The Hitting Streaks of Nashville’s Johnny Bates and Mobile’s Harry Chozen

Hitting StreakOn July 29, 1945, Mobile catcher Harry Chozen lays down an unsuccessful sacrifice bunt[1], ending his consecutive-game hitting streak at 49. It was the 11th inning of a 13-inning affair in Mobile, and Chozen finishes the game 0-for-5[2].

The unlikely batting hero caught for the Cincinnati Reds on September 21, 1937 against Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Wayne LeMaster. After flying out to right, popping up to the first baseman in foul territory, and grounding out to first, Chozen hit a single in the bottom of the ninth inning for his only hit and only appearance in the major leagues. The Reds lost 10-1.

He played the next four years in the Eastern League for Albany and Williamsport, then in the Virginia League with Newport News before moving to Knoxville and Mobile in the Southern Association after World War II.

In surpassing Nashville’s Johnny Bates’ 45-game streak set in 1925, Chozen admitted that a broken bat was used for every hit of the streak.

“I broke my bat when I got my first hit of the streak on May 27 (in Memphis).” Chozen said. “I started to give it to my kid, but changed my mind and did a tack and tape job, and brother, it has paid dividends.”[4]

He even hit a home run with it, in his first time up on July 22. It was his 46th game of his stretch, breaking Bates’ record[5].

Some controversy surrounded Chozen’s feat. On July 6, after having hit safely in 33 consecutive games, he was issued a base on balls in his first time at the plate. Catching in the fourth inning, he was hit in the head by Chicks player Pete Thomassie on his follow-through swing. Unconscious, Chozen was removed from the game.

As there was no official plate appearance, Chozen’s streak continued for another 16 games before it ended.

When his streak was halted, he connected for a hit in his next eight games before being collared by New Orleans Pelicans pitcher Trader Horn on August 8. On the year his 103 hits came in 292 appearances for a .353 average. He played in 88 games that season, but was made a free agent at the end of the year according to the terms of his contract.

He signed with Memphis for 1946 before assuming the manager’s reins at Greenville in the Class C Cotton States League for 1947. One of his starting pitchers was Bob Kelley, who would pitch for Nashville in 1950-1951 and 1956. Chozen also played in 97 games that season.

He played and managed for the next four seasons at Miami Beach (Florida International League-C), Pine Bluff (Cotton States League-C) for two seasons, and Lake Charles (Gulf Coast League-B) before finishing his playing career in 1952 at Greenville once again.

Chozen passed away on September 16, 1994 in Houston, Texas at the age of 78.

Nashville’s Johnny Bates had set the previous league record by hitting in 45 consecutive games during the 1925 season. His personal run began with two hits against Atlanta on July 30, ending with two hits on the last day of his streak against Milt Steengraffe of Little Rock on September 16[6].

In 26 of those games he had only one hit to keep his pace intact. His 72 hits gave him a .370 average and he scored 44 runs during the streak. Bates ended the season with a .349 batting average[7].

Bates had played in the Southern Association previously with Mobile and Chattanooga, and for Rocky Mount (Virginia League-B). He spent three seasons at shortstop with Nashville before moving to Mobile at the end of the 1927 season.

Not much else is known about Bates, as his baseball record and personal history are incomplete. It is believed that he was born on August 21, 1882 at Steubenville, Ohio[8]; which, if true, would have him as a 43-year-old during his record-setting year.

But comparing his and Chozen’s records to Joe DiMaggio’s widely-known 56-game major league hitting streak places them in the top of the all-time list.

The Yankee Clipper’s personal best had been set in 1933 as a member of the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League (AAA) with 61 straight, and baseball’s record champion across both major and minor leagues was established by Joe Wilhoit in 1919 while playing for Wichita in the Class A Western League. The hitting streak records of all-time in the major and minor leagues[9]:

Joe Wilhoit                         Western League                             69           1919

Joe DiMaggio                    Pacific Coast League                      61           1933

Joe DiMaggio                    New York Yankees (AL)                56           1941

Román Mejías                   Big State League                              55            1954

Otto Pahlman                    Illinois–Indiana–Iowa League   50           1922

Jack Ness                            Pacific Coast League                       49           1915

Harry Chozen                     Southern League                             49           1945

Johnny Bates                     Southern League                              46           1925

Willie Keeler                      Baltimore Orioles (NL)                   45           1896-97*

Jamie McOwen                 California League                              45           2009

Pete Rose                           Cincinnati Reds (NL)                        44           1978

*Keeler had a hit on the last day of the 1896 season, then hit safely in the first 44 games of the 1897 season

Two special players, each with average careers, had one very special season of their lives, and their feats were never matched in the Southern Association.

© 2015 Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1]Wechsler, Bob (2008). Day by Day in Jewish History. Jersey City, New Jersey: KATV Publishing House.

[2] Anniston Star, July 30, 1945.

[3] Wilkes-Barre Record, July 27, 1945.

[4] Baseball Records, Southern Association from 1901-1945 Inclusive.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Russell, Fred; George Leonard (1950). Vol Feats: Records, History and Tales of the Nashville Club in the Southern Association 1901-1950. Nashville, Tennessee: Nashville Banner.

[7] SABR Baseball Biography Project, incomplete

Major and minor league statistical information retrieved from http://www.baseball-reference.com. Major league game details retrieved from http://www.retrosheet.org.

 

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