The Tigers 1976 season is remembered as the year rookie sensation Mark "The Bird" Fidrych took the city of Detroit and the whole baseball world by storm. What few fans remember however is that center fielder Ron Leflore made Tigers history that year before Fidrych became famous. Leflore would become the first Tiger to hit in 30 straight games since Hall of Famer Goose Goslin in 1934. Moreover, no Tigers hitter has maintained a streak of that length since Leflore.
Leflore was not in the Tigers line-up the first three games of the season as manager Ralph decided to insert Ben Oglivie as the center fielder and lead-off hitter to start the season. Leflore first appeared in the third game of the season on April 16 as a pinch runner in the eighth inning, but did not bat. The speedy Tigers outfielder would finally get the start in center and bat lead off in game four versus the Angels. He led off the game with a double to center and went one for four for the day.
By the end of April, Leflore had a seven-game hitting streak and a .323 batting average. He started to play more regularly and the hits kept coming. After a three-hit game versus the White Sox on May 9, the right-handed hitting Leflore had a 13-game hitting streak and was batting .386. The streak reached 20 games on May 17 when he singled off Red Sox hurler Luis Tiant in the eighth inning.
A four-hit game on May 23 versus the Orioles brought the streak to 25 games and raised his batting average to .409. It started to get a little tougher after that, but he extended his streak to 29 with four consecutive one-hit games. He then went two for five versus the Red Sox on May 27 to make it a 30-game hitting streak. During that stretch, Leflore batted .392 with 15 extra base hits, 13 stolen bases and 22 runs scored.
The amazing streak was finally stopped by Ed Figueroa and Tippy Martinez of the Yankees on May 28. Leflore went zero for four including a fly to right, a ground out to third and a force out at short. Finally, Leflore was called out on strikes in the eighth batting versus Martinez.
Leflore went on to start the all-star game along with Fidrych and right
fielder Rusty Staub. For the season, he batted .316/.376/.410 with 58
The 30-game hitting streak tied for the third longest in franchise
history behind Ty Cobb with 40 games in 1911 and 35 games in 1917. In
the 35 years since 1976, no Tiger has even approached a run of that length. The most was 20 by shortstop Alan Trammell in 1984.
Leflore's feat was lost among the "The Bird" mania that swept the city in 1976, but it should not be forgotten. it was a remarkable string of excellence unmatched by any Tiger in the last 77 years.
Sources: The data for this article were extracted from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.