Hits in Consecutive At-Bats: Investigating the Nineteenth Century

This article was written by Brian Marshall

This article was published in the Spring 2019 Baseball Research Journal


While playing for the Cleveland Indians over the course of four consecutive games in July 1920, Tris Speaker got hits in eleven consecutive at-bats, setting both the American League and major league record. Although Speaker is now tied for third on that list, this article’s subject is what happened regarding the hits in consecutive at bats record before Speaker’s feat, not after.

While playing for the Cleveland Indians over the course of four consecutive games in July 1920, Tris Speaker got hits in eleven consecutive at-bats, setting both the American League and major league record. Although Speaker is now tied for third on that list, this article’s subject is what happened regarding the hits in consecutive at bats record before Speaker’s feat, not after. According to Total Baseball, the previous record of ten was shared by two players, Ed Delahanty and Jake Gettman, who both accomplished the feat in 1897 in the National League. The NL portion of “Most Consecutive Hits” table in Total Baseball also includes Joe Kelley with nine.1 But there is one additional nineteenth century player, Jake Stenzel, who must be included this discussion, and my research has uncovered a discrepancy in the number of hits comprising the actual record.2 This article will detail the hits in consecutive ABs streaks related to each of the NL leaders, including Stenzel, as well as provide the details related to the hits discrepancy for each of Delahanty and Kelley.

Jake Stenzel

Jake StenzelIn 1893, Jake Stenzel, then of the Pittsburgh Pirates, registered a streak of eleven hits in consecutive ABs, a performance which was detailed by Al Kermisch in the Baseball Research Journal in 1991.3 As stated by Kermisch, the Stenzel streak began on July 15, in a game against the Washington Senators, with three hits. Although he had five hits that day, the first five-hit performance of his career, it was the final three of those hits that began Stenzel’s streak.4 On July 17 against the Cleveland Spiders, Stenzel went four-for-four, with two walks, to bring the total to seven hits in seven consecutive at-bats. The Kermisch article incorrectly dates the next game to July 19 — it was July 18 — but nevertheless the streak was continued with four singles in six ABs.

I researched six relevant newspaper articles covering the game but unfortunately they only provide the details of when the first three hits occurred (singles in the first, second and fourth innings) as well as a ninth-inning strikeout.5 It isn’t clear in which at bat the fourth hit occurred. The Kermisch article didn’t include references but it seems fair to presume that Kermisch based his conclusion that “Stenzel singled in his first 4 times at bat to make it 11 hits in a row” on sound evidence. Eleven hits in eleven consecutive times at bat is significant of course, because it increases by one the NL record over that listed in Total Baseball and means that Speaker’s performance only tied the MLB record rather than set it.

But that’s not all. My research shows that Ed Delahanty also had eleven hits in consecutive ABs, rather than the 10 listed in Total Baseball.

Ed Delahanty

The Delahanty streak is demonstrably 11 hits in 11 at-bats. It began with the doubleheader games on July 13, 1897, with Delahanty playing for Philadelphia against the Louisville Colonels. In the first game he went four-for-four and in the second game five-for-five, making nine hits on the day. The streak continued the next day, also against Louisville, when Delahanty managed to get two more hits in his first two times at bat — in the first and fourth innings. That would make eleven hits in eleven consecutive ABs to equal the MLB record set by Stenzel in 1893.

Let us examine the evidence. The home and away newspapers covering the first game of the July 13 doubleheader differ markedly in their batting statistics for Delahanty. The Louisville newspapers listed Delahanty with only three hits in three at bats.6 The Philadelphia newspapers listed him with four hits in four at bats.7 The boxscore in Sporting Life along with the ICI game-by-game data sheets for Delahanty in 1897 each also indicated four hits in four at bats.8 After the Delahanty hit spree the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper commented:

“Delehanty [sic], the Phillies’ heavy hitting outfielder, must be afraid that Burkett may become the three-time champion batter. When he saw that the Cleveland hitter was crawling up, the Quaker champion took out a fresh supply of bats, and the way he has been hitting the ball is wonderful. Out of fifteen times at bat in the last three games, he has made fourteen hits [sic]. That is a record for the season.”9

Crediting Delahanty with only three hits in three at bats appears to be unique to the Louisville newspapers. The discrepancy apparently stems from whether or not Delahanty reached on an error in the seventh when his ball got past Clark at second base for Louisville. If the play was interpreted by the Louisville press as an error, that should have been reflected accordingly in the boxscore of the Louisville papers. Strangely, they neglected to do so. It is clear from the newspaper articles that Delahanty made a hit every time he came to bat and The Louisville Courier-Journal specifically alluded to Clark failing to corral balls off the bats of Delahanty and Lajoie.10 This could mean Clark had a shot at fielding the Delahanty hit in the seventh but wasn’t up to the task. If that was the case, then by rule Delahanty should be credited with a hit rather than Clark being credited with an error on the play.11 (There was also another discrepancy regarding the reporting of the first game on July 13, 1897, which is not relevant to this article.12)

Joe Kelley

Joe KelleyDelahanty isn’t the only one whose achievements seem to be under-recorded. There is a discrepancy in the number of hits during consecutive ABs for Joe Kelley of the Baltimore Orioles during the 1894 season. As mentioned, Total Baseball lists Kelley with nine hits in consecutive ABs. My research shows the streak was actually ten.

The Kelley streak began with the game on September 1, 1894, with a hit in his final at bat, and finished with the doubleheader games on September 3, 1894, against the Cleveland Spiders. That day he went four for four in the first game and five for five in the second game, to add nine hits to the one that ended the previous game, totaling ten.

As with Delahanty, I examined multiple newspaper accounts of Kelley’s performance. In the September 1 game Kelley managed two hits — a double and a single — in three ABs and also reached on a base on balls. The September 1 game was played in Baltimore, the Orioles won 5–2 and it wasn’t necessary for them to bat in the ninth inning.13 The Cleveland Leader reports that Kelley managed a double in the first and a single in the seventh, which implies that Kelley’s two other plate appearances were likely in the third and fifth innings.14 One of them was a walk and the other had to be the second hit. (Kelley also came within one batter of batting in the eighth inning but Kid Gleason appears to have been the final out.) The ICI game-by-game data sheets also indicate that Kelley had a BB to go along with a double and a single.15 At the very least, his final at bat of the September 1 was unquestionably a hit.

Then we come to the doubleheader of September 3 in which Kelley went nine-for-nine across the two games. In fact, his performance in the second game is noteworthy because four of his five hits were doubles, which tied the NL (and MLB) record for most doubles in a game by an individual. Not only that, it was done in a six-inning game against none other than Cy Young. Baltimore had 22 hits, 12 of them doubles, off Young in that game, which may have been the most hits that Young gave up in six innings in his career. One reason for the preponderance of doubles may have been a ground rule that limited extra-base hits to two, and Kelley lost a home run due to this.16 Umpire Tim Keefe called the game off on account of darkness after six full innings had been played.

Jake Gettman

The last consecutive ABs with a hit performance that needs to be included in this discussion is that of Jake Gettman, who played with the Senators in 1897 and at the time of his acquisition by Washington was known as the “Keeler of the Texas League.”17 Gettman registered a mark of ten hits in ten consecutive ABs that began on September 10, 1897, with a four-for-four performance against the Cleveland Spiders, continued with a five-for-five performance on September 11 in the first game of a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds, and concluded with a single in his first AB in the second game. As I have just demonstrated, Gettman’s streak equaled the third best record of the nineteenth century — Kelley’s 10 in 1894 — and was third to Jake Stenzel’s 11 in 1893 and Delahanty’s 11 of a few months earlier in July 1897. In their coverage of Gettman’s feat, The Washington Post described him “… making ten successive hits out of ten turns at the bat, which will stand as a batting achievement for the season.”18 The Post were apparently unaware that Delahanty had recorded eleven hits in eleven consecutive ABs earlier in the 1897 season. Sporting Life published a short article that read:

“Washington, D. C., Sept. 12. — President Nick Young announced yesterday afternoon that Gettman’s feat of making 10 safe hits out of 10 consecutive times at the bat established a record in the National League. In Friday’s game against Cleveland Gettman made four hits, with a total of eight bases — two singles, a double and home run — and Saturday the first six times he faced the Cincinnati pitchers he drove out four singles, a three bagger and a home run, a total of 11 bases, and a grand total consecutively of 19 bases. This record is liable to stand unmarked for a long time.”19

Young may have been caught up in the fact that Gettman played for Washington, but apparently he, like The Washington Post, was not aware of the Delahanty performance, not to mention the previous performances of both Stenzel and Kelley.

BRIAN MARSHALL is an Electrical Engineering Technologist living in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, specializing in the application of power electronics as it relates to machine automation. Brian is a longtime researcher in various fields including power electronic engineering, entomology, NFL, Canadian Football and MLB. Brian has written many articles, winning awards for two of them, and two books in his 63 years. Brian has been a SABR member since 2013 and is a longtime member of the PFRA. Growing up, Brian played many sports, including football, rugby, hockey, and baseball, along with participating in power lifting and arm wrestling events, and aspired to be a professional football player, but when that didn’t materialize, he focused on Rugby Union and played off and on for 17 seasons in the “front row.”

 

Conclusion

This article has identified five errors in the record of hits in consecutive at bats as published in the sixth edition of Total Baseball. The sources of these errors vary, but it would appear based on erroneous contemporary statements by both the National League president and published newspaper reports, there was general unawareness of the individuals who recorded streaks of hits in consecutive at-bats, at least through the time when the 1927 issue of Balldom was published.20 The following changes should be made to create an accurate list of record-holders:

1. Jake Stenzel holds the NL record at 11 hits in 11 consecutive ABs and should be added to the list.

2. Ed Delahanty had 11 hits in 11 consecutive ABs, not 10.

3. Joe Kelley had 10 hits in 10 consecutive ABs, not 9.

4. The NL record should stand as 11 hits in 11 consecutive ABs; shared by 2 players.

5. Tris Speaker tied, rather than set, the MLB record at 11 hits in 11 consecutive ABs.

 

Notes

1John Thorn, Pete Palmer, Michael Gershman and David Pietrusza, Editors with Matthew Silverman and Sean Lahman. Total Baseball: The Official Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball, Sixth Edition. New York, NY: Total Sports, 1999, 236­–237.

2The SABR record book lists Tom Parrott, Nap Lajoie, and Ed Konetchy with 10 as well as Stenzel.

3Al Kermisch. “Stenzel May Own NL Consecutive Hit Mark.” SABR Baseball Research Journal #20 (Cleveland: SABR, 1991): 32.

4 Stenzel’s first career five-hit performance went as follows: First inning single, second inning home run, fourth inning reached on an error, fifth inning bases-clearing triple, sixth inning single, eighth inning single.

5 “THE FATAL SIXTH: Pittsburgh Men Were Winners Up to That Inning,” Pittsburgh Chronicle-Telegraph, July 19, 1893, page 2.; “CLEVELAND’S CLINCHING: They Handily Take the Second Game From Pittsburgh,” Pittsburgh Press, July 19, 1893, page 5; “THIS IS SAD INDEED: Our Own Spanked and Sat Upon By Those Cleveland Yawps — Stenzel Figures Largely in the Game,” Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, July 19, 1893, page 6; “EASY, VERY EASY: Gumbert Was Very Wild and Gifts Were Plenty — Stenzel’s Dirty Work,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, Wednesday, July 19, 1893, page 5; “ONLY NINE NOW: Cleveland Won From Pittsburgh Just the Same as Usual,” The Cleveland Leader, Wednesday, July 19, 1893; “NATIONAL LEAGUE: The Record: Games Played Tuesday July 18,” The Sporting Life, Volume 21, Number 17, July 22, 1893, page 4.

6 “DROPPED TWO: Crippled Infield Responsible for Double Defeat: Pitchers Poorly Supported,” The Louisville Courier-Journal, Wednesday Morning, July 14, 1897; “HARD GAMES TO LOSE: Colonels Should Have Won Both From the Phillies,” Louisville Times, Wednesday, July 14, 1897.

7 “OUR PHILLIES THROW THE COLONELS TWICE: Both Were Mighty Interesting Games and We Won Solely on Our Merits,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, Wednesday Morning, July 14, 1897, 4; “THE PHILLIES SCORE TWO VICTORIES OVER LOUISVILLE: Manager Stallings Reads the Riot Act to His Men with Good Results,” Philadelphia Public Ledger, Wednesday, July 14, 1897, 14; “PHILLIES WIN TWO GAMES: Double Victory at Louisville by Good Ball Playing: Delahanty Makes Nine Hits,” The Philadelphia Record, Wednesday Morning, July 14, 1897.

8 “THE LEAGUE RACE: Games Played Tuesday July 13,” Sporting Life, Volume 29, Number 17, July 17, 1897, 3; For those who aren’t familiar with ICI, David Neft was the man behind ICI and it was the ICI research and subsequent resultant data that formed the basis for the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia of 1969.

9 “Baseball Notes,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, Thursday, July 15, 1897, 3.

10 “DROPPED TWO,” The Louisville Courier-Journal.

11 Baseball rules, as published in the 1897 Reach Base Ball Guide which governed the 1897 playing season. Rule 71: Scoring, Section 3 (under Batting) reads, “In the third column should be placed the first base hits made by each Player. A base hit should be scored in the following cases: (1) When a hit ball is hit so sharply to an Infielder hat he cannot handle it in time to put out the Batsman. In case of doubt over this class of hits, score a base hit, and exempt the Fielder from the charge of an error. (2) When a hit ball is hit so slowly toward a Fielder that he cannot handle it in time put out the Batsman.” Then in Section 7 (under Errors) it reads, “In scoring errors of batted balls see Section 3 of this Rule.”

12 There is an inconsistency regarding the written game article(s) in the newspaper(s) and the scoring by inning indicated below the boxscore having to do with the specific inning Philadelphia scored their final two runs; were the runs scored in the seventh or the eighth inning?

13 “AGAIN THE ORIOLES WON: The Clevelands Lost the Second as They Did the First,” Baltimore American, Sunday, September 2, 1894, 5; “ANOTHER FOR BALTIMORE: Cleveland Defeated in an Interesting and Exciting Contest,” The Baltimore Sun, Monday Morning, September 3, 1894, 6; “A HARD FIGHT: Cleveland Made a Worthy Struggle for Yesterday’s Game,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sunday, September 2, 1894, 3.

14 “A TRIBE OF JONAHS: That’s What the Cleveland Ball Club Is,” The Cleveland Leader, Sunday, September 2, 1894.

15 1894 ICI Data Sheets for Joe Kelley.

16 Regarding the doubleheader games on September 3, 1894, at Baltimore, between Baltimore and Cleveland, there was a ground rule that limited the hits to two bases. In fact, in the first game, Kelley apparently lost a HR due to the two base ground rule. The record books incorrectly indicate the record for most triples in a game by a single team as nine, by the Baltimore Orioles, in the first game of the doubleheader on September 3, 1894, which, of course, was impossible given the ground rule that was in effect. A possible source for the error may have been Sporting Life since in their coverage for the first game the hits were identified as “Three-base hits” below the boxscore, no “Two-base hits” were listed, while for the second game Sporting Life correctly indicated the hits as Two-base hits, again due to the ground rule. According to the author’s research the NL record for most triples in a game by a single team during the nineteenth century appears to be seven, accomplished by the Athletics on June 14, 1876, against the Cincinnatis, while in the AA it also appears to be seven, again accomplished by the Athletics on August 27, 1884, against the Brooklyns.

17 “Washington Gets ‘The Keeler of Texas,’” The Baltimore Sun, Wednesday Morning, August 11, 1897, 6.

18 “HONORS WERE DIVIDED: Game Each for the Senators and Cincinnatis,” The Washington Post, Sunday, September 12, 1897, 8.

19 “A BATTING RECORD: Credited to Young Gettman, of the Washington Club,” Sporting Life, Volume 29, Number 26, September 18, 1897, 1.

20 George L. Moreland. Balldom: The Britannica of Baseball, Fascinating Facts For Fans, Fourth Edition. Youngstown, OH: Balldom Company, Incorporated, 1927.

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