It's a simple rule of baseball fandom etiquette: If ever an argument ensues, the person who names seven statistics down to the third decimal place in support of his or her team wins the day. Go ask any bartender in Chicago, New York, St. Louis or Boston. It's true.
That's because baseball fans, no matter how much they might deny it, are number geeks at heart. Sure, the U.S. national pastime has depth, soul and history, but sportscasters need more than sentimental whimsy to talk their way through a game that usually lasts upward of three hours [source: MLB]. So out come the spreadsheets: RBIs, Hs, Rs, SOs, AVGs and many more.
But there's one thing that all the acronyms in the world can't shout down -- victories. If your team wins, it doesn't matter how many on-bases the other guy manages to get after the seventh inning on alternate Wednesdays. And the only thing bigger than a win is an entire streak of wins. Consider it a royal flush hand in the world of sports.
What's a streak? It's any consecutive number of victories by a single team or player. Note that we said victories. Tied games don't count.
By all definitions, a streak signifies dominance, because long streaks don't happen by accident. Sure, some of the wins within a streak may be chalked up to luck, but no team gets lucky 8, 9, 20, 21 or 26 times in a row. That's just skill.
So let's head out to the old ball game and explore some of the game's biggest winning streaks -- that mystical territory where baseball's soul, history and statistics converge.
The fact that this distinction can even be made is a sad part of baseball history, but it's a testament to the sport's longevity through U.S. history. Though some African-Americans played professionally in the late 1800s, segregation forced them out by 1900 [source: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum]. Even when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1945, it still took many years for Major League Baseball to fully integrate.
Compared to the white teams of the times, black teams played in a much more fractious system. When they were forced out of professional baseball in 1900, the players organized teams that would hit the field almost any chance they got. This led to multiple leagues, inconsistent, short-lived teams and poor record-keeping. Some clubs were established in large home cities while others barnstormed from town to town, playing for anyone who would pay to watch. And since winning streaks are based on officially sanctioned games, it's been very difficult to confirm a top team. Because of this, neither the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum nor the National Baseball Hall of Fame officially recognizes a leader for winning streaks in the Negro Leagues. Yet.
How you define a win streak for The Major League of this same era could have a lot to do with where you live. If you're from New York, a winning streak probably means how long your team went without a loss. That's because the 1916 New York Giants managed to put together 26 victories in a row. Sort of. They actually had 12 victories, one tie against the Pittsburgh Pirates and then 14 more victories [source: Baseball Almanac]. The Giants were an arguably great team that year, still regarded as one of the best ever. Earlier in the same season, they had a 17-game streak. But if you're a Chicago Cubs fan, that one tie in middle of the Giants' run is a point of great contention. That's because the 1935 Cubs had 21 straight victories. Nothing but Ws.
The 2002 season began pretty bleakly for the Oakland A's, as anyone who's seen the film "Moneyball" knows.
During the offseason the club lost outfielder Johnny Damon, pitcher Jason Isringhausen and first baseman Jason Giambi to free agency. Basically, most of the key players who had taken the A's to the playoffs had just left for better paychecks, leaving wide statistical holes in offense and defense. And the franchise couldn't offer much budget to use as backfill. It's a classic problem experienced by smaller-market teams across the U.S.: The big-budget teams snatch up all the best players.
To solve their problem, general manager Billy Beane and his assistant Paul DePodesta mined the data of the league's scrapheap to identify some of the most affordable and overlooked players. While it was a key strategy to the team's success that year, you could argue that the team already had a good base of players in place, making its return to the playoffs not such a surprise [source: Corcoran].
Either way, winning 20 games in a row is no accident. Starting at game 120 of their season, the A's worked their way through the Blue Jays, Whitesox, Indians, Tigers, Royals and the Twins [source: Baseball Almanac]. That's when the baseball teams, fans and pundits started taking Beane and DePodesta's experiment very seriously. Without that streak and their subsequent trip to their league playoffs, their strategy might have been written off.
Some say they reinvented the game. Others say they reinvented the game for teams with smaller budgets by creating a blueprint for making the most of what they have. It should be said that they also changed the game for every fan who ever won a baseball argument by boring their opponent into submission with a wall of statistical minutia. You can't argue with the numbers, and for the A's, that number is 20.
Call it the defensive offense: Besides the pitcher, no other single position on the baseball team gets to record wins in their stat cards. To count as a streak, the wins have to be consecutive for that pitcher, but they don't have to be played all in a row.
You need to dig very deep in the file cabinet of baseball statistics to find the longest pitcher's single-season winning streak of Major League history -- more than 100 years, to Richard "Rube" Marquard's 1912 season. Looking at his stat card and his professional history, Marquard was one of those players who could seem extremely average at times and invincible at others. Having played semipro for a factory team as a teenager, he moved up to the minors, where he dominated for two seasons straight, earning 23 wins his first year and 28 the next [source: Mansch].
With numbers like that, Marquard drew the attention of Major League teams, and by 1908, he had received the unheard-of offer of $11,000 -– between $250,000 and $300,000 by 2012 standards. Sports writers hailed him as the next dominant force in New York City baseball, calling him the "$11,000 Peach." But his first trip to the mound was a disappointment. Soon he was being called the "$11,000 Lemon." In 1909, his win-loss record read 5-13, and the next year it leveled out at 4-4 [source: Baseball Reference].
With the help of a new assistant coach, he found his footing during the 1911 season. His game record that season leapt to 24-7. In 1912, he rose to 26-11, including the 19-game winning streak that cemented his place in baseball's record books. The streak started at the beginning of the season and had him beat every team in his league. It almost ended at the 13th game when the Cubs came close to winning. Marquard was relieved in the eighth inning, the Giants rallied back into the lead and the victory was attributed Marquard. It was a close call that foreshadowed which team would end his streak six games later -- the Cubs.
Alright Yankees fans, this is where your team shines, but you already knew it, didn't you? Not only do the Yanks have by far the most World Series wins of any team since the series began in 1903, but also the longest streak of World Series victories, too.
The Yankees' five-year-long record-setting streak occurred during the seasons spanning 1949-53. The next closest team is the Oakland Athletics, which went three straight from 1972-74 [source: MLB.com]. The rosters of this era read like the Super Friends of mid-century pro baseball, with names like Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Joe Collins, Billy Martin, Joe DiMaggio and Whitey Ford.
As for longest winning streaks during a single playoff season, this is the set of stats that Boston Red Sox fans just won't let Yankees fans forget. Not only did the 2004 Red Sox stage the longest win streak of any playoff season, it also was one of the biggest comebacks in World Series history, too.
The story goes like this: The Yankees had the Sox down three games to zero in a seven-game American League series. Game three had been a 19-to-8 annihilation. The Yankees' sweeping advancement to the World Series seemed foregone. But in the fourth game, the Red Sox held on for 12 innings through the longest game of an American League Championship Series (it lasted more than five hours) for a 6-4 victory [source: Feinsand]. In the next game, the Red Sox battled back to tie the game in late innings, which led to another record run time (5:49 over 14 innings) and another win. Momentum had clearly swung in Boston's favor as the club charged through two more games to win its league. Boston followed up by sweeping the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The team set the streak record at eight wins and became the first club to come back and win the World Series after being down 3-0 in League Championship play.
Baseball may have started in North America, but over the last century, it has gone global. As evidence of the sport's international popularity, we had the Baseball World Cup, which started in 1938 to bring baseball-playing countries together under a single tournament. Organized by the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) and hosted by a different country every four (and later two) years, the World Cup featured amateur players until recently [source: IBAF].
So which country has the longest winning streak in the tournament? Not the United States. Actually, it's Cuba. Baseball is huge throughout Asia, the Caribbean islands, Central America, South America and even certain European countries, but it's just as popular in Cuba as in the States, and Cuba has the wins to show for it. Of the 39 World Cup series played over the years, Cuba took home the gold 25 times. The nation took nine straight trophies between 1984 and 2005, beating out teams from the United States, South Korea, Chinese Taipei, Nicaragua and Panama in the finals. Cuba so dominated the competition that it actually holds title to the top three winning streaks (9, 5 and 3 straight wins) [source: Baseball Reference].
Midway through Cuba's nine-game reign, the World Cup opened up to allow professional players to compete. During the 2000s, the World Cup's schedule changed, placing the series at the same time as spring training and allowing American big leaguers the opportunity to represent their country. With players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez and many others on the roster, the U.S. team beat Cuba in 2007 and 2009 to win the title [source: Baseball Reference]. The final World Cup was played in 2011 and was won by the Dutch team.
Today, the IBAF operates the World Baseball Classic, which is coordinated with Major League Baseball and professional baseball associations in various countries. Japan won the first two classics in 2006 and 2009, making for a mini streak of its own!
Foul balls rocket into the stands, hitting fans on the way. Are MLB teams liable for injuries they might cause to fans? HowStuffWorks investigates.
Author's Note: 5 Biggest Winning Streaks in Baseball History
My son was only a few months old when the Red Sox made their historic World Series comeback. And he was right there in my arms, sucking on his bottle of formula, as we watched game seven against the Yankees in 2004 together. To be honest, I had never been a Sox fan before that, but how could you not get behind an underdog story like that? So we stayed up late to see how it all turned out. At the end of the evening, the Sox were headed to the World Series, and my boy went down for his first-ever full night of sleep. I'll never forget it.
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- Mansch, Larry. "Rube Marquard." Society for American Baseball Research. 2012. (Aug. 4, 2012) http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/566fa007
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