Indians chased history and 1916 Giants

Record holders had 17-game winning streak before the legendary 26-game streak

September 13th, 2017

With their thrilling, 3-2 walk-off win in extra innings against the Royals on Thursday night, the Indians extended the American League record with their 22nd consecutive victory. The only team to do better? They're Giants.

The 1916 New York Giants, that is. They own the longest winning streak -- 26 games -- in Major League history. That streak has sparked discussion because of a game against the Pirates on Sept. 18, 1916, but it was halted because of inclement weather after eight innings with the score 1-1.

But before we elaborate on that, here is a little bit of background about those enigmatic '16 Giants.

They began the season by losing 13 of their first 15 games, then ripped off 17 victories in a row, all of which came on the road. Then they fell into another general stretch of mediocrity that led them to a season record of 60-62 entering play on Sept. 7, the first day of their legendary streak.

Going into a doubleheader against the Pirates at home on Sept. 18, the Giants were riding an 11-game winning streak. In the first game of the day, the Giants got a shutout from starter Ferdie Schupp, winning 2-0 for their 12th victory in a row.

The second game of the twin bill, however, wasn't as straightforward. After eight completed innings, the score was deadlocked when rain interrupted play. There were no tarps back then and no lights in the stadium. By the time the rain subsided, umpires Bill Klem and Bob Emslie ruled it was too dark. The game as it stood could not continue.

Did you know? Indians winning streak

In 1916, there was no "suspension" rule pertaining to called games, where, like today, games are picked up where they left off. (In fact, that's a recent development, having only been implemented in 2007)

Back then, games were normally replayed in their entirety if the scheduled permitted, and on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 1916, the Giants swept yet another doubleheader from the Pirates -- with the first game being a replay of Game 2 the day before -- and extended the streak to 14. They went on to win another 12 in a row before finally losing, 8-3 to the Boston Braves, in the second game of a doubleheader on Sept. 30. (Fun facts: The record streak happened over the course of a 31-game homestand, meaning every single win came at home, just a couple of months after the aforementioned 17-game winning streak on the road. Oh, and despite those two amazing streaks, the Giants finished in fourth place, though they were 20 games over .500 at 86-66.)

Long story short: Those eight innings of play on Sept. 18, 1916, were never reflected as a game in the standings for the teams involved. Players' statistics counted, which was standard practice. The bottom line is, Sept. 18 is part of the chronology of the streak but not a revisionist footnote that made it an unbeaten streak rather than a winning streak, according to Steve Hirdt, the executive vice president of the Elias Sports Bureau, the official statistician of Major League Baseball, as well as MLB official historian John Thorn.

"The record is 26, and that's because the [halted game] does not break the streak," Thorn said. "It's the second game of a twin bill after eight innings at 1-1, it started raining, there were no plate appearances and no outs recorded, and by the time it stopped raining it was dark. It's a simple matter. It's the second game of a doubleheader with no impact on the pennant race. It is a no-brainer [to call it]."

Hirdt said he can understand why some fans want to think they can debate the validity of the Giants' streak but that it's not arguable. History is history.

"Maybe people get confused because when I was a kid, in hockey and football, tie games were acceptable outcomes," Hirdt said. "But a tie game was never an acceptable result of a baseball game. Tie games were always created artificially, usually because of rain or darkness, and were customarily re-played at the earliest possible date. That was the case in 1916, when it was made up the next day.

"So this is a totally made up, so-called controversy. I'm not even going to say it's a controversy. This is settled."

No matter how you write it down in the scorebook, the Indians have the longest winning streak in AL history and just overtook the 1935 Cubs and 1880 Cubs (then often known as the White Stockings) for the second-longest streak (21 games) in Major League history, and are still going after the 1916 Giants, and they've still got to win four more games to tie them.

In the meantime, all baseball fans can enjoy catching history as it unfolds.