From the Desk of Rick Huhn: After the Streak

The following contribution comes from Rick Huhn, associate editor of Pitching to the Pennant: The 1954 Cleveland Indians (Nebraska, 2014). Rick Huhn is also the author of The Sizzler: George Sisler, Baseball’s Forgotten Great and Eddie Collins: A Baseball Biography.

 

After the Streak

Let me state at the outset, I am a lifelong Cleveland Indians fan. During the many decades that I’ve closely followed the team, the lows have clearly outnumbered the highs. Don’t get me wrong; there have been a number of highs. But even when the Indians are playing well I tend to proceed with caution. I rarely break tendency. While I was thrilled with the team’s recent record-breaking streak that ran to twenty-two games, I once again find myself feeling a bit edgy. Last season the Indians came within one victory of winning the World Series, losing to the long-suffering Chicago Cubs in a matchup that came down to a thrilling seventh game. Now the Indians lay claim as the longest suffering team. I was just an infant in 1948 when they last claimed a world championship. To my way of thinking, therefore, nothing but a World Series victory in 2017 will suffice. That’s why as the consecutive win streak progressed from interesting to exciting to historic, I could not keep my thoughts from straying to what happens “after” the streak has ended?

Over the course of a 162-game major league baseball season, winning streaks of various lengths are not uncommon. Although each streak varies in length they all have one thing in common, they start out quietly with no fanfare. Thus on the evening of August 24 when the 2017 edition of the Cleveland Indians defeated the American League Eastern Division leading Boston Red Sox 13-6 in Cleveland, the real excitement for Indians fans was the satisfaction in defeating a tough rival, gaining a split of a tough four-game series and most importantly increasing their lead in the American League Central Division to five and a half games over second-place Minnesota. What followed was not and really could not have been anticipated or expected. For over the next twenty-one games the Indians continued winning and in the process set an American League record of twenty-two consecutive wins.

Wancho-1954 Indians.indd

As the Indians streak progressed the local and national fanfare intensified with each win. When the Tribe won their fourteenth consecutive game in Chicago against the White Sox on September 6, they tied a club record set only the season before. They broke that record the very next night with another win over those same Sox. Now the  red-hot club was after bigger fish. When the streak reached twenty on September 12 with a 2-0 win in Cleveland over the Detroit Tigers, the Indians had equaled the American League record for consecutive wins previously held solely by the 2002 Oakland Athletics. Yes, the same Athletics made famous by the book and subsequent movie, Moneyball. The American League record was broken the next afternoon with another Tribe win over the Tigers. That win, number twenty-one, equaled one of the two remaining streaks on the books since 1901, the year the American League came into existence. The Chicago Cubs of the National League had also won twenty-one consecutive games in 1935, a figure surpassed by the Indians with a rousing ninth inning comeback and tenth inning walk-off 3-2 win over the Kansas City Royals before a boisterous hometown crowd.

There was only one target remaining: the 1916 New York Giants, a team managed by the legendary John McGraw. The Giants had run off twenty-six consecutive wins before their streak was halted, although after win number twelve they were in a tie with the Pittsburgh Pirates after eight innings when the game was washed out by a rainstorm. Under the custom of the time the entire game was replayed the next day with the Giants winning to extend their streak to thirteen on the way to twenty-six. As a result the Giants held the official all-time record for consecutive wins.

On September 15 the Indians and Royals faced off again as the Tribe sought win number twenty-three. Of course, as the streak advanced the tension mounted. By now each game had taken on a playoff atmosphere. The Indians had struggled to win number twenty-two. They struggled again on this night, finally succumbing to the Royals 4-3. The streak was over. The Giants’ marvelous streak held sway. Nonetheless, over the previous twenty-two games the Indians had been dominant. They outscored six different opponents by a combined run total of 142-37, often jumping out to an early lead and seldom trailing.

So why did I feel so much angst during the most sustained period of success in Cleveland and American League history? Well, as the streak continued and intensified I could not help but wonder if the Indians were peaking too soon. It would not be the first time this has happened to a sports franchise. I needed to look no further than my hometown Columbus Blue Jackets franchise as their long win streak last winter helped them naught when they exited the NHL playoffs in the first round.

Then there was the unsettling history of the three clubs whose winning streaks the Indians had just passed or challenged during their own streak. We’ve already discussed how the 2016 Indians, winners of fourteen, came up short to the Cubs. Then the 2002 Oakland Athletics, winners of twenty, but loser to the Twins in the American League Divisional Series. The 1935 Chicago Cubs are next. They won twenty-one before losing to the Detroit Tigers four games to two in the World Series. Even more disquieting was the fate of the reigning record holders, the 1916 Giants. They finished the season in fourth place, seven behind the league leader having lost four of five after the streak ended.

Reason for concern, perhaps or perhaps not. Remember, like many Indians fans I see a half-empty glass. I certainly hope I’m wrong. For twenty-two games the Indians were the kings of baseball and it was beyond thrilling for this avid fan. But the last thing I want to have to say with a sigh at the end of the 2017 baseball season is, “Well, we’ll always have The Streak.”