Lou Gehrig’s tragically ironic consecutive-games-played-record was broken by the certainly great, but happily less biographicallly dramatic, Cal Ripken. The famous season and career home run records were broken in the steroids era. With those records now less hallowed, the single most memorable remaining baseball record is surely Joe DiMaggio’s streak of 56 consecutive games with at least one base hit, from mid-May to mid-July, 1941. Lots more on hitting streaks after the jump.
Hit streaks have an odd status for sabermetrically-oriented fans, because a long hit streak is as much a freakish occurrence as a substantive accomplishment. After all, as an expression of talent or value, one hit in four straight games is not generally more significant than two hits in each of two games and none in the next two. DiMaggio himself certainly had more productive stretches in his career than the 56-game streak. Sure, the 56-game streak was a superb hitting sequence for Joe D.: 247 PAs, with an on base percentage of .463 and a slugging percentage of .717, for an OPS of 1.181. But, to take one example, four years earlier, from May 23, 1937 through the first game of August 11 that year, DiMaggio put together a sequence of 74 games and 349 PAs with a .451 OBP and an .820 slugging percentage, for an astounding OPS of 1.271.
Yet it’s the 56-game streak for which DiMaggio is still best remembered. Long hitting streaks may be more show than substance, but in their very fragility, with the daily risk that each such streak can easily end at any time no matter how talented the batter, hitting streaks are a vivid, even romantic, part of baseball tradition. Hitting streaks encapsulate the daily effort at the heart of the sport to stave off irresistible imperfection as customarily symbolized by the inevitable advent of the hitless day.
In honor of the tradition of the hitting streak, then, and despite its limited practicality from a sabermetric point of view, I’ve put together a table of data that is, I think, not otherwise easily available. The table below is a list of the longest hitting streaks in the majors put together during each individual season from 1916 through 2012 (1916 being as far back as baseball-reference data currently goes for searching streaks in the Play Index). The table is not a list of the longest hitting streaks ever. Just as a list of the season-by-season home run champs is not a list of the biggest home run seasons ever, so the table below is a list of each season’s longest hitting streak, not a list of the longest hitting streaks ever. In 1972, no one had a longer hitting streak than the 19-game streak by Dave Cash of the Pirates. A 19-game streak would not make a list of the longest streaks ever unless it was an extremely comprehensive list. But because he did have the the longest hitting streak of 1972, Cash’s streak makes the table below just the same as every other season leader.
The table below also does not include some long streaks (or does not include some streaks in full) because it does not include streaks (or games within streaks) that cross over from or into another season. So for example, Lance Richbourg of the Braves had a 30-game hit streak across the 1927-28 seasons that was longer than any other streak over those two years, but Richbourg’s streak does not appear on this table because his streak consisted of the last 14 games of 1927 and the first 16 games of 1928, neither of which was long enough to be the longest streak of that particular season.
One oddity you may notice in the table is that DiMaggio led the majors with the longest streak not just in 1941 but the previous season as well, although in 1940 he led the majors with a comparatively puny 23-game streak. And Pete Rose, with the second-longest streak in the table at 44 games in 1979, also led the league the following season with a 23-game streak. These are the only two instances in the table in which a player was the sole MLB leader for longest streak of the year two years in a row. It is strange that they also happen to include the two longest in-season streaks in MLB history.
–Rose is the only player in the table to appear three different times — he had the longest streak in 1967, as well as the longest streaks of 1978 and 1979.
–Heinie Manush had the longest streak in both 1932 and 1933, but unlike Joe D. and Rose he tied for the lead in one of those years, 1932. But to drive home the point that Manush was Mr. Hitting Streak in those years, in 1933 he had both the season’s longest streak (33 games during July and August) and second-longest streak (26 games in May and June).
–Then there is Dave Parker, who appears in the table twice, both times for the same season, having tied himself for the majors’ longest streak of 1977 (22 games in April-May and again in July-August).
–There are a total of 111 streaks listed in the table — 97 seasons covered plus 14 extra listings because of ties at the top.
[table id=102 /]