Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Record-Setting Streaks (Part VI--Dale Long, Don Mattingly and Ken Grifffey Jr.)

Not all of the great home run records are held by guys named Bonds, Aaron or Ruth. For one week in 1956, Dale Long of the Pirates established himself as one of the most prolific sluggers in history, drilling homers in eight consecutive games. Long was a highly competent first baseman who spent time with six teams between 1951 and 1963. Though his career numbers are somewhat unremarkable, he will forever be remembered for his '56 power surge. The Pirates won 7 of 8 games during Long's home run barrage, which began on May 19 and continued through May 28. A crowd in excess of 32,000 at Forbes Field gave Long a standing ovation after he lifted a Carl Erskine pitch into the left field stands to set a new major league record. The Pirates had rewarded Long for his efforts earlier in the day by offering him a salary increase. Long finished his greatest season ever with career-high marks of 27 long balls and 91 RBIs. He never came terribly close to matching those numbers in any other season and, despite the Pirates' promise of a pay raise, he was traded to the Cubs in May of '57. To date, Long's record has never been broken though he shares it with two other prominent players--Don Mattingly and Ken Griffey Jr. 

Mattingly is fondly remembered as the heart and soul of the non-contending Yankee clubs of the late-'80s/ early-'90s. Among the smoothest fielding first basemen in history, he captured nine Gold Gloves during a fourteen-year career that was cut short by chronic back trouble. He enjoyed his peak seasons at the plate between 1984 and 1986, leading the league in multiple offensive categories. Though his numbers dropped off slightly in '87, he still managed to set the all time record for grand slams in a season (6--a mark that was later tied by Travis Hafner of the Indians). In July of '87, Mattingly found a place beside Dale Long in the record books with homers in eight consecutive games. Mattingly's numbers during the streak were even tackier than Long's, including 21 RBIs and a pair of grand slams. Though he remained a steady presence in the Yankee lineup for several more years, he never collected more than 23 homers in a season after 1987.

Unlike the men he shares the record with, Ken Griffey Jr. was a productive long ball hitter throughout his career. In addition to hammering 630 career homers (placing him sixth on the all time list), he won ten straight Gold Glove Awards between 1990 and 1999. If his name remains unlinked to steroids over the next twelve months or so, he will almost certainly end up as a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2016. "Junior's" streak of eight consecutive games with a homer came in July of 1993. The Mariners had a somewhat anemic offense that year, ranking eleventh in batting average and tenth in runs scored. Consequently, 5 of Griffey's 8 homers during the skein were solo shots. His 45 round trippers represented twenty-eight percent of the team's total home run output that year. In 1997, Griffey tied the all-time mark for homers in a season by a center fielder with 56. He duplicated the feat the following year.   

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