Stellar third baseman are hard to find in baseball. This fact is one of the reasons that only 15 third basemen have been enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Indeed, even in the storied history of the New York Yankees, it was arguably much more difficult to pinpoint their finest third basemen than any other position until Alex Rodriguez joined the team. That is not to say that the hot corner has been a constant position of struggle for the Yankees, though. Graig Nettles, Gil McDougald, and many others gave the Yankees stability at third base during championship seasons.
One of these solid third baseman was Red Rolfe, the Yankees' third baseman for five World Series champion teams from 1935-42. Rolfe was a four-time All-Star and was held in high regard, placed by manager Joe McCarthy second in the batting order in front of such amazing players as Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. McCarthy knew Rolfe would get plenty of pitches to hit batting ahead of such legends, and he was trusted to capitalize on these opportunities. Rolfe recognized this fact and played his best baseball from 1936-39, an amazing period in which the Yankees dominated the American League by at least 9.5 games each season, averaging over 102 wins per year and winning the World Series four years in a row. Rolfe saved his best baseball for the last year of this streak, when the Yankees were relying on their other great players to make up for Gehrig's sudden decline due to illness. Rolfe hit .329/.404/.495 with a .408 wOBA and a 130 wRC+ in '39, his career year. Rolfe led the league in three categories: hits (209), doubles (46), and runs scored (139). Rolfe always excelled at accumulating high totals in runs scored thanks to his hitting and his teammates' propensity for driving him in behind him, and Rolfe actually averaged an incredible 138 runs per year from '37-'39. For comparison's sake, Derek Jeter's career high in runs scored in 134 (Jeter ranks 15th all-time in the category). Rolfe's 139-run season was keyed by an amazing personal streak that has never been exceeded in the 112-season history of the American League. 73 years ago today, Rolfe began an 18-game streak in which he scored a run in each game.Like many streaks, no one really thought much of anything special about Rolfe's game on August 9th when it began. The Yankees won a slugfest with the lowly Washington Senators 13-8, and the final score actually made the game look much closer than it was. The Yankees jumped out to an 11-3 lead after three innings and snapped a rare eight-game winning streak for the Senators. Rolfe went 3-for-5 with two runs scored and a walk, with one of the runs coming after DiMaggio smashed a home run. Another 3-for-5 performance against the Senators followed the next day, and the streak was officially underway.
Over the next 18 games against the Senators, Philadelphia Athletics, Chicago White Sox, and St. Louis Browns, Rolfe hit .369/.454/.631 with eight doubles and four homers. The homers were uncommon for Rolfe, who only belted 69 roundtrippers in his career and 14 in '39. He scored 30 runs in the 18 games, highlighted by an odd four-run game on August 17th in which he only had one hit, but walked twice and reached on an error. The Yankees were the benefactors of Rolfe's hot streak, and pulled even further away from their AL foes by going 15-3. They were 40 games over .500 after the last game of the streak, the second game of an August 25th doubleheader.
Rolfe's streak remained unmatched until Cleveland Indians centerfielder Kenny Lofton tied his mark 61 years later in 2000. However, no one has similarly matched his mark since then. Even the Angels' great Mike Trout could not match it despite putting up a 15-game run streak this year. May Rolfe's unusual streak last a long time, until a Yankee breaks it with a great offense like that of the '39 Yankees.