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The Yankee who went a year without a hit

It’s not really his fault, but Jim Lyttle fell prey to an extremely long hit drought.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

For a variety of reasons, bench players are a bigger part of baseball today than they were in other eras. Ronald Torreyes still ended up making over 100 plate appearances, even with the amount of time he was off the major league roster.

For his career, Jim Lyttle played 164 games for the Yankees between 1969-71. In that time, he picked up 324 plate appearances — not quite two per game. While his overall numbers aren’t terrible for a backup outfielder, that relatively small number of chances led to one very unfortunate streak.

A first round draft pick (10th overall) by the Yankees in 1966, Lyttle quickly worked his way through the minor leagues. About three years after he was selected, he was called up and made his major league debut on May 17, 1969.

Lyttle was given a start in center field, and occupied the seventh slot in the lineup for his debut. After going 0-2 in his first two at bats, he singled off Eddie Fisher in the sixth for his first career major league hit.

Three days later, Lyttle recorded his second career hit in his third ever game. However, following that was an 0-17 stretch. He finally broke that with his first career double, and continued to get playing time all throughout May and June.

On June 14th, the Yankees acquired outfielder Ron Woods from the Tigers. Lyttle, who was not an every day starter, but had been the most used center fielder since his call up, would be sent down a couple weeks later. In his final four games before returning to the minors, Lyttle went a combined 0-9.

The following season, Lyttle would return to the major leagues, making his season debut in the second game of the season. His first six appearances of the season would be as a pinch runner or defensive replacement, and he would not record a plate appearance. He finally did get a chance to bat in his seventh game, but fouled out.

In total, Lyttle got just four plate appearances in 31 games played through July 11th. That marked 35 consecutive games without a hit for him. He had recorded a couple walks in that time, including an intentional one on May 2nd. It was to try and set up a double play, but instead brought Thurman Munson to the plate, who just hit a walk-off single instead. Through July 11th, he was hitting .000/.500/.000 on the season.

On July 12, he came in as a pinch hitter for pitcher Steve Hamilton in the fifth inning. Lyttle recorded a single for his first hit of the season. His previous one came on June 21, 1969, meaning it had been nearly 13 months in between his 15th and 16th career hits.

Slowly but surely, Lyttle started to get some more chances at the plate, and soon became a fairly regular starter again. From July 12th on, he hit .309/.346/.455 for the rest of 1970. In August of that year, he recorded more hits than he had in the rest of his career up to that point.

Lyttle could not replicate that the following season, putting up just a 64 OPS+ in 1971. After the season, he was traded to the White Sox for pitcher Rich Hinton. Lyttle would play another five major league seasons for the White Sox, Expos, and Dodgers. He never recorded more than 169 plate appearances in any season.

After 1976, Lyttle would not play in the major leagues again. However, he would go on to have a really good career in Japan. In seven seasons in NPB, Lyttle hit 166 home runs, and helped the Hiroshima Carp to Japan Series championships in 1979 and ‘80.

Before getting drafted by the Yankees, Lyttle was a multi-sport athlete at Florida State. He obviously had a quite a lot of talent and natural ability. He also got stuck in one of the longest hit-less runs you’ll see.

All stats and data courtesy of Baseball Reference.