While getting an annual physical yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice all of the little inspirational quotes that had been meticulously typed, printed, cut out, and taped generously throughout the lab technician’s office. Some were quite good – you can’t go wrong with MLK or JFK. I have to admit that when I walked out of there, after having had blood drawn amidst a sea of “you can do it’s”, I was ready to charge hell with a squirt gun – or at least charge less squeamishly into the next “less fun” parts of the physical.
One of the quotes I saw however, has been troubling me. It’s one that I was familiar with, but had never really thought about:
“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run” – Babe Ruth
For Babe Ruth, that’s true. In fact, among players with 200 or more home runs, his strikeout to home run ratio is fourth best all-time. I wonder though, how Atlanta Brave second baseman Dan Uggla would have felt if he had read that quote last season. In 2013, Dan Uggla had the worst OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) of any player (with 22 or more home runs in a season) since 1900. I won’t go into the the details as to why that’s not good – but trust me, that’s not good. In addition, Uggla struck out 7.7 times for every home run he hit last season. By comparison, Babe Ruth struck out 1.8 times for every home run he hit in his career.
For Dan Uggla last season, every strike led to the next strike out, or to the next measly pop up to the shortstop, and eventually to not seeing his name daily on the lineup card. It became so bad for him that, although he is among the all-time leaders for home runs by a second baseman, he was benched during the playoffs – when his team needed him the most. “It (stinks) for me, but this is bigger than me,” Uggla said. “This is about the team. You don’t feel part of the group. But once you get past that, you calm down and you realize your teammates still love you.”
Ruth’s quote still holds true (to a point). Every strike does lead to the next home run, provided that you keep hitting home runs. But even for Ruth, that eventually stopped. His last “strike” led to a harmless ground out in the last at bat of his major league career. Dan Uggla is very likely to hit many more home runs in his career, but it’s anyone’s guess about “what else” the “strikes in-between” may lead to.
In 1920, Babe Ruth was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees for cash. Yankee owner Harry Frazee needed the cash to fund his Broadway play – “No No Nanette”. “The curse of the Bambino” ensued, as Red Sox fans blamed the trade for the years of World Series futility for the Red Sox that lasted into the 21st Century.
It’s also a curse to be put under the weight of believing that each of our failures will lead us to an eventual self-crediting success that somehow makes those failures seem OK. Last season, Dan Uggla’s failures led him to the bench, and helped lead his team to lose in the playoffs. However, Uggla will be back at it again this season, starting at second base. He knows that each strike will bring him closer to depending on the only thing that can sustain him, the love of his teammates and the trust of his coaches (something outside of himself).