A week or two ago I stumbled upon a tweet about the beloved Ichiro Suzuki concerning how after his eighth or ninth plate appearance in Major League Baseball, he got a hit to raise his average above .300 and never looked back. I don't remember the exact tweet, nor the author so apologies for not giving proper credit, but since we're talking about Ichiro - a player who amassed over 10,000 plate appearances in MLB, you probably get the idea: He spent a lot of time and had a lot of plate appearances while batting above .300.
I identify as somewhat of a Cardinals nerd, and if you're reading about the Cardinals on a fan blog perhaps you do as well. And that means when reading a tweet like that on Ichiro we immediately wonder how Stan Musial might compare. He's the obvious go-to Cardinal in this instance. He had a lot of plate appearances in MLB (12,721 - 8th all-time), and one of the highest career batting averages (.331 - 9th all-time) for players with at least 10,000 plate appearances.
So when did Stan reach .300 for good? Turns out, almost immediately.
He debuted at home on September 17, 1941, with the Boston Braves in town. The Man popped out to third in the very first at-bat of his career in the bottom of the 1st, but then hit a double in the 3rd and that was all he needed. HIs career batting average never dipped below .300 again. I'm not kidding. He finished that day 2-for-4. In his second game he went 1-for-4 with a single in his second plate appearance of the game and his .375 average after those two games would be the lowest it would hit during his inaugural season, finishing with a blistering .426 average (in only 49 plate appearances, but still). The following season he got off to another hot start and even though his batting average slipped to .283 on June 12, his .426 mark from his prior season was enough to keep him well above .300 for his career. And ten days later his average for the 1942 season was back above .300 for good, finishing that season hitting .315. The next season he led the National League with a .357 average and his career mark of hitting at least .300 was pretty safe, especially since he wouldn't hit below .300 for a season for another 16 years.
But in the event the point got lost while trying to show my work, let me lay it out in simple terms: Stan Musial compiled 12,721 plate appearances in MLB, and his career batting average was .300 or better for the final 12,720 of them.
And that leads us to the purpose of this post: Is that the record for most consecutive plate appearances with a batting average of at least .300? Let's find out.
We can eliminate almost the entire field immediately because as one can perhaps guess from the information provided above, only seven players in history have more than 12,720 plate appearances in MLB. They are as follows:
Pete Rose - 15,890
Carl Yastrzemski - 13,992
Hank Aaron - 13,941
Rickey Henderson - 13,346
Ty Cobb - 13,103
Cal Ripken, Jr. - 12,883
Eddie Murray 12,817
We can quickly get rid of Murray, Ripken, Henderson, and Yastrzemski, who weren't .300 hitters for most of their careers. (If that comes to you as a surprise with regard to Yaz, well, me too. But he finished his career with a .285 average and only hit above .300 during six of his 23 seasons.) That leaves Cobb, Aaron, and Rose.
Let's start with Cobb. My assumption was that Ty Cobb basically hit .400 from the day he arrived in Detroit until the day he left but that wasn't necessarily the case. (If you read Charles Leerhsen's essential biography on Cobb you'll learn that Cobb's veteran teammates mercilessly hazed the young hitter and certainly didn't do him any favors during his first few years with the Tigers.) Cobb only hit .238 in his first season in 1905, and then a good-so-long-as-you're-not-Ty-Cobb .316 in 1906, which, at that point, gave him a career .293 average to go along with - and here's the important part - 559 plate appearances for his young career. Cobb only had 382 more plate appearances for his career than Musial, so if you're following along, that tell us that he did not get to .300 fast enough in order to have more than 12,720 consecutive plate appearances at or above that mark.
Next up, Hank Aaron. Aaron had 1,220 more career plate appearances than Musial and finished his career hitting .305. During his first two seasons in MLB - 1954 and 1955 - Aaron hit .299 in 1,174 plate appearances, which means, via math, there was still room for him to get off to a quick start in 1956 and take it from there. Unfortunately, that's not what happened. After his first 14 games and 54 plate appearances in 1956, Aaron was only hitting .204, which meant he was still under .300 for his career and had accumulated enough plate appearances that he would no longer be able to challenge the 12,720 mark. For good measure, by the time May came to an end in 1956, Aaron was easily hitting above .300 for both the season and his career but it was just a tiny bit too little and too late.
Now, let's look at Pete Rose. Usually we can leave it to Pete Rose to spoil something good so let's see if that's the case here. Rose compiled an eye-popping record of 15,890 plate appearances for his career in MLB, a total of 3,169 more than Musial, and, of course, retired with the most hits in all of MLB and with a .303 average. It dropped to .303 as the years dragged on because Rose was a dreadful player during his final days, but that only means he spent a bulk of his career above .300. But 12,720 worth of consecutive plate appearances above .300? Nope. To keep it simple, during Rose's first five seasons in MLB (1963-1967), he hit .295 over 3,362 plate appearances. And 15,890 minus 3,362 equals 12,528, a number decidedly less than 12,720.
And there's our answer to the question above and that answer is Stan Musial - the person with the most consecutive plate appearances while hitting at least .300 for his career. And save for one fleeting moment right at the very beginning, Stan was never not a .300 hitter. And he did all of this with with one team. And for a much larger percentage of his career than the others - again 12,720 of 12,721 plate appearances (or 99.992% of the time). He was amazing, that Stan. So amazing that almost 60 years after he retired and during a pandemic, no less, his career still provides us with excuses to write about him.
Credit to Baseball Reference's new Stathead for the help with this post.