60th anniversary: Robin Roberts’ 28th straight complete game

Sixty years ago today was, on the face of it, as routine a day as you could have. Certainly it was as routine as it got for Robin Roberts. He took the mound for the Phillies and completed what he started. So far, so normal.

True, but just leaving it there would be like noting that Joe DiMaggio got a hit in some game in the summer of 1941. It wasn’t what Roberts did on that day that was so impressive, but the streak he was on. You see, Roberts etched his name in the workhorse Hall of Fame when he completed his 28th consecutive start.

Now, that isn’t any all-time record. A deadball pitcher named Jack Taylor owns that distinction with 187 straight complete games in the early 20th century. Yeah, but those deadball pitchers are a different breed entirely. Complete games became harder to earn from 1920 onward.

Since 1920, the record for most consecutive completed starts is 28, held by two pitchers. First is former White Sox starter Ted Lyons. Oddly enough, it was his last 28 starts that Lyons completed: his final three in 1941, all 20 in 1942, and then (after WWII) the final five starts of his career in 1946.

Yeah, but even as impressive as Lyons’ streak is—he’s the only pitcher since 1918 to qualify for the ERA title while completing all of his starts—it still isn’t quite as impressive as what Roberts did. He was what’s called a “Sunday pitcher.” He pitched once a week, in the then-typical Sunday doubleheader. He had plenty of time to rest up between starts to stay fresh. His 28 complete games came in 102 games for the Phillies.

Part of what made Roberts’ achievement so amazing was that he took the ball constantly. In 1952, when he began his streak, Roberts led the NL in starts with 37. No one else had more than 35. In 1953, Roberts would start 41 games—eight more than any one else in the league. That’s ….something! And remember, these were starts he constantly completed. Roberts threw 676.2 innings in 1952-53, over 100 ahead of runner-up Warren Spahn (555.2 innings).

In all the years since then, the closest anyone has come to Roberts’ achievement was 1980 A’s pitcher Rick Langford, who Oakland manager Billy Martin had complete 22 straight starts.

Roberts began his streak on Aug. 28, 1952, when he topped the Cardinals, 10-6, for his 21st victory of the year. That began an eight-game winning streak that led to Roberts ending the year with a 28-7 record. The most memorable game came on Sept. 17, 1952, when he went the distance in a 17-inning game against Brooklyn. Yeah, that’s earning a complete game.

That would be Roberts’ only extra-inning complete game until July 5, 1953, when he finished off his streak in a 10-inning shutout victory over the Pirates. Of course, Roberts did know it was the end of the streak that day. But sure enough, he was pulled in the eighth inning the next time out, his first early shower in over 10 months.

But in that span, Roberts appeared in 29 games, with 28 starts (all completed, of course), threw 257.1 IP, allowed 233 hits, gave up 80 runs (72 earned), surrendered 22 homers, and just 48 walks, while fanning 131. His ERA was a sterling 2.57, and last but not least, he had a record of 21-7.

Roberts could do this because he was a great workhorse, and he had a manager that liked to ride his stars as much as he could. Veteran skipper Steve O’Neill managed four clubs for all or part of 14 seasons, and half of the time his club led the league in complete games. O’Neill became Phillies manager in late June 1952, and two months later Roberts streak began.

Ultimately, the complete-game streak helped Roberts pitch his arm off. He was incredibly dominating in his 20s but just a journeyman in his 30s (and often not even that). But his 20s were good enough to get him into Cooperstown. And he was never better than that amazing 28-straight complete-game streak in 1952-53 that ended 60 years ago today.

Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.

Day-versaries

1,000 days since Tony Gwynn announces that he has cancer.

2,000 days since former pitcher Johnny Podres dies.

3,000 days since Alex Rodriguez scores five runs in a game for the second time in his career. He’s 5-for-6 with two doubles, two home runs and six RBIs. It’s his only four extra-base-hit game ever.

3,000 days since Tim Hudson and Roger Clemens exchange goose eggs in a 12-inning game that Atlanta will win, 1-0, over Houston. The game ends on the rare inside-the-park, walk-off home run by Ryan Langerhans.

3,000 days since Manny Ramirez belts two homers in a game for the second time in three days.

3,000 days since the Yankees score 13 runs in the second inning en route to a 19-8 victory.

4,000 days since Manny Ramirez belts two homers in a game for the second time in three days. Huh. Apparently he did this exactly 1,000 days apart.

4,000 days since Nomar Garciaparra hits three home runs in one game.

7,000 days since Anthony Young wins, ending his 29-game losing streak as a starting pitcher.

7,000 days since Dennis Martinez lasts 10 innings for Cleveland. It’s the last time the Indians have had a pitcher go more than nine innings.

7,000 days since Charles Johnson, catcher, makes his big league debut.

7,000 days since Jeff Reardon is released by the Yankees.

8,000 days since a strange delay happens in today’s Astros-Braves game. Action is held up for five minutes when a moth lodges in the ear of outfielder Mike Simms.

9,000 days since Rob Neyer writes a letter to Bill James, asking to become his new research assistant.

10,000 days since Red Ruffing dies.

15,000 days since Fergie Jenkins completes his 11th straight start, a personal best. He’s 7-4 in that span.

15,000 days since Hank Aaron ties Gil Hodges’ then-record 14 NL grand slams.

20,000 days since Baltimore trades utility player (and future Hall of Fame manager) Dick Williams to the A’s for shortstop Chico Carrasquel.

Anniversaries

1869 The Brooklyn Atlantics and Philadelphia Athletics combine to score 99 runs (Brooklyn wins, 51-48), the most ever by two professional teams.

1880 Arlie Latham, the freshest man on earth, makes his big league debut.

1886 Will White, a pitcher and the first prominent player to wear glasses on the field, appears in his final game.

1888 Stump Wiedman, good pitcher who had terrible support from his teammates, plays in his last game.

1889 Sadie McMahon makes his big league debut. He’ll be a star pitcher on the 1890s Baltimore Orioles.

1890 Bill Van Dyke hits for the cycle.

1892 The Cleveland Spiders signs John Clarkson as a free agent.

1898 Lizzie Arlington (real last name: Stround) becomes the first women to play in pro ball when she pitches an inning in the Eastern League for Reading.

1900 Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Jerry Nops throws a one-hitter, a feat his teammate Frank Kitson match the next day.

1904 The Giants’ 18-game winning streak is snapped when the Phillies top them.

1906 The Red Sox commit nine errors in one game.

1906 Jack Coombs, a 300-game winner, makes his debut.

1909 Frank Selee, Hall of Fame manager, dies at age 49.

1914 Hall of Famer Harry Heilmann hits his first home run.

1915 The Red Sox shut out the Senators twice in one day.

1915 Heinie Groh, star third baseman, hits for the cycle.

1917 Frank “Home Run” Baker hits an inside-the-park, walk-off home run off Walter Johnson in the bottom of the 13th inning for a 5-4 A’s win over the Senators.

1921 The Red Sox set an AL record by getting swept in their fourth doubleheader with no other games played in that stretch.

1926 Hall of Fame pitcher Jesse Haines wins, giving him a record of 89-88. It’ll be over .500 for the rest of his career.

1926 Lefty Grove fans 12 batters in one game, his best.

1929 The Polo Grounds becomes the first park with a PA system.

1930 The first Negro Leagues game in Yankee Stadium takes place.

1934 Lou Gehrig hits his only career inside-the-park grand slam. It’s his 17th of 23 overall grand slams.

1935 The Reds release Kiki Cuyler.

1935 In a Dodgers-Giants game, brothers Tony Cuccinello and Al Cuccinello both homer.

1937 Joe DiMaggio hits his first grand slam.

1937 In a 13-inning contest, Frank Demaree becomes the first Cub to get six hits in one game.

1937 Hal Trosky hits three home runs in one game. It’s the second time he’s done that.

1940 The Phillies release Wally Berger.

1945 Whitey Lockman makes his big league debut.

1945 Bobo Newsom loses his 12th straight decision, his longest losing streak.

1946 Ernie Lombardi, who has just 18 sacrifice bunts in his career, has two in this game.

1947 Star Senators pitcher Early Wynn hits a pinch-hit home run.

1947 Larry Doby becomes the first black player in American League history when he debuts for the Indians. He strikes out in a pinch-hit appearance.

1948 Cardinals pitcher Gerry Staley wins two games in one doubleheader pitching in relief against the Cubs. He’s the second pitcher to do that against the Cubs in three weeks.

1948 For the third time in under 11 months, Ralph Kiner hits three home runs in one game.

1949 The Giants sign Monte Irvin and Hank Thompson, their first black players.

1950 Gary Matthews, Sarge, is born.

1951 Rich Gossage, Hall of Fame reliever, is born.

1952 Fred Hutchinson manages his first game. He’ll stay on the job with various teams until dying of cancer in 1964.

1952 Former star outfielder Pete Reiser appears in his last game.

1954 Indians hitter Bill Glynn hits three home runs in one game.

1955 Managers Harry Walker and Birdie Tebbetts get into a fist fight. They’ll both be fined $100.

1957 Mickey Mantle gets his 1,000th hit.

1957 For the first time in six years and a day, Robin Roberts walks in a run. He went 1,926 innings without doing that.

1958 Del Ennis gets his 2,000th hit.

1961 Cardinals star Bill White belts three home runs in one game. He also doubles.

1961 Roger Maris is erroneously credited with an RBI. As a result, he’ll have a one-RBI edge over Baltimore’s Jim Gentile on the year. It’ll be fixed in 1995, and Gentile will very belatedly cash in on a contract clause that gave him a bonus for leading the AL in RBIs.

1962 Rocky Colavito hits three home runs in one game.

1964 Minnie Minoso appears in his last game. Well, his last game in the non-gimmick portion of his career.

1966 The Cubs release Ernie Broglio, whom they’d traded Lou Brock for two years previously.

1969 Johnny Bench plays in his 29th straight game without a homer, his longest such stretch.

1970 John Kennedy hits an inside the-park-home run in his first at-bat with the Boston Red Sox.

1972 Nolan Ryan fans eight straight Brewers.

1974 Rick Rhoden makes his big league debut.

1974 Claudell Washington appears in his first major league contest.

1977 Andre Dawson enjoys the first of 39 career multi-home run games.

1977 The Dodgers sign amateur free agent Ron Kittle. He’ll later be AL Rookie of the Year with the White Sox.

1980 Bobby Bonds, age 34, steals three bases in one game. It’s the fourth straight year he’s done it.

1982 Joe Niekro surrenders homers to the first two batters—Omar Moreno and Johnny Ray—but settles down to beat the Pirates, 6-4.

1984 Detroit is trailing 4-1 with two outs in the ninth, but they explode to score six runs in a 7-4 triumph over Texas.

1984 Tony Gwynn draws a walk-off walk.

1985 Three Angels fans insult the wife and family of Red Sox player Rick Miller during a game, leading to a fight, and Miller and other players jump into the stands.

1985 At 3:30 a.m., Rick Camp hits a two-out home run to tie a Braves-Mets game in the bottom of the 18th inning on an 0-2 count. The Braves lose the game anyway, 16-13 in 19 innings.

1987 The Padres trade Dave Dravecky, Craig Lefferts, and Kevin Mitchell to the Giants for Mark Davis, Chris Brown, Keith Comstock, and Mark Grant.

1989 Mark McGwire hits his 100th career home run.

1989 The Tigers sign amateur free agent pitcher Jose Lima.

1990 Whitey Herzog manages his last game.

1991 Gary Carter gets his 2,000th hit.

1991 Baltimore signs free agent Mark McLemore.

1991 California releases pitcher Fernando Valenzuela.

1993 Rickey Henderson becomes the second player to lead off both ends of a doubleheader with a home run. Harry Hooper did it for the Red Sox way back in 1913.

1994 Angels catcher Chris Turner begins the day batting .138, but he gets three singles, two doubles, and oh, he steals home.

1994 Darnell Coles of Toronto hits three homers in one game. It’s the second time he’s done that. Yeah, Darnell Coles did it twice.

1994 Paul Molitor hits his first grand slam in over 13 years.

1995 Bobby Cox manages his 2,000th game. His record is 1,065-933.

1996 The A’s and Angels combine for a record 16 runs in the first inning. The A’s had 13 of them.

1996 Darren Lewis receives the only intentional walk of his career. He has the most career plate appearances (4,652) for someone with exactly one IBB. His free pass loads the bases for Robin Ventura, who doubles. (Who decides the best time to face Robin Ventura is with the bases loaded?)

1996 Zane Smith appears in his last game.

1996 The Michigan Court of Appeals rules against the Tiger Stadium Fan Club, clearing a hurdle for the Tigers to get a new stadium.

1997 Chipper Jones hits a grand slam off of Pedro Martinez. It’s the last one Martinez ever surrenders.

1997 Montreal retires No. 10 for Andre Dawson.

1997 Jeff Bagwell steals three bases in one game. It’s the only time he does so.

1998 Juan Gonzalez becomes the first person since Hank Greenberg in 1935 to get 100 RBIs before the All-Star Game.

1998 Roger Clemens fans his 3,000th batter.

1999 Tony Phillips gets his 2,000th hit.

1999 For the third straight start, Randy Johnson pitches great but loses when Arizona is held scoreless. Johnson fans 12 in eight innings but loses, 1-0.

1999 Sammy Sosa reaches base three by error times in one game.

2000 Luis Gonzalez hits for the cycle.

2001 Greg Maddux wins his 250th game.

2001 Atlanta signs free agent third baseman Ken Caminiti.

2002 Jorge Posada connects for his 100th career home run.

2002 The A’s, Tigers, and Yankees combine for a three-way trade. The Tigers get Carlos Pena and Jeremy Bonderman, the A’s land Ted Lilly, and the Yankees wind up with Jeff Weaver.

2002 Baseball great Ted Williams dies at age 83.

2002 The Cubs fire Don Baylor and make Bruce Kimm their new manager.

2004 After 84 consecutive successful save opportunities, Eric Gagne blows a save versus Arizona.

2005 Manny Ramirez smacks his 20th career grand slam.

2006 The Angels trade Jeff Weaver to the Cardinals.

2007 Neifi Perez appears in his last game.

2008 Manny Ramirez is hit by a pitch three times in a 2-1 Yankees win over Boston.

2009 Reliever B.J. Ryan appears in his final game.

2010 The Texas Rangers owners put the team up for auction as they’ll be unable to satisfy creditors otherwise.

2011 Braves infielder Dan Uggla begins the day batting .173/.241/.327, but today begins a 33-game hitting streak.

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Comments

  1. Dave Cornutt said...

    The real joke about Rick Camp’s home run is that Camp was a terrible hitter, even for a pitcher.  That home run was the only one of his career.  He’s one of only 36 players in the modern era, with at least 100 PA, to have a career OBP of under .110 (his was .109). 

    Zane Smith was a decent pitcher who pitched for some bad Atlanta and Pittsburgh teams in the ‘80s.  Supposedly he had a repetoire of twelve pitches.

  2. Marc Schneider said...

    “Yeah, but even as impressive as Lyons’ streak is—he’s the only pitcher since 1918 to qualify for the ERA title while completing all of his starts—it still isn’t quite as impressive as what Roberts did. He was what’s called a “Sunday pitcher.” He pitched once a week, in the then-typical Sunday doubleheader. He had plenty of time to rest up between starts to stay fresh. His 28 complete games came in 102 games for the Phillies.”

    This is confusing.  Is this supposed to Lyons who was the “Sunday pitcher.”  If it’s Roberts, doesn’t that make his streak less impressive?

  3. Robert Murphy said...

    The title says “60th anniversary: Robin Roberts’ 60th straight complete game”?  The article correctly says he threw 28 straight complete games, not an unbelievable 60.

  4. dennis Bedard said...

    I once watched Rick Rhoden play.  I remember it well.  A windy February day in Miami around 1995 or so. The then Senior Tour. As he hit what had to be a 4 iron into a long par 3, I was no more than ten feet from him behind the ropes.  I stayed with him a few more holes and thought that this would be the closest I ever came to watching a major league player in action!  Johnny Bench, he of the 29 game no homer streak, also made a stab of it on the senior golf circuit.  As a kid in the 1960’s, I have a vague memory of Ken Harrelson quitting baseball to become a professional golfer but it never panned out.  Nice post that brings back a lot of fond memories.

  5. Chris Jaffe said...

    Robert – yeah, I made a stupid mistake in the title.  I’ve contacted the editors and hopefully it’ll be fixed soon. Sorry about that.

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