'Very special': Wander's on-base streak ends

October 1st, 2021

HOUSTON -- Rays rookie shortstop Wander Franco saw an historic on-base streak come to an end Thursday night. Oddly enough, his streak ended in a game in which he stood on first base three times.

Franco went 0-for-4 in the Rays’ 3-2 loss to the Astros at Minute Maid Park, the first time since July 24 that the 20-year-old didn’t reach base safely on a hit, walk or hit-by-pitch. Franco’s on-base streak ended at 43 games, tied with Frank Robinson in 1956 for the longest in AL/NL history by a player 20 years old or younger.

“Remarkable,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Anytime you're sitting at the top and you're next to Frank Robinson, and then the guys that he passed, congrats again to Wander.”

Among the Hall of Famers passed by Franco as he built up his 43-game streak to match Robinson: Ken Griffey Jr., Al Kaline, Mel Ott, Arky Vaughan and, finally, Mickey Mantle.

Just as impressive as that 20-and-under list he now resides atop with Robinson? The small collection of players who put together an on-base streak longer than Franco’s at the age of 22 or younger: four inner-circle Hall of Famers, and one who will join them in Cooperstown five years after his playing days are over.

A young Stan Musial had a 55-game on-base streak in 1943. Joe DiMaggio reached safely in 52 straight in '37. Albert Pujols ran up a 48-game streak in 2001. Rickey Henderson got on base in 46 straight from '80-81. And Ted Williams strung together a 44-game on-base streak in '41, a mark Franco fell one short of.

“First of all, I just want to thank God for giving me the opportunity to go out there that many times,” Franco said Friday afternoon at Yankee Stadium through interpreter Manny Navarro. “It was something very special. I'm very proud of what I was able to do, but now it's time to back up the team and try to get some victories.”

Franco appeared to have kept the streak alive in the sixth inning, when he was called safe at first base on an infield single. But umpires went to a replay review and the initial ruling was overturned.

“Personally, I thought I was safe,” Franco said. “But obviously, they reversed [the call].”

Franco reached first base two other times, but neither counted toward his streak. In the fourth inning, he sped down the line on a fielder’s choice grounder to Jose Altuve, who forced out Brandon Lowe at second base. In the ninth, he hit another grounder to Altuve with a runner on first base. Franco reached on a fielder’s choice, although Randy Arozarena wound up safe at second as Altuve committed an error on the play.

“At that point in time of the game, I was trying to help out the team the best way I could,” Franco said, “and being on base was going to hopefully help us.”

So ended the streak -- a relatively obscure statistical accomplishment, considering the qualifiers involved, but still an impressive run during which the 20-year-old showed what all the prospect hype was about.

Franco finished the streak with more hits (55) than swinging strikes (48), and he has only struck out twice in his last 82 plate appearances and four times in his last 123 trips to the plate. He reached on hits in 34 of those games, exclusively on a walk in eight games and via a hit-by-pitch only in one game.

“It was fun to sit back and watch him,” Cash said. “I'm guessing he's going to have plenty of streaks in his career, but this one was pretty spectacular.”