|TOMMY HOLMES' 37-GAME HITTING STREAK|
By William G. Nicholson
Willie Davis gave it a good try in 1969, and Rico Carty in 1970 (both connecting in 31 straight games), but
Tommy Holmes still holds the modern National League record he set in 1945 for hitting in 37 consecutive games.
Thomas Francis Holmes, a chunky, slow-footed Brooklyn native, was a fine natural hitter. He had spent six years as a Yankee farmhand before joining Casey Stengel's Boston Braves in 1942. For the next ten years he staked out right-field at old Braves' Field, endearing himself to the fans with his easygoing manner, steady hitting, and his knack of turning routine fly balls into shoestring catches.
Holmes had his biggest year in 1945. He led the league in slugging percentage, hits, doubles, home runs, and total bases. He also led in fewest times struck out, 9, marking the only time in modern baseball that the home run leader was also the most difficult to fan.
Holmes' streak began in Philadelphia on June 6, in a noteworthy series consisting of a twilight game, a night game, and a doubleheader. The Braves won all four, and Tommy went 10 for 21, raising his average to .390.
For the most of the season he had been using a 35 ounce, 13-year-old bat which Johnny Frederick had used to hit 6 pinch homers for the 1932 Dodgers. Del Bissonette, a Braves' coach and an apple farmer, had collected a number of bats when he had been a player with the Dodgers; and the well-seasoned bats had been lying in an attic in Winthrop, Maine, for years until Bissonette brought them to Boston in the spring of 1945.
Another series at the end of the month, this time against the Cardinals, provided Holmes with an opportunity to extend his streak to 28 games and to raise his average to a heady .397. In those three games he went 7 for 10, hitting 4 homers and driving in 9 runs
The Braves met the Cubs on July 3 in Boston where Holmes broke the city's major league record of 28 games set by George Netkovich with the Red Sox in 1944. And by singling three times against the Cubs' ace Claude Passeau he raised his average to .403. But Holmes' second single on a Passeau fork ball broke the 1932 bat he had been using; however, he singled again in the ninth with his own bat as the Braves bowed 24-2:
Holmes was one game short of tying Rogers Hornsby's 1922 modern National League mark of 33 games when the Braves opened a doubleheader at home with the Pirates on July 6. A first inning double off Al Gerheauser tied the Hornsby mark, and another first inning double in the second game off Preacher Roe broke the 23-year-old record. If Holmes had been nervous, he showed no sign of it as he hit each double on first pitches. The umpires collected both balls and presented them to him as a rain-soaked crowd of 8,494 Braves' fans cheered wildly.
The new record intact, Holmes' streak went to 35 games the next day thanks to the first break he had had since June 6. A bad bounce single off Pirate first baseman Prank Col- man's glove in the fourth inning saved Holmes who went on to hit in two more games with the Pirates. The All-Star break found him with a .401 average and 37 consecutive games.
The Braves faced the Cubs in a doubleheader on July 12 in Chicago. With Hank Wyse feeding the Braves sinker balls and sliders before 30,000 fans, Holmes drove "Peanuts" Lowery to the left field wall with a line shot in the first inning which the speedy Cub hauled in. He grounded out to second base in the 4th and 6th innings, and the streak was finally broken in the 9th when Tommy grounded weakly back to the box and Wyse completed his 6-1 victory, a sparkling 3-hitter. Paradoxically enough, Wrigley Field should have been
a good park for a hitter like Holmes, but the Braves' slugger had only hit .150 there up to the fateful July 12 game.
Outside of the Boston newspapers, little notice had been taken of Holmes' shattering of Rogers Hornsby's mark, and even less when his own streak was stopped. Although he set four offensive Braves' records in 1945, he lost the batting title late in the season, .352 to .355, to Phil Cavarretta, the long-time Cubs' first baseman.
The Boston sportswriters made up for any lack of attention to Holmes' achievement elsewhere by awarding him the Peter F. Kelley memorial plaque as the city's outstanding player for the year. The Braves and their fans rewarded their hero with one of the most highly prized objects imaginable in the last of the war years, a new Ford sedan.
In summary, Holmes went to bat 156 times in his 37-game streak. He collected 66 hits, giving him a batting average of .423. This compares to the .408 average compiled by Willie Keeler in his oldtime National League record of 44 consecutive games in 1897. Holmes' extra-base hits included 11 doubles, 3 triples, and 9 homers. He scored 43 runs and knocked in 42, while playing against all seven NL opponents. It was a truly fine performance.
SNOWING UNDER THE COMPETITION
In 1920 Babe Ruth startled the baseball world by hitting 54 home runs, while his nearest competitor in the AL, George Sisler, hit only 19. In 1962, young Willie Davis of he Dodgers stole 32 bases, normally enough to lead the league, but teammate Maury Wills stole 104 that season. Both Ruth and Wills outclassed their closest rivals by essentially a 3-1 margin, a domination that was almost embarrassing to the runners-up.
In 1971, Ron Hunt was hit by pitches a record 50 times. The season averages indicate that the number 2 player in that category in the NL was teammate Rusty Staub, who was hit only 9 times. This gave Hunt more than s 5-1 margin.
The prime examples of major league runaway races in the various batting departments since 1900 are shown below: