Monday, January 12, 2015

Record-Setting Streaks (Part IX--Ted Williams, Piggy Ward and Earl Averill Jr.)

Considered by many to be the greatest natural hitter in baseball history, Ted Williams preyed upon American League pitching for nineteen seasons, retiring with a slew of notable accomplishments under his belt. Among his less-heralded feats was a streak of reaching base safely in sixteen consecutive plate appearances. He assembled the skein in September of 1957--the same year he won his fifth batting crown with a mark of .388. Over a one-week span, "Teddy Ballgame" collected 6 hits, 9 free passes, an intentional walk and a hit-by-pitch all in succession. 4 of his 6 hits were homers. Rendering the feat even more extraordinary, he was thirty-nine years old at the time. 

Williams' streak is not the longest of its kind, though it is (perhaps) the most impressive. In 1893, Piggy Ward of the Cincinnati Reds reached safely in seventeen straight trips to the plate--a mark that still stands. But the rules were quite different in Ward's day. Back in 1893, foul bunts and held foul tips were not classified as strikes. Additionally, there was no infield fly rule and the height of the mound was not yet regulated. If ever there was a record in need of an asterisk, this is the one!

Ward's dubious mark was tied in 1962 by Earl Averill Jr.--son of the Hall of Fame center fielder.  Averill's string was rendered less remarkable by the inclusion of an error and a fielder's choice. He finished the season with a feeble .219 batting average--nearly a hundred points below his father's lifetime mark. The streak was his only claim to fame (aside from ties to baseball royalty) during a mediocre career that spanned portions of seven major league seasons.

In terms of getting on base, there are few players who came close to matching the career numbers put up by Ted Williams. In addition to compiling the highest on-base percentage in history at .482, Williams also holds the record for reaching base safely in consecutive games--84 in 1949. Even DiMaggio fell short of that mark during his incredible 1941 campaign. "The Yankee Clipper" reached base in 74 straight games that year--the second longest streak to date. Interestingly, Williams wasn't far behind in '41, finding his way aboard in 69 consecutive contests.           


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