The second part of a semi-regular series on “Baseball’s Most Unbreakable Records”.
Sometimes baseball’s most unbreakable records need to be framed in the proper context. Sometimes luck or fate has more affect on the baseball record book than we realize.
Tris Speaker never actually came close to Joe DiMaggio’s “unbreakable” 56-game hitting streak established decades after Speaker’s Hall of Fame career. But the Red Sox Hall of Fame outfielder from the deadball era did something nearly as remarkable — some might say even more remarkable.
In 1912, Speaker had hitting streaks of 20 games or more three different times — “a feat not even the great DiMaggio could ever duplicate”, wrote Timothy Gray, author of the fascinating and meticulously researched book Tris Speaker: A Rough and Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend. Gay cited research done by dead-ball era historian Dan Holmes, who maintains Speaker came within an “eyelash or two” of a 70-game (or more) hitting streak. From May 27 – August 14, Speaker played in 78 games and collected a hit in all but four of them. A scratch hit here, a wind-blown double there and we may be looking at the baseball record book from a different perspective.
1912 was a great season for Speaker and the Red Sox. Celebrating the opening of Fenway Park, Speaker earned the American League MVP award and led the Red Sox to a World Series title over the Christy Mathewson and the New York Giants. Speaker, an exceptional contact hitter who could drive the ball to the gaps, flirted with .400 for much of the season before finishing with .383 batting average. He led the league in doubles with 53 and home runs with 10.
Running neck and neck with Ty Cobb as the greatest fielder of the time period, the man they called “Spoke” established a record for outfield assist that season with 35 — an amazing accomplishment that has never been equalled. Speaker, renowned for playing a shallow centerfield — and by shallow, historians say he positioned himself just behind second base — also led the league “by engineering nine catch-and-throw double plays” that season, according to Gay’s book.