Tracing streaks between Gehrig and Ripken

June 2nd, 2022

On June 1, 1925, Lou Gehrig played in the first of what would be 2,130 consecutive games, a mark that stood as the longest consecutive games played streak in MLB history until Cal Ripken Jr. played in his 2,131st on Sept. 6, 1995, to break it. Gehrig’s streak ended on April 30, 1939, and yet it took until ‘95 for it to be broken, even with numerous consecutive games played streaks orchestrated in between.

Whenever a notable anniversary related to Gehrig’s or Ripken’s streak comes up, a frequent question is “so, who has the longest active streak?” The current answer is Whit Merrifield, who has played in 518 straight games (through June 1), all for the Royals, a streak that began on June 25, 2018.

Speaking of active streaks, Gehrig’s then-record streak became the longest active itself on May 2, 1930, when he played in his 745th consecutive game and Joe Sewell’s streak of 1,103 games ended. Sewell’s streak now ranks seventh all-time, but at that time it was second. Gehrig held the Majors’ longest active consecutive games played streak until nine years to the date -- when another streak took over for his on May 2, 1939.

Between Gehrig’s streak ending and Ripken’s, already in progress, becoming the longest active streak on July 9, 1986, at 686 consecutive games, there were 44 instances of a player having the Majors’ longest active streak. Ripken’s, of course, would last 2,632 games, until Sept. 20, 1998.

Here are some facts about the chain of the longest active consecutive games played streaks between Gehrig’s and Ripken’s, as determined by the Elias Sports Bureau. Note that the chain only includes streaks to overtake others on the day they ended -- so some long streaks are not on this list, if it was superseded by a streak that was longer and ongoing simultaneously.

Multiple active streak holders

Those 44 instances of a player holding the longest active streak include three players who did so twice: Mickey Vernon, Stan Musial and Pete Rose.

Vernon took over as the longest active streak on June 3, 1943, at 202 consecutive games, when Danny Litwhiler’s ended. He held onto the longest active designation until Sept. 4, 1943, when his streak ended at 292 and Billy Herman took over with a 287-gamer, but there’s a caveat there. Vernon and Herman were so close throughout that summer that, based on the teams’ schedules, they technically ended up sharing and trading the lead at times over June and July, before Vernon retook the lead until early September. For the purposes here, that counts as one of Vernon’s two instances holding the longest active streak.

Vernon’s second instance came in 1948, when he took over as the longest active streak on April 20 at 300 games, after Eddie Lake’s 442-game streak ended at the end of the 1947 season. This time, Vernon held onto the longest active streak until July 6, 1948, when his ended at 369 straight games and Frank Gustine took over at 249.

Musial first held the longest active streak beginning on Aug. 25, 1944, at 299 games, when he took over after Bobby Doerr’s ended at 344 games. Musial held it for less than a month, before the streak ended at 314 games and Phil Cavarretta took over at 256 on Sept. 12. Musial’s next time holding the longest active streak came 11 years later, on Aug. 7, 1955, when he took over at 571 games, after Roy McMillan’s streak ended at 584.

Musial’s streak lasted another two years after that, ending at 895 games on Aug. 23, 1957, when Nellie Fox took over at 324 games. That 895-game streak ranks eighth all-time.

Rose first held the longest active streak starting on Sept. 26, 1976, when Dave Cash’s ended at 494 games. Rose took over at 484 games and saw that streak last until May 7, 1978, when it ended at 678 games and he yielded to Steve Garvey. But when Garvey’s streak, which now stands as the fourth-longest in history, ended July 29, 1983, it was Rose who took over, again. That Rose streak lasted until Aug. 24, at 745 games.

Most time holding the longest active streak

Two individuals held the longest active streak for five-plus seasons each during this span. First, Billy Williams, who had the longest active streak from Sept. 1, 1965, until Sept. 3, 1970, ending up with a 1,117-game streak, which ranks sixth all-time.

Second, Garvey, who held the longest active streak from May 7, 1978, until July 29, 1983, as noted above, as he played out a streak that ranks fourth all-time.

Shortest time holding the longest active streak

There were multiple seasons in this span where the longest active streak changed hands multiple times in a single season. But the shortest time between those changes happened just once. It didn’t happen on back-to-back days, but on Sept. 12, 1944, Cavarretta took over as the longest active streak, only to see his streak end on Sept. 14, yielding to Tommy Holmes.

Most times changing in a single season

During the course of the 1944 season, the active Iron Man streak leader changed five times, the most in a single season in this span between Gehrig and Ripken. Herman’s 313-game streak ended on Opening Day '44 due to military service, so the first change was to Bill Nicholson, who took over with a 244-game streak on April 18.

He held that until July 13, when his 348-game streak ended after the All-Star break. Doerr then took over at 302 games, with that streak lasting until Aug. 25 at 344 games. After Doerr came Musial, who took over at 299 as noted above and yielded to Cavarretta. The change to Holmes after Cavarretta’s streak ended marked the final change of active streak-holder in the 1944 season.