Whit Merrifield doubled to begin Sunday’s game, which officially extended his hitting streak to 28, the second-longest hitting streak in franchise history. Only George Brett’s 30-game hitting streak in 1980 stands in front of Whit in Royals lore. However he has a long way to go to even approach the all-time record, one of the most revered in all of baseball, a 56-game hitting streak by the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio in 1941.
Could Whit have a shot at even coming close to the record? The conventional wisdom is that for anyone to approach Joltin’ Joe’s record, it would have to be (1) someone who makes a lot of contact; (2) someone fast enough to beat out an infield single now and then; and (3) a left-handed hitter who is a step closer to first base to beat out that infield single.
Merrifield makes a fair amount of contact for his day with a strikeout rate of just 16.3%, but historically he would be considered a free-swinger compared to guys like Brett (7.8%) or DiMaggio (an insane 4.8%). He is fast enough to lead the Majors in steals, although not a burner like, say Rickey Henderson or Willie Wilson. And alas, Merrifield is a right-handed hitter.
Still, those conventional wisdoms aren’t all that convincing. Tony Gwynn fits all those criteria to a tee and is considered one of the greatest pure hitters of all-time, and yet the longest hitting streak of his entire career was just 25 games. Other speedy, left-handed, high-contact hitters like Ichiro Suzuki and Rod Carew never had a hitting streak more than 30 games. On the other side, Joe DiMaggio wasn’t a right-handed hitter who wasn’t particularly fast.
It seems that a long hitting streak requires a pretty good hitter and a lot of luck. DiMaggio’s streak nearly ended at 35 when he was hitless through six innings against the St. Louis Browns. Manager Luke Sewell ordered his pitcher to walk DiMaggio in the seventh, but Bob Moncrief refused, and ended up giving up a single to DiMaggio.
If Whit is good enough and lucky enough to begin to challenge Joe’s historic record, would he even supplant the streak? Joe’s hitting streak took place all in the course of one season - from May 15 to July 17 of 1941. But Merrifield’s streak began last season. He went hitless on September 9, but reached safely on a hit in each of the last 20 games of the season. Then he took six months off, and resumed his streak on March 28 of this year against the White Sox, collecting hits in each of his first eight games this year, so far.
Officially, baseball recognizes two kinds of hitting streaks - single-season streaks, such as DiMaggio’s, and multiple-season streaks, such as Whit’s. Wee Willie Keeler owns the longest hitting streak over multiple seasons, when he reached safely in 44 consecutive games in 1896 and 1897. More recently, Jimmy Rollins made a run with a 38-game hitting streak, but that came over 2005-2006. There have been 13 hitting streaks of 30 games or more than took place over more than one season.
Longest hitting streaks, MLB history
|Joe DiMaggio, NYY||1941||56||Willie Keeler, BAL||1896-1897||45|
|Pete Rose, CIN||1978||44||Jimmy Rollins, PHI||2005-2006||38|
|Bill Dahlen, CHC||1894||42||Gene DeMontreville, WSH||1896-1897||36|
|George Sisler, SLB||1922||41||George Sisler, SLB||1924-1925||35|
|Ty Cobb, DET||1911||40||Hal Morris, CIN||1996-1997||32|
|Paul Molitor, MIL||1987||39||Harry Heilmann, DET||1922-1923||32|
|Tommy Holmes, BSB||1945||37||Ron LeFlore, DET||1975-1976||31|
|Fred Clarke, LOU||1895||35||Vada Pinson, CIN||1965-1966||31|
|Chase Utley, PHI||2006||35||Chicken Wolf, LOU||1885-1886||31|
|Luis Castillo, FLA||2002||35||Sam Rice, WSH||1929-1930||30|
|Ty Cobb, DET||1917||35||Lance Richbourg, BSN||1927-1928||30|
|Benito Santiago, SDP||1987||34||Charlie Grimm, PIT||1922-1923||30|
|Dom DiMaggio, BOS||1949||34||Dusty Miller, CIN||1895-1896||30|
|George McQuinn, SLB||1938||34||Curt Flood, STL||1961-1962||29|
|Dan Uggla, FLA||2011||33||Lonnie Smith, PHI/STL||1981-1982||28|
|Heinie Manush, WSH||1933||33||Whit Merrifield, KCR||2018-2019||28|
|Rogers Hornsby, STL||1922||33||David Ortiz, BOS||2012-2013||27|
|Hal Chase, NYY||1907||33||Tommy Holmes, BSB||1944-1945||27|
|George Davis, NYG||1893||33|
In the minds of most people, however, there is no distinction. Most lists lump all hitting streaks into one category. Whit is considered to have the second-greatest hitting streak in club history, and could pass George Brett in a few games, even though George’s streak took place entirely within the 1980 season. It would likely only be if Whit comes close to threatening DiMaggio’s record that the distinction would be made. If that were to happen (a pretty big “if” considering how amazing that record is and how it has withstood the test of time) I think most everyone would consider DiMaggio’s the more impressive record, since it took place all in one season.
Still, that shouldn’t diminish what Whit has done. Getting on base via a base hit is harder than it has been in about a half century - the league-wide batting average was just .248 last year, the lowest it had been since 1969.
And of course, Whit could always reach safely via a hit in 56 consecutive games this year.