. A grunting mash to wipe out an entire night of shit. Instead, perhaps because of the sheer, draining embarrassment of one chin up, buddy, from Chipper Jones, Owl swung through a Scott Kazmir fastball. That was the last mark he made on this box. Who won the game? Who cares? I can say it was not Dan friggin ‘Owl, that’s for sure.

“I’ve never been down,” Uggla said after the fight by his closet. “You shake it off, you move on, you keep playing.” He insisted that he had enjoyed the night, and – the famous thing you say about nights you enjoy – that it would have no bearing on the rest of his season. It is difficult to say whether he was right. Ugglas OPS was 200 points lower in the second half than in the first, and he managed only nine homers, and he also ended up with the fourth most strikeouts in baseball – these may have been indicators of self-confidence in the crater, or they may have just been Uggla Owl-ing.

He would top 30 home runs in each of the next two years, and then do it again after being switched to the Braves. He wanted to make another All-Star team as well, in a season where he led the league in walks and somehow still had an OPS + of 98. The point here is not to examine the effect a nightmare trip had on a career – This seems like a good place to point out that Uggla earned more than $ 75 million as a major league and has found himself in a post-retirement life seemingly free of the fourth-story-of-TMZ scandal that could hit former MLBs in the US Southeast – nor (for the most part) to pile dirt on a ripping athlete. It’s certainly not to encourage you to watch tonight’s All-Star Game in hopes of seeing something similar, or for some other reason. The point is to appreciate baseball, even in its most troublesome and contrived and purposeful player-friendly version, which still retains some of its definitive ability to ruin your life. The All-Star Game is a joke, but this sport can always play a bigger one.

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