Speaker’s 3000th Hit Was a Milestone — For All But Him
Vince Guerrieri | On 20, May 2015
In Major League Baseball today, 3,000 hits is a milestone – a number that demonstrates enough talent and longevity to virtually guarantee a plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
But when Tris Speaker reached that number this week in 1925, it was regarded as little more than a curiosity – mostly because it was such a rare occurrence.
Speaker, in his 10th season playing for the Indians (and his sixth full season as manager), was hitting the ball well, with a 15-game hitting streak to begin the 1925 season. But he was not in top shape as the defending champion Washington Senators came to town. Speaker was nearing 40 with more than 18 years as a major league player, so it wasn’t exactly crawling out on a limb to say he had more years behind him than ahead of him as a ballplayer, but age and injuries were starting to add up.
Even with a dislocated fibula and accompanying inflammation, Speaker wrote himself into the lineup on May 17, 1925. In his first plate appearance, he grounded into a double play. It was the only time in four at-bats that he wouldn’t get on base safely.
Speaker ended up accounting for three of the Indians’ nine hits that day, with a double and single in his next two at-bats. In the bottom of the ninth, with the Tribe down 2-0, Speaker stepped in against Tom Zachary – and singled for his 3,000th hit (Zachary would achieve greater notoriety for another milestone hit, giving up Babe Ruth’s 60th home run in 1927). Speaker, who had played center field all day on a dislocated leg and a swollen knee, finally opted to take himself out for a pinch-runner, Ray Knode. At that point, the only major leaguers who had attained 3,000 hits were Ty Cobb, Cap Anson, Honus Wagner, Nap Lajoie and Sam Crawford (Eddie Collins was 20 hits away). The Plain Dealer account quoted Dr. Harry Knight of Rochester, N.Y., as saying Speaker had the greatest pair of legs he had ever seen.
Joe Sewell flied out, and his brother Luke doubled, sending Knode to third. Cliff Lee flied out, bringing Knode home. The tying run was now 90 feet away in the form of Luke Sewell, with George Burns stepping to the plate. But Burns flied out to Senators player-manager Bucky Harris to end the game with a 2-1 Senators win.
By the time Speaker retired in 1928, he was second all-time in the majors in hits, with 3,514. The hit leader, Cobb with 4,191, also retired that year. Both were teammates in Philadelphia after making exits from Cleveland and Detroit under murky circumstances. Speaker was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1937, the second year of balloting, and a year after Cobb.
And although the local press made note of it, the milestone didn’t matter much to Speaker in 1958, as Stan Musial was approaching the milestone (by the time he retired, he would pass Speaker on the list, and his 3,630 hits – half at home, half on the road – would be good for second all-time).
“I couldn’t tell you when I hit it, or where, or who the pitcher was,” Speaker said in an Associated Press interview in May 1958 – seven months before his death.