|Consecutive-Game Hitting Streaks|
By Ronald G. Liebman
Pete Rose provided the nation's baseball fans with sustained thrills during the summer of 1978 when he made the most serious challenge yet mounted to Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak record with the New York Yankees in 1941. Rose surpassed the modern National League record of 37 consecutive games, set by Tommy Holmes of the Boston Braves in 1945 and went on to tie the all-time National League record of 44 games, set back in 1897 by Willie Keeler of the old Baltimore Orioles. Rose, in his 16th and final season with Cincinnati before signing with the Phillies in December 1978, tied Keeler's mark on the night of July 31 in view of a national TV audience before being stopped the next night by Atlanta's rookie Larry McWilliams and veteran relief pitcher Gene Garber.
This article will supply further information on the top hitting streaks, and will include a listing of the top hitting streaks in the NL and AL for each year since the pitching distance was set at the present 601/2 feet in 1893.
Both DiMaggio and Rose attracted attention as they passed first one record and then another in their pursuits. DiMaggio's first target was his own high of 23 consecutive games, set one year earlier in 1940. He then aimed for the all-time Yankee record of 29, shared by Roger Peckinpaugh in 1919 and Earle Combs in 1931 (Babe Ruth's high was 26 in1921). DiMaggio then passed the modern National League high up to that time of 33 games by Rogers Hornsby of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1922, followed by Ty Cobb's 40 in 1911 and George Sisler's AL record of 41 games for St. Louis Browns in 1922. After DiMaggio surpassed Keeler's record, attention continued to be on DiMaggio to see how high a streak he would achieve. He had achieved a 61-game streak in the Pacific Coast League in 1933 when he was only 18 years old.
With Pete Rose, attention similarly focused on him as he ascended each step of the ladder, with the added feature that Rose was a switch hitter, gaining his hits from both the lefthand and righthand sides of the plate. Rose's first target was his own previous high of 25 (set in 1967), then the Cincinnati modern one-season high of 27 achieved by Edd Roush in 1920 and 1924 and by Vada Pinson in 1965, then the modern high for switch hitters of 28 by Red Schoendienst of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1954, followed by the all-time Cincinnati one-season high of 30 by Elmer E. Smith in 1898, and the switch hitter's high of 33 set by George Davis of the New York Giants in 1893.
When Rose passed Tommy Holmes' modern-day National League high of 37 (with Boston Braves in the war year of 1945), Holmes went on the field at Shea Stadium in front of a large crowd to congratulate the Cincinnati Star. Holmes is currently employed as the Mets' Director of Community Relations. Newspapers carried daily charts as Rose ascended the ladder till he stopped at 44, the same as Keeler. Technically, Keeler hit in 45 consecutive league games, since he got a hit in the last NL game of 1896 and the first 44 NL games of 1897, but hitting streak records are normally figured on the basis of single-season accomplishment.
Many unique facts emerge in the study of hitting streaks. Chuck Klein of the Philadelphia Phillies had two streaks of exactly 26 games each in 1930 to be the leader that year. He hit safely in 135 of his team's 156 games in 1930. Willie Keeler, besides his 44-game streak in 1897 had a separate streak later in the season of 2 or more hits in 11 consecutive games, a record he shares with Paul Waner of the 1927 Pittsburgh Pirates. Tris Speaker of the 1912 Boston Red Sox had a 30-game streak in 1912 (overlooked at the time) and 2 others in the same year of exactly 20 games, making him the only player known to have as many as 3 hitting streaks of 20 or more games in the same season.
In 1942, the year after Joe DiMaggio's feat, Joe Gordon of the Yankees had a 29-game streak to tie Combs and Peckinpaugh for the 2nd highest Yankee streak. Five games after Gordon's streak began, Buddy Hassett of the Yankees began a streak of exactly 20 games. The 2 streaks ran concurrently for the Yankees in 20 consecutive games. Another ironic element is that, in the more than 35 years since then, the Yankees have had only one subsequent streak reaching 20 games-a streak of exactly 20 by Mickey Rivers in 1976! Many Yankee streaks in that period reach the 15-19 level, but the number "20" became a jinx.
The only other known instance of two teammates with streaks of 20 or more consecutive games running concurrently was the situation on the Pittsburgh Pirates of 1927. Outfielders Paul Waner and Clyde Barnhart each had 23-game streaks, with Barnhart's beginning 2 games after Waner's and running concurrently for 21 games. Joe Gordon led the league with his 29-game streak in 1942, but Rivers, P. Waner, and Barnhart failed to lead in those particular years. Two great outfielders who were contemporaries, Edd Roush of Cincinnati NL and Sam Rice of Washington AL, each led their respective leagues in longest hitting streaks for both 1920 and 1924. Roush and Rice finished 1-2 in the Writers' Hall of Fame Election in 1960 though neither was named on enough ballots to be elected; they made the Hall of Fame via the Veteran's Committee in consecutive years-1962 for Roush and 1963 for Rice.
It might be noted that two of the top streakers-DiMaggio, who is tops, and Bill Dahlen of Chicago NL who had a 42-game streak in 1894 - each followed up with another hitting streak after being stopped on the main streak. DiMaggio, after his streak was stopped on the night of July 17, 1941, launched another streak of 16 games to reach 72 out of 73. Bill Dahlen, stopped on August 7, 1894, then had a 28-game streak to reach 70 out of 71. It is not widely known that DiMaggio developed an ulcer condition of his stomach from the pressures of the streak, which later resulted in a medical discharge from the Army. This condition also was the prime reason that DiMaggio did not accept any offers to manage a baseball team in later years. DiMaggio, incidentally, hit 1 5 homers during his big streak, whereas Rose and Keeler did not have any and Bill Dahlen only 4!
DiMaggio's brother Dominic, who played for the Boston Red Sox, matched Joe's achievement by leading the league twice in having the longest hitting streak. Joe D. has 23 in 1940 besides his record 56 in 1941, and Dom had 34 in 1949 and 27 in 1951. There were two other instances of brothers leading the league at one time or another in longest hitting streaks. Harry Walker of the Cardinals led with 29 in 1943, and his brother Dixie Walker tied for the lead with 16 in 1946 while playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Ed Delahanty of the Phillies led the NL with 31 in 1899, and his brother Jim Delahanty led with 18 for Detroit AL in 1910. Ironically, Paul Waner (despite his 23-game streak in 1927) did not lead the league, whereas his brother Lloyd Waner, a Pittsburgh teammate, led the NL with 22-game streaks in both 1932 and 1938.
The top rookie streak compiled is 27 by Jimmy Williams of Pittsburgh NL in 1899; he also had a 26-game streak the same year. Guy Curtwright of the Chicago White Sox had a 26-game streak in 1943 for the best since 1900, with four rookies in the National League all having 23-game streaks: Joe Rapp of the 1921 Phillies, Richie Ashburn of the 1948 Phillies, Alvin Dark of 1948 Boston Braves, and Mike Vail of the 1975 NY Mets. Willie McCovey, who came up to the S. F. Giants in 1959 (July 30), had a 22- game streak and hit safely in 43 of the 52 games in which he participated. At the other extreme was Ty Cobb, who had 21-game hitting streaks in the 22nd and 23rd years of his 24-year career to be a leader or co-leader each of those seasons. Cobb also led with a 25-game streak in his second season (1st full year) in 1906.
Besides Speaker (who had three streaks of 20 or more games in 1912), Dahlen, Klein, and Jimmy Williams, who were all mentioned earlier, there are many other players who had two streaks of 20 or more games in the same season. In fact, DiMaggio and Rose gave an indication of what was to come by turning the trick in seasons prior to the big streaks. Joe D. compiled streaks of 22 and 21 games during 1937, and Pete Rose had two streaks of 20 in 1977. Three players in the 1970's compiled two streaks of 20 or more games in the same season. In addition to Rose, they were Al Oliver of Pittsburgh NL, who had streaks of 23 and 21 games in 1974, and Steve Garvey of the L. A. Dodgers, who started the 1978 season with a 21- game streak on opening day and had a 20-game streak stopped when he went hitless on the final day of the season.
Keeler hit safely in his first 44 games for the 1897 Orioles, George Sisler began the 1925 American League season with a 34-game streak for the St. Louis Browns, and Ron LeFlore of the Detroit Tigers excited American League fans with one or more hits in the first 30 games in which he batted in 1976. Ironically, each of them had a holdover "streak" of only one game from the previous season-with Keeler's total of 45 being the top 2-year streak. Two other notable two-year streaks were compiled by Charlie Grimm for Pittsburgh and Vada Pinson of Cincinnati. Pinson's streak encompassed the last 27 games of 1965 and the first 4 games of 1966 for 31 games. Grimm hit safely in his last 5 games of 1922 and his first 25 games of 1923 for a 30-game streak. Bill Dahlen of the Chicago NL team notched his 42-game streak in 1894 and during the same year Billy Hamilton of Philadelphia had a 36-game streak, making Hamilton the only player with a streak of 30 or more not to be a season leader in his league. In 1922, Sisler's 41-game streak for the Browns and Hornsby's 33-game streak for the Cardinals both excited St. Louis fans in the same year, and set modern records in each league. Gabby Hartnett's 24-game streak for the Chicago Cubs in 1937 seems to be the longest streak by a catcher, with Ray Fosse having 23 games in a row in the AL for the 1970 Cleveland Indians.
George Brett of the K. C. Royals had three hits in each of six consecutive games in 1976, and Milt Stock of the Brooklyn NL team (known that year as the Robins in honor of their manager Wilbert Robinson) had four consecutive games of four hits each in 1925. Roberto Clemente of the Pittsburg Pirates had five hits in each of two consecutive games (one of them a 16-inning game) in 1970, and Cal McVey, who played for Chicago in the first season of 1876, had two consecutive six-hit games that year. Another early player, Paul Hines of Providence NL, linked a six-hit game and a five-hit game consecutively in 1879. The top World Series streak was 17 games by Hank Bauer of the N.Y. Yankees (7-1956, 7-1957, 3-1958). Roberto Clemente of the Pirates made a hit in all 14 World Series games he played, 7 in 1960 and 7 in 1971.
Hitting streaks are not terminated when a player misses a game or does not come to bat. If none of a player's trips to the plate in a game result in an official at-bat (such as walks, sacrifice bunts, hit-by-pinch, or defensive interference), the streak is not affected. The singular exception is that a sacrifice fly, a case where the batter is attempting to hit the ball, would end the streak. Ron Santo of the Cubs in 1966, between the first and second games of his 28-game streak, had a game where he had 4 walks and 1 hit-by-pitch with no officials at-bats! Foul balls were not counted as strikes until 1901 in the NL and 1903 in the AL, except for foul bunts and foul tips.
So here is the list of yearly hitting streak leaders since 1893, based on the best data presently available. We have tried to iron out discrepancies and incomplete data for many years, mostly before 1920. Ty Cobb appears as a league leader five times, Sam Crawford four times, and Tris Speaker, Chuck Klein, and Willie Keeler three times each. The leaders range from Joe DiMaggio's 56 in 1941 to Everett Scott's 14 for the Red Sox in 1914.
LONGEST CONSECUTIVE GAME HITTING STREAKS EACH SEASON
Note: (S) denotes that the streak started the season.
(F) denotes that the streak finished the season.