Does any individual achievement deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak? Given that nobody before or after his 1941 record has come near it, the answer is clearly “no.” Yet of all the multi-game records of shorter duration, another far less heralded feat continues to stand the test of time.
The record for consecutive hits by a player – 12 — was established by catcher Johnny Kling in 1902 with Chicago in the N.L. It was matched by Detroit’s Walt Dropo in 1952 in the A.L. (Pinky Higgins of the Red Sox had 12 hits in 12 official at-bats in 1938. Not to minimize his achievement, he walked twice during his streak. Dropo and Kling did it in 12 plate appearances.)
Until 2009, Dropo’s consecutive hit mark was thought to stand alone. That year, Trent McCotter of Retrosheet uncovered Kling’s mark as part of the group’s massive on-going effort to determine as accurately as possible the play-by-play accounts of every major league game.
Dropo had the last seven of his 12 straight hits during a Griffith Stadium doubleheader on July 15, 1952, when he played first base for the Tigers. After going 5-for-5 at Yankee Stadium on July 14, Dropo went 4-for-4 in the first game in Washington on July 15. His first nine hits in a row were all singles. Then he tripled, singled and doubled in the second game. The fifith-inning double, his 12th straight hit, came off the Senators’ Lou Sleater, who had relieved Bob Porterfield.
Sleater also ended Dropo’s streak by getting him to pop out to the catcher in the seventh, but Dropo knocked Sleater out of the game in the ninth with a two-run single.
Dropo set his record before 8,383 fans who were on hand for the Tuesday afternoon twin-bill in Washington.
Despite Dropo’s five RBIs in the second game, the Senators and Sleater hung on to win, 9-8. Dropo had an RBI in the first game, which Detroit lost, 8-2.
The Tigers lost 104 games in 1952 and finished last. For Washington, 1952 was its last winning season (78-76) before the Griffith family moved the team to Minnesota.
The July 14 five-hit game in New York began a 10-game hitting streak for Dropo during which he went 23 for 41. He was batting .265 before the Yankees game and had jumped to .304 after the Tigers’ 1-0 win over the Senators when his hitting streak ended on July 22.
The Red Sox had sent Dropo, the A.L. rookie of the year in 1950, to the Tigers at the beginning of June 1952 in a blockbuster, nine-man, trade. A broken wrist suffered in 1951 had set back Dropo’s career. Although he never matched his rookie-year numbers (34 HR/144 RBIs/.322), he had a solid ’52 season in addition to his July hot streak: 29 homers, 97 RBIs and .276 average overall.
In this century, two players have reached 11 hit in a row: Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox, August 25-27, 2016, and Bernie Williams of the Yankees, August 14-17, 2002.
Considering Dropo’s A.L. record has endured for 70 years and Kling’s N.L. mark for 120 years, don’t count on anybody matching or topping 12 hits in a row anytime soon. If it does happen, it will likely take no more than three games.
A version of this appeared in Here’s the Pitch, the online newsletter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association.