Records were meant to be broken, but some records will stand the test of time thanks to good fortune. Brandon Magee puts Cleveland Indians catching prospect Francisco Mejia’s minor league hit streak into perspective just days after it has ended.
Fifty-six. The number 56 means just one thing to baseball fans: the unassailable consecutive game hit streak Joe DiMaggio put together 75 years ago. The length of the streak is astounding. DiMaggio broke Wee Willie Keeler’s previous record of 45 games en route to 56 – Keeler’s streak is still the National League record. No one on the major league level since has gotten within ten games of Mr. Coffee. Pete Rose came closest, with a 44 game streak in 1978. Paul Molitor fell one game short of 40 in 1987. Since DiMaggio set the mark, only 25 players in the majors have even run a streak of hits to 30 games. The Hit-Sensei, Ichiro Suzuki, isn’t on the list. Wade Boggs and his preternatural ability to put bat on ball also was unable to do it. In fact, while the list of longest streaks boasts such luminaries like Albert Pujols, George Brett, and Stan Musial, it also contains after-thoughts like Ken Landreaux, Jerome Walton, and Willie Davis.
Enter Francisco Mejia. The Cleveland Indians 20-year-old catcher, currently toiling in High-A, put the streak in sight for the first time in over six decades. When the official scorer changed a grounder smashed past the third baseman from an error to a hit after the game last Saturday, Mejia became the first player to reach the magical plateau of 50 games since Roman Mejias – no relation as far as we know – hit 55 in 1954 for the Waco Pirates of the old Big State League.
When Francisco Mejia hit the 50-game mark, he joined Otto Pahlman with the fourth longest hitting streak in minor league history. DiMaggio himself holds second place on this list, compiling hits in an absurd 61 consecutive games as an 18-year-old for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League in 1933. But, even Joltin’ Joe could not reach Joe Wilhoit who reached 69 games for the Wichita Jobbers in 1919.
While no streak as long as Mejia’s or DiMaggio’s can be predicted, the prospect was already having an excellent year prior to May 27 – the day his streak began with a 2-for-4 effort against the Fort Wayne TinCaps. Mejia started the season with the Midwest League’s Lake County Captains recorded a hit in 25 of his first 36 games. The catcher started his season with a ten-game hit streak in early April. But on May 26 he had just endured his worst game of the season: striking out three times in an 0-for-4 effort.
Like any streak, a little luck was involved from the start. On May 29 – the third game of the streak – Mejia had just one at-bat (as a DH) before leaving the game. However, he made that one appearance count, stroking a single to left. He started a mini-streak of multi-hit games in game six, going 3-for-5 against the Great Lake Loons and then following that with a pair of two-hit games, a three-hit game, and a four-hit game – with just one game in the middle of that torrid run where he only garnered a single. By the end of June, the streak was up to 24 games – and his time in Lake County was also up. Mejia’s last game for the Captains came on June 26. He reached base thrice, slamming a home run, and a single and earning a free pass in four trips. He ended his second tour of the Midwest League with a line of .347/.384/.531, with 27 extra-base hits in 60 games played.
While his promotion to the High-A Lynchburg HillCats was well and truly deserved, streaks often die soon after a promotion. After all, facing a higher level of competition requires adjustments. Kevin Youkilis carried a 62-game on-base streak from the Portland Sea Dogs (AA) to the Pawtucket Red Sox (AAA) in 2003. While he was able to garner enough hits, walks, and hit by pitches to extend the streak to a record-tying 71 games – joining Kevin Millar, whose streak extended over three seasons – Youkilis was unable to reach during his tenth game at the AAA level, going 0-for-4 – and the streak was over.
Mejia, however, experienced no adjustment period. His first action in the Carolina League produced two singles against the Wilmington Blue Rocks, extending the streak to 25. After going 1-for-5 against the Salem Red Sox on July 8, Mejia would miss the rest of the four game series, resting a minor injury, but a brief respite could not stop the HitCat. In his return on the 13th, he would plunk down a single in his four at-bats.
After a pair of multi-hit games against the Blue Rocks on the 16th and 17th, he missed five consecutive games before returning on the 23rd to rough up the Carolina MudCats, crushing a first-inning grand slam to extend the streak to 37 games. At the end of July – after dashing off three consecutive 1-for-4 days against Winston-Salem – the streak stood at 42.
A two-hit effort on August 2 against the Potomac Nationals drew him even with Rose. Another pair of singles on the 3rd saw Mejia equaling Keeler. A double against the Salem Red Sox on the 4th brought the streak progress to 46 – passing James McOwen, who had put up the last assault on 50 in 2009 for the High Desert Mavericks. Again, whether through minor injury or conscious effort by the Indians organization to keep him fresh, Francisco played just one of the five games between August 6 and August 11. On Tuesday the 9th, Mejia stroked three hits against the Potomac Nationals in a tight 2-1 victory. Three days later, on Friday the 12th he would pick up a pair of hits – a single and a double – placing him on the precipice of 50. And then, on Saturday, he went 0-for-4 – until an error was ruled a double after the game… and DiMaggio’s MLB record was only six away.
But on Sunday, Francisco could not keep the hit streak alive. Although he worked a first-inning walk, Mejia failed to get a hit in his three official at-bats, being robbed in the seventh inning by Winston-Salem’s centerfielder Michael Suiter.
Undaunted, Mejia hopped right back on the horse on Wednesday, smacking two more hits – including his tenth home run of the year – against the Frederick Keys. Currently sporting a .345/.371/.517 slash line for the Lynchburg Hillcats, the scrutiny on Mejia will fade away for only a short while. As long as he continues to collect hits, walks, or hit by pitches over the next few weeks, he will continue climbing the record books toward another milestone. Francisco Mejia has now reached base safely in 52 consecutive games. Only 19 more games and he will tie the official record of 71 set by Youkilis and Millar – and unofficially tied in 2014 by the incomparable Mookie Betts (whose five games worth of hits in the 2013 Carolina League Playoffs are not counted as part of his official 66 game on-base streak).
Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, Francisco Mejia has earned the minor league MVP award from me. Long may he streak!