(Photo via SNY.tv)
Regarded as one of major league baseball’s safest records, Joe DiMaggio’s 1941 hitting streak of 56 games has stood the test of time without seeing a serious threat. And it will probably stay that way.
But in a very different college baseball landscape, several batters have equaled and even bested DiMaggio’s mark somewhat recently. NCAA baseball record books have been kept since 1957, 1963 and 1974 across Divisions I, II and III respectively. This means no official hitting streaks on record occurred until after DiMaggio’s playing days. But recent hit streaks and imaginative speculation could suggest college streaks were even longer back in the day.
Compared to big leaguers, collegiate batters face a different set of constraints when it comes to hitting streaks. Firstly, they are generally limited to four years of eligibility and seasons less than half the length of MLB. Next, the NCAA currently includes between 900 and 1,000 baseball programs across its three divisions. With more than 30 times as many teams, there are far more games and at bats across college baseball in a season, though individual players have shorter careers. Therefore, single batters have diminished opportunities to amass hitting streaks compared to the pros, while the college scene as a whole presents greater opportunity.
Before his illustrious major league career, Robin Ventura had a remarkable 58-game hitting streak during his 1987 campaign at Oklahoma State. His magical sophomore season run coincided with his Cowboys finishing as the College World Series runners-up. Ventura’s streak was busted during the CWS, as he reached on an error in his fifth and final plate appearance after starting a game 0-4.
So just how exactly did Ventura do it? A scan of the 1987 team’s composite stats shows he struck out just 24 times in 337 plate appearances. Adding 63 walks, Ventura made contact in nearly three quarters of his plate appearances. With 21 homers, his contact and power coupled to yield a .428 batting average. On balls in play, which exclude home runs, Ventura batted .414, a high mark that may have included some luck.
It’s normal for good hitters to average more than one base knock per contest, but it’s highly unusually for them to do so in many consecutive games. With 271 at-bats in 72 contests, Ventura averaged nearly 4 per game. A probabilistic computation using a binomial calculator shows the likelihood of Ventura getting at least one hit in a game to be around 87%. This makes sense; a player of that caliber should get a hit in most games. Applying this to a 58 game stretch, Ventura’s likelihood of recording a hit in each and every game is just 0.037 percent.
This means that for every 10,000 58-game stretches by a batter of this quality, we could expect roughly three or four of them to hit safely in each one. Of course, this estimation is rife with assumptions, such as Ventura having a uniform number of at bats in each game. But it’s still darn impressive considering there are fewer than 10,000 every day batters across the entire NCAA each year, and much fewer still of Ventura’s ability.
Divisions II and III
Currently the smallest of NCAA’s three divisions, Division II’s longest hit streak is the shortest and was set most recently. Set in 2010 by a junior outfielder from Cal State Dominguez Hills, the 54-game stretch was extended eight times in his final at bat. However, the hit streak did little to garner interest from major league teams. Kevin Pillar, Division II’s hit streak king, was taken 979th overall in the 2011 MLB Draft before becoming an effective big league player for the Toronto Blue Jays. For reference, Robin Ventura was selected with the 10th pick of the first round in 1988.
After serving two years in the US Army, Damian Costantino had a hitting streak longer than both of them but was not drafted by an MLB team. From 2001 to 2003, he recorded a hit in 60 straight games for Salve Regina, a Division III program in Rhode Island. NCAA’s all-time hitting streak leader did not play a game during the 2002 season in which he failed to record a hit.
NAIA and Softball
Outside of the NCAA, Tommy Stewart holds the collegiate baseball hitting streak record. His 54-game mark began in 1994 for the Southern Arkansas Muleriders. It concluded during his senior season in which he batted .474. Following that 1995 season, Southern Arkansas would join NCAA’s Division II. Stewart spent some time in the Houston Astros organization but never sniffed the major leagues.
With games lasting just seven innings, college softball players have even less opportunity to amass hitting streaks with fewer chances per game to have an at bat. Still, members of all three NCAA divisions have managed hitting streaks of longer than 40 games. The NCAA record is held by Heather Bortz of Division III Moravian. The streak spanned between 2003 and 2004 and lasted 44 games. Just one shy of Bortz’s record is Coast Carolina’s Sara Graziano who batted .589 in 1994 to finish off a 43-game streak that began in 1993 and is currently the Division I record. NCAA softball record books date back to 1982.
Though DiMaggio’s MLB record is considered by many to be untouchable, the college marks are likely in jeopardy. A recent article on NCAA.com discussed unbreakable Division II baseball records but neglected to mention Pillar’s hitting streak, suggesting it won’t last forever. It is fairly common for college baseball and softball players to bat above .400 and there are so many of them that it likely won’t be long before another student athlete challenges DiMaggio’s 56 or Costantino’s 60.