This annotated week in baseball history: Nov. 14-Nov. 20, 1892

On Nov. 19, 1892 Everett Scott was born. Scott is the answer to a trivia question that puts him in common with players like Steve Garvey and Matt Kemp.

One advantage—or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it—of writing this column every week is that I am now a virtually limitless source of trivia answers. Who had the most home runs for a career until Babe Ruth broke the record? Roger Connor. Who had the most home runs for a single season before Ruth? Ned Williamson. Who was the first pitcher to record 30 saves? Ted Abernathy.

(Occasionally I come upon one of these facts, like that one about Abernathy, and it sits in my head until I can work it into a column.)

But Everett Scott is the answer to a question that had never occurred to me: before Lou Gehrig, who was the holder of baseball’s consecutive game streak? Before this, the extent to which I thought of Scott—which wasn’t much at all—was that he was another player sold to the Yankees by Boston around the same time as Babe Ruth.

I tried to think up a little quip for this situation, you know, “being the other guy sold to the Yankees is like being _____” but I couldn’t come up with anything. There just aren’t a lot of situations where two people undergo a similar change and one of them becomes the most famous, successful person at his profession while the other basically fades into obscurity. Maybe the closest example is Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, but Manning is no Ruth while Leaf is notable, at least, as a bust.

In any case, Scott was never much of a hitter, his career high OPS was .669, and he was under .600 seven times. But he could pick it with the glove; his career fielding percentage is .965. Fielding percentage is not the best measure of defense, but in Scott’s case it is notable because the average fielder in that period tended to be 20 points lower. Scott led American League shortstops in fielding percentage for eight straight years. Whatever Scott’s failings with the bat and his value on defense, he was able to contribute to winning teams. Scott played on five pennant winners and won four titles.

Writing about Scott got me thinking about baseball’s Iron Men, those players who came to the ballpark and manned their position day after day. The two classic examples are, of course, Cal Ripken Jr. and Gehrig. Each played more than 2,000 consecutive games, and remain the only players to do so. Ripken’s streak of more than 2,600 games seems insurmountable, although the same was said of Gehrig’s number.

Matt Kemp, baseball’s current Iron Man (Icon/SMI)

At the moment, the active leader in games played is Matt Kemp, who has taken the field for 204 straight games. That leaves him 2,429 games shy of breaking Ripken’s streak, or roughly 15 more seasons of playing every day. That would take Kemp through his age 40 season, without a single day off or injury, which has to be described as “unlikely.”

The most recent player to accumulate an impressive streak is Miguel Tejada, who played in 1,152 games until he broke his wrist in 2007, ending the streak. It was also a broken wrist that ended the steak of Hideki Matsui, who had played in 518 consecutive games to start his major league career—the most ever—plus an additional 1,250 in Japan.

Of particular note to me when looking at the list of the top 10 streaks for consecutive game is the domination of the list by shortstops. Three of the top five (Ripken, Scott, Tejada) are shortstops, and Joe Sewell is number seven. Counting Ernie Banks’ 717 straight games, shortstops are a third of the consecutive games top 15.

Besides shortstops, first basemen are the most numerous in the top ten: Gehrig, Steve Garvey and Gus Suhr. Garvey is the answer to a trivia question of his own as the owner of the National League consecutive games streak. At 1,207 games, it is less than half the American League record.

Not surprisingly, the list is composed primarily of great players. Five of the top 10 players are Hall of Famers (Gehrig, Ripken, Sewell, Billy Williams and Stan Musial), as are eight of the top 15. This does not count Pete Rose, who would surely be in the Hall of Fame if he were eligible, which would bring the number up to 60 percent of those on the list receiving baseball’s highest honor.

In contrast, the 10th most durable player, Gus Suhr, is surely the most obscure player on the list. Despite playing in 822 consecutive games for the Pirates in the 1930s—he was the National League record holder before Garvey—he was relatively undistinguished. Suhr played for 11 years but never received a MVP vote and made only one All-Star team. He was on three Hall of Fame ballots, but drew just one vote each time.

Suhr is also interesting because his streak did not end due to injury like Tejada’s or the feeling that “it was time” like Ripken’s, but rather when he removed himself from the lineup in 1937 to attend his mother’s funeral.

Of course, as my comments about Scott at the beginning of this column reflect, being a durable player is not always a surefire way to remain in the public consciousness. Nonetheless, these players deserve their recognition for being able to come to the park day in and day out and play the game every day.

Even if Kemp nurses his streak through its infancy, staying healthy and productive enough to remain in the lineup every day, it will be nearly four years before he enters the top 10 and more than six years before he could break Garvey’s National League record. For now, it appears that like Ripken’s spot at the top of the list, the consecutive games leaders are safe.

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  1. Bob Rittner said...

    The first possibility that crossed my mind was “like being the other player sent to the Cardinals in the Frankie Frisch for Rogers Hornsby trade.” It isn’t as dramatic, but the two big names are certainly famous while the third player, Jimmy Ring, is as obscure as Scott.

    The story I heard is that John McGraw was mad at Frisch and demanded to include Ring in the deal so Frisch could never say he was traded straight up for a player the caliber of Hornsby. Perhaps apocryphal, but a good story and consistent with McGraw’s reputation.

  2. Richard Barbieri said...

    A fair question. Scott’s record was 1,307 games. His streak ended less than a month before Gehrig’s began.

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