1980’s Longest Hitting Streak

DiMaggio: 56

Other DiMaggio: 34

Landreaux: 31

Wait… what?

From 1941 through 1980, the three longest hitting streaks in the American League belonged to Joe DiMaggio (56 in 1941) , Don DiMaggio (34 in 1949) and Ken Landreaux. The two DiMaggio brothers are household names, but Landreaux, not so much.

Ken Landreaux
1980’s longest hitting streak belonged to Ken Landreaux

Ken Landreaux was selected by the Angels in the first round of the 1976 draft and amassed all of 77 hits in his first two seasons before being dealt to the Minnesota Twins in a six-player deal involving future Hall-of-Famer Rod Carew. When Landreaux returned to California for the first time as a member of the Twins in 1979, he told reporters he thought enough of his abilities to suggest it should have been an even swap: him for Carew.

“I know Carew is a seven time batting champion,” said Landreaux. “But I feel, if I continue to work hard, someday I can produce just as much as Carew did for this club.”

The comments didn’t sit well with Carew, who refused to speak to Landreaux after hearing them, but Landreaux said it was all in fun.

“I say outrageous things once in a while just to spice up a conversation,” he told The Sporting News. “I can’t believe how mad Rod got.”

Landreaux showed a lot of promise in his first season in Minnesota, hitting .305 with 15 homers and 83 RBI which somewhat eased Twins fans’ angst over losing Carew. Twins skipper Gene Mauch told The Sporting News, “If we leave him in left, he could become one of the best in the game.”

That didn’t quite happen, but he did turn in one of the more underrated hitting performances of the decade and it began at the end of an otherwise forgetful day.

The Twins opened the 1980 season with a 12-game road trip and thus didn’t have their home opener until April 22nd when they beat the Angels 8-1. The next day, in front of just 4,772 fans at Metropolitan Stadium, things didn’t go so well as California lefty Bruce Kison held Minnesota hitless into the 9th inning. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Angels also held a 17-0 lead as Landreaux stepped to the plate with one out in the ninth. His double to left field broke up Kison’s no-hit bid and served as the beginning of what would become a 31-game hitting streak.

From April 22nd until the end of May, Landreaux was an offensive force, batting .392 for a woeful Twins team that managed a mere 12 wins during the streak. The Twins were so woeful that Landreaux scored only 13 runs while getting on base 60 times via hit or walk.

After 31 games and 49 hits, the streak finally came to an end against Scott McGregor and the Baltimore Orioles Saturday, on May 31st.

“It figured a guy like that would stop me,” said Landreaux. “I prefer the gassers, the guys who bring some heat. But I had a couple of chances. McGregor threw me some cookies…I just missed them.”

The other thing he just missed was a bonus of $1,000 for each game of the streak, offered up by the makers of Aqua Velva. After Pete Rose’s 44-game hitting streak in 1978, Aqua Velva offered the bonus to the person who recorded the longest hitting streak each season. Rose himself took the prize home in ’79 but Commissioner Bowie Kuhn stepped in in 1980 saying the bonus put too much pressure on official scorers. Kuhn and Aqua Velva eventually reached an agreement which allowed Landreaux to donate the money to the Little League and Pop Warner programs in his home town of Compton, CA.

Bad Blood at The Vet

“Green’s Phillies Win Brawl Game” read one headline.

“Phillies Wrestle First Place Away From Bucs” read another.

On May 26th, 1980, the Pittsburgh Pirates came to Veterans Stadium for an NL East showdown. Philadelphia had won four straight to cut Pittsburgh’s lead in the division to just a half game and the four-game series was a chance for the Phillies to reassert themselves as the class of the NL East. The Pirates were in a foul mood after losing six of their last eight, including a 5-2 loss on “Bat Day” in Pittsburgh on May 25th. The loss so incensed the Pirate faithful that a few of them took their new bats and smashed the back window of Willie Stargell’s Rolls Royce.

Pittsburgh sent Bert Blyleven to the mound, while the Phillies countered with rookie Bob Walk who was making his major league debut after going 5-1 in AAA Oklahoma City. For Walk, it would be his first time atop a major league pitching mound but not his first time throwing objects at big-leagues. As a teenager, he was once arrested at Dodger Stadium for throwing a tennis ball at Astros outfielder Cesar Cedeno from the bleachers.

Pittsburgh took a 2-0 lead on Willie Stargell’s first-inning home run. In the bottom of the 3rd inning, with the Pirates lead standing at 3-1, Blyleven threw inside to Mike Schmidt and Schmidt took exception, heading to the mound to confront the Pirates’ hurler and the benches quickly emptied. Home plate umpire Doug Harvey, who carried the nickname, “God” for the clout he earned among players and other umpires, was able to intercept Schmidt before he reached the mound and order was restored.

Saucier was looking for vengence
Saucier was looking for vengence

Walk lived up to his name in his debut, issuing free passes to five Pirate hitters in two and two-thirds innings before being replaced by Lerrin LeGrow. When Kevin Saucier took over for the Phillies in the 5th inning he had revenge on his mind. After getting Dave Parker to ground out to Manny Trillo at 2nd, Saucier plunked Willie Stargell, causing the Pirates dugout to take notice. In the 6th, Saucier finally got a chance to get even with Blyleven and did so by drilling the Pirates’ starter with a pitch. None too pleased, Blyleven picked the ball up and prepared to throw it back at Saucier.  Harvey was able to stop Blyleven, but he wasn’t able to prevent the swarm of Phillies or Pirates from rushing the field. Someone tackled Saucier and a nearly five minute brawl ensued. Things were seemingly under control until Pirate outfielder Lee Lacy began hurling insults towards the Phillies.

“I told Lacy to stop trying to instigate things,” Harvey said. “He was cursing and I threw him out of the game. The next thing I knew, (Phillies pitching coach) Herm Starrette was shouting at someone and I told him to stop instigating. He kept yelling and I threw him out of the game.”

But Starrette wasn’t the only Phillies coach causing problems. Bullpen coach Mike Ryan began jawing with several Pittsburgh players and a second brawl broke out, this one bigger than the first. For the Pirates, there was no doubt who was to blame.

Ryan fanned the flames
Ryan fanned the flames

“It was Ryan’s fault,” said Lacy. “He ran into a pile of players and started kicking everyone, even his teammates.”

“I didn’t kick anyone,” Ryan said. “As a coach, I was trying to be a peacemaker. Some of the Pirates, two or three of them, started pointing at me. I said, OK, if you want a piece of me, try me.”

The teams finally returned to their dugouts and the Pirates held a 6-5 lead in the 9th inning with their closer, Kent Tekulve, on the mound. Tekulve faced five batters in the bottom of the 9th and retired none of them. Larry Bowa’s single to right field scored Bob Boone and the Phillies had a win and sole possession of first place in the NL East.

It was a lead that would bounce back and forth between the Pirates, Phillies and the Montreal Expos for the rest of the summer.

It’s Rainey in Boston

Quick: Name the American League Pitcher of the Month in May, 1980.

Steve Stone won the Cy Young award, though a legit argument could be made for Oakland’s Mike Norris. But neither of them were pitcher of the month in May. Stone won in June and Norris never won the honor, despite finishing the season with a 22-9 record and an ERA of just 2.53.

Only die-hard Red Sox fans will know that the AL Pitcher of the Month in May, 1980 was Chuck Rainey. Rainey was in his second year in the majors in 1980 and it did not get off to a good start. He entered May with a 0-0 record and a lofty 11.85 ERA. Then he was damn-near unhittable.

Chuck Rainey
Rainey was the man for one month

On May 3rd, he shut out the Royals 7-0, then proved it wasn’t a fluke by beating them again 5-2 on May 11th. He then beat Cleveland and Toronto in his next two starts to run his record for the month to 4-0. The Indians beat him 3-2 on May 25th and he closed out the month with a 5-3 win over a powerful Milwaukee Brewers lineup.

His numbers for the month were very impressive. After giving up 18 earned runs in 13 and two-third innings in April, Rainey went 5-1 with a 1.62 ERA with two complete games over six starts in May.

Unfortunately for Rainey and the Red Sox, his success wouldn’t last. In a July start against the Orioles, he injured his elbow after throwing only nine pitches and missed the rest of the season. He would win 33 games over the next five seasons before retiring after 1984, but he would never again have a month like he did in May of 1980.

 

 

 

Moonlighting – Starring Ozzie Smith

Bruce-CybillBefore there was Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd there was Ozzie Smith. While there may be no truth to the rumor that the hit TV show was based on the exploits of the future Hall-of-Fame shortstop, it is indeed a fact that in the summer of 1980, Ozzie Smith was looking for a second gig.

Smith made some bad investments and was on the hook for some serious money. An Associated Press story claimed Smith owed more than $100,000 in unsecured debts and “must find extra income quickly.”

According to Peter Gammons in the Boston Globe, the “bad investments” amounted to Smith possibly living beyond his means by purchasing a house and a Mercedes Benz on his salary of around $72,000 per season.

“You know once a ball player reaches the big leagues, he starts to live differently — like a movie star,” Smith told the Christian Science Monitor. “Certain things are expected of you, and you kind of get caught up in a more expensive life.”

Coming off a 1979 campaign which began with an 0-32 streak and ended with a .211 batting average, Smith asked the Padres for a raise and they declined. But Ozzie still had bills to pay. Like many Americans who need extra cash, he decided to get a second job.

Smith took out a Position Wanted ad in the San Diego Union seeking a part-time job to help him get over the hump financially. He also was considering asking the Padres for about a month off in June and July so he could go to Europe and compete in the Tour De France. Smith’s agent Ed Gottlieb told the media Ozzie had an offer to earn between $25,000 and $100,000 for “competition in Europe.”

Needless to say, the Padres weren’t thrilled about the idea, but Joan Kroc did have an offer. The wife of the Padres owner Ray Kroc told Smith he was welcome to be an assistant gardener on the Kroc Estate. According to Mrs. Kroc, the position came complete with the blessing of the head gardener Luis Torres, in part because Smith was his favorite player.

Fortunately for Ozzie his advertising campaign proved to be a rousing success. He received at least a dozen legitimate offers according to Gottlieb and eventually settled on a job with a Los Angeles company that paid him at least $500 per week plus commission and it didn’t involve picking up a shovel.

Reggie vs. Koosman

Reggie Jackson may have been the straw that stirred the drink, but it took a few years after his arrival in New York for the drink to be served.

By 1980, Billy Martin was gone, as was Chris Chambliss, Mickey Rivers and, tragically, Thurman Munson. The Yankees were finally Reggie’s team and Jerry Koosman may have been responsible.

Jerry Koosman
A Jerry Koosman pitch may have helped Reggie

After an 0-5 day against the White Sox on April 27th, Jackson’s batting average stood at an anemic .177. But then Reggie got hot, going 8 for his next 18, including going 5-9 with a home run in the first two games of a four games set against the Twins in Bloomington.

On May 4th, in the third game of the series, Reggie lead off the second inning against Jerry Koosman, who quickly got ahead in the count 0-2. Koosman’s next pitch sealed his fate in the game, and potentially Jackson’s fate in the Yankee clubhouse. Koosman delivered his 0-2 offering directly at Reggie’s head, causing him to hit the deck at the last second and come up extremely unhappy.  Not satisfied, Koosman brushed Jackson back again, prompting him to tell Twins catcher Butch Wynegar, “If the next one comes in close, I’m going to get you.”

At 2-2, Koosman couldn’t afford to deck Jackson for a third time and his next pitch caught a bit more of the plate. Jackson turned on it and sent it more than 400 feet to straight away center field for a home run. Reggie had hit lots of home runs in pinstripes. He made history in 1977 by hitting three homers off three different Dodger pitchers en route to leading the Yankees to their first World Series title since 1962. But his cockiness rubbed a lot of people the wrong way and there were high profile run-ins with Martin and Munson that caused many people both in and out of the Yankee clubhouse to dislike him.

Reggie Jackson
Reggie follows through

When his blast cleared the center field fence at Metropolitan Stadium, the Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the game, but more importantly, it may have been the tipping point in Jackson’s relationship with his teammates. As he rounded the bases and headed back to the dugout, Jackson saw a number of Yankees waiting for him.

“I was thrilled to see my teammates standing there,” he said. “Half of them told me they would have gone out there to defend me.”

A Change in Attitude

This was in stark contrast to his first year in New York when, stung by public criticism from his teammates, Jackson snubbed those looking to congratulate him after hitting a home run. All seemed to be forgiven now and the Yankees were rolling. Spurred by Reggie heroics, New York knocked Koosman out of the game after just three and a third innings en route to a 10-1 win. Tom Underwood exacted some revenge by drilling Wynegar in the back the inning after Reggie was knocked down prompting home plate umpire Vic Voltaggio to warn both benches.

The show of support from his teammates, which came in the form of recognition and retribution was a big moment for Jackson and the Yankees. It also added to his reputation as a guy who could deliver in the big moment.

“I guess I haven’t convinced everybody,” he said. “They keep putting me through the test. I must have done it seven or eight times in my career; get up after getting knocked down and then hit a home run.”

“The good ones, Frank Robinson, Al Kaline, Mickey Mantle, they’re better hitters when the get knocked down,” said Yankee Manager Dick Howser. “Reggie’s like that.”

McCovey’s Last Bomb

Sometimes you witness history and don’t even know it. That was the case for the 18,622 people in attendance for the Giants/Expos game in Montreal on May 3rd, 1980. At the time, Willie McCovey was in the twilight of what would become a Hall of Fame career.

McCovey was born on January 10th, 1938 in Mobile Alabama, which has produced its share of great baseball talent, including Satchel Paige, Henry Aaron, and Ozzie Smith among others. One of the most feared sluggers of his era, McCovey’s name fits comfortably among those of his fellow Mobile natives. How good was the man they called “Stretch?” None other than Bob Gibson once called him the scariest hitter in baseball.

After batting .372 with 29 homers in 95 games for the 1959 Phoenix Giants of the AAA Pacific Coast League, McCovey got the call to the big leagues and made his debut on July 30th. While many rookies are eased into the lineup, Giants skipper Bill Rigney threw McCovey right into the fire, batting him 3rd in the order between Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda. Unfazed, he went 4-4 with two triples against Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts and the Philadelphia Phillies. Three days later, he hit his first career home run off of Pirates pitcher Johnny Antonelli. McCovey would finish the 1959 season with a .352 batting average and 13 homers in just 52 games en route to winning Rookie of the Year honors. No position player has ever won Rookie of the Year honors while playing in fewer games.

Willie McCovey spent 15 seasons with the Giants before being dealt to the San Diego Padres in October of 1973. There, he teamed with a young outfielder named Dave Winfield and  they became fast friends. On one occasion, McCovey was hitting and noticed the opposition was playing him deep. He took a huge cut on the first swing and then laid down a bunt for a single on the next pitch. He later told Winfield he did it so Winny could knock him in, which he did. “I learned as much about strategy in the one moment as I had in the twenty-one years preceding it,” Winfield said in his autobiography.

Stretch spent two and a half years in San Diego and played 11 games for the Oakland A’s before returning to the Giants in 1977 where he won the comeback player of the year award, batting .280 with 28 homers.

Willie McCovey
Stretch in 1980

In the 4th inning of the Giants game on May 3rd, 1980 against Montreal, McCovey homered off of Scott Sanderson to give San Francisco a 1-0 lead. The shot was the 521st and final of his career and moved him into a tie with Ted Williams on the all-time home run list. He also joined Williams as the only players at that point to homer in four different decades. He retired mid-season and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986 along with Ernie Lombardi and Bobby Doerr.