Hitting streaks (Patreon begins!)
So I'm not going to lie to you ... I wasn't intending to actually start this new blog for a couple of weeks. But a series of crazy things happened.
I finished my Patreon page.
It said, "Do you want to make it live?" I figured, sure, why not?
I thought, "Well, it's live, I might as well let a few people know about it."
And suddenly, well, people began signing up.
I can't thank you enough for being my charter Patreon members. Assuming we get to the point where this thing builds up a little, you folks will be first in line for all sorts of cool bonus stuff. I was thinking of making JoeBlog/Green Bay Packer-style stock certificates for you. But let's just see where this crazy ride is going first.
I've got a handful of stories done or nearly done -- including the first batch for the Baseball 100 -- but I'm going to wait till my original launch date to begin unveiling those. However, you were nice enough to come aboard right away, so I will respond with some posts right away. I've been working on this hitting streaks piece for a little while. It's pretty fun.
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Baseball hitting streaks are not quite like anything else in sports. On the one hand, they're the simplest thing imaginable: We're just talking about the number of consecutive games in which a player gets a hit. On the other hand, they're kind of mystical. Before I get into all this, let's ask a super fun trivia question:
In 1941, as everyone knows, Joe DiMaggio had a 56-game hitting streak. Forty-six years later, in 1987, Paul Molitor had what is still the longest American League hitting streak since DiMaggio's, when he hit in 39 straight game. So here's the question: Who had the longest American League hitting streak between DiMaggio and Molitor? (We'll get to the answer in a bit.)
Dan Uggla was a lifetime .241 hitter. In 2011, at age 31 and with his decline phase about to begin in earnest, he hit .233 ... his batting average was helped somewhat by his career-high 36 home runs. He never really came close to hitting that many home runs or hitting .233 again.
But that year, Dan Uggla had a 33-game hitting streak. The odds against that are pretty staggering -- roughly a million to one, though the math can be tricky.
How rare is a 33-game hitting streak? Stan Musial never had one. Wade Boggs never had one. Rogers Hornsby ... Ted Williams ... Henry Aaron ... Rod Carew ... George Brett ... Tony Gwynn ... Babe Ruth ... Ichiro ... well, basically you can think about almost anybody, and they did not have a 33-game hitting streak. Only 12 players in baseball history other than Dan Uggla have had a 33-game hitting streak.
Some of those -- DiMaggio, Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Molitor, George Sisler -- were all-time greats. Others, like George McQuinn and Tommy Holmes, were not. But every single player with a 33-game hitting streak, every one, hit at least .290. The Uggla hitting streak was one of the craziest things ever to happen in baseball history.
[caption id="attachment_22686" align="aligncenter" width="384"] DiMaggio's 56 is a truly magic number.[/caption]
But that's the beauty of hitting streaks. They're crazy. They're fragile. And they're mathematical wonders. Think about this for a moment: Let's say someone is a .320 hitter. Consider Jose Altuve. Math tells you that if he gets four at-bats, he has roughly a 79% chance of getting at least one hit. If he gets five at-bats, as he often does, those chances shoot up to 85%.
Well, 79 to 85%, those are pretty good percentages. On any given day, Jose Altuve would be a heavy favorite to get a hit. In his first 104 games, he got a hit in 85 of them (82%, just what you would expect).
So, how in the WORLD does Jose Altuve not have a hitting streak longer than 11 games this year? It doesn't seem possible -- he's only failed to get a hit in 19 of 104 games. But this is the tyranny of the odds, and the overwhelming weight of baseball's daily grind. The year Ted Williams hit .406 (making him 88 percent likely to get a hit with four at-bats), he managed only a 23-game hitting streak. He was somewhat overshadowed.
Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak has been written about a little bit, as has the fact that after he went 0-for-3 against Cleveland -- with Tribe third baseman Ken Keltner robbing him twice -- he promptly went on ANOTHER 16-game hitting streak. It's pretty mind-boggling stuff.
Which brings us back to our trivia question -- who had the American League's longest hitting streak between DiMaggio's 56-gamer in 1941 and Paul Molitor's 39-gamer in 1987?
If you answered DiMaggio, you get a free cigar.
But it wasn't Joe DiMaggio. His longest hitting streak after 1941 was a 19-gamer in September of 1950.
No, it was DOM DiMaggio, who hit in 34 straight games in 1949. And here's something even better than that -- the streak ended when Dom went 0-for-5 against the Yankees' Vic Raschi. Dom's best shot at a hit came in the third inning, when he lined to center. The centerfielder got a good jump on it and reeled it in. The centerfielder, of course, was Joe DiMaggio.
When the streak ended, Dom got hits in his next nine games. There was something about those DiMaggios -- in 1951, Dom DiMaggio again had the longest hitting streak in baseball at 27 games.
[caption id="attachment_22691" align="aligncenter" width="423"] No one would go to greater lengths than Rose to preserve a hitting streak.[/caption]
Here are the longest hitting streaks in modern baseball history:
1941: Joe DiMaggio, 56
1978: Pete Rose, 44
1922: George Sisler, 41
1911: Ty Cobb, 40
1987: Paul Molitor, 39
1945: Tommy Holmes, 37
2005: Jimmy Rollins, 36
1917: Ty Cobb, 35
2006: Chase Utley, 35
2002: Luis Castillo, 35
1949: Dom DiMaggio, 34
1938: George McQuinn, 34
1925: George Sisler, 34
2011: Dan Uggla, 33
1933: Heine Manush, 33
That DiMaggio streak is something else, isn't it? I went back and wrote a story for MLB.com about Pete Rose's 44-game hitting streak ... I'd forgotten that he TWICE bunted with the game out of reach in order to extend the thing. I'd also forgotten that in the at-bat against Gene Garber that ended the streak -- you might remember, the Braves had a monster lead and Garber threw Rose change-ups, something Pete NEVER stopped complaining about -- Rose actually tried to bunt for a hit that time too.
Part of me finds that to be pretty tacky. But I have to admit that part of me admires the audacity, the temerity, the sheer chutzpah of a guy doing anything he can to keep a hitting streak going, doing whatever is in his power to chase that unreachable thing, DiMaggio's 56.
"I know they might be mad about me bunting with a five-run lead," Rose said after bunting for a hit in the ninth inning with his team down 7-2. "But it's taken me 16 years to get to 31 [games] in a row, and if they give me a bunt, I'll take it."
I suppose that's the only way 56 can ever be challenged. The stars will have to align Dan Uggla style, and the hitter will have to put a whole lot of balls in play, but mostly that hitter will have to want it, really want it, not in the normally ambitious way of ballplayers but with a white-hot fury that would make no sense to most of us.
That's what made Rose's run at DiMaggio so epic. Nobody will ever again want it as much as he did.