When the Yankees acquired Luke Voit and international bonus slot money from St. Louis last summer for a pair of fringe pitchers, many believed that the cash was the best part of the deal. No one gave it a second thought when — after a brief and inauspicious Bronx debut — Voit was demoted to Triple-A.
He seemed a different player after getting recalled a short time later, though. Voit exploded down the stretch to help the Yankees lock up their playoff spot, evoking memories of Shane Spencer in the process.
During the offseason, one of the biggest questions surrounding the Yankees was if Voit could keep it up, or would he wind up remembered as just another flash in the pan? A spring training competition to determine New York’s starting first baseman did little to alleviate the doubts, especially since Voit began the season sharing the duties with Greg Bird.
Little did we know that Voit was in the midst of something historic. On September 19th of last year, Voit homered twice to propel the Yankees to a 10-1 victory over the Red Sox. He reached base safely in 10 straight games after that as well — homering in five of them — to carry an 11-game on-base streak into the 2019 season.
A lack of job security and positional certainty, which saw him begin the year splitting time between first base and DH, might have rattled other players. But Voit kept producing. He batted seventh more often than any other spot last year, but because of injuries, began this season hitting cleanup. More injuries happened, and three weeks into the season he moved up to the two-hole. Despite the changes and increased pressure, Voit kept producing.
Last Friday, Voit singled home Cameron Maybin in the bottom of the second to give New York a 2-0 lead over the Twins. The knock pushed Voit’s on-base streak to 42 games. Sadly, it ended the next day when he failed to reach base in four plate appearances as the Yankees fell to Minnesota.
Voit slashed .316/.416/.658 (50-for-158) with 16 home runs, 43 RBI, and 35 runs scored during his incredible streak. It was Major League Baseball’s longest active on-base streak when it ended, and was tied for third-longest by a Yankee since the start of 1997.
Bernie Williams (2001) and Mark Teixeira (2010) also reached base safely in 42 consecutive games. Alex Rodriguez did so in 53 straight (2004), and Derek Jeter reached in 57 consecutive games (1998-99). Voit joined Babe Ruth (1921), Lou Gehrig (four times), and Joe DiMaggio (1937) as the only Yankees to average at least one RBI per game during an on-base streak of at least 40 games (since RBI became an official stat in 1920).
Amazingly, Voit managed to compile a historic streak within a streak by reaching base safely in 31 straight games to begin the 2019 campaign. Since the start of the Live Ball Era in 1920, only four members of the Yankees have produced a longer on-base streak to begin a season than Voit. Three of those four streaks turned into career years by future Hall of Famers.
In 1934, Lou Gehrig reached base safely in 41 straight games to start the year, establishing a new franchise mark. He also never let up. Exactly one game after his historic season-opening streak ended, he started a new on-base streak which lasted 52 games. Gehrig batted .363 with 49 home runs and 166 RBI on the year to capture the Triple Crown. His 10.4 WAR has been bested only by Babe Ruth (six times), Mickey Mantle (three times), and himself (once in 1927) in franchise history.
Five years later, Gehrig’s teammate Bill Dickey made a run at the record, but came up two games short. Dickey went on to produce 5.2 WAR, made the All-Star team for the sixth time, and finished sixth in the MVP Award voting.
The Iron Horse’s mark finally fell 60 years later, when Jeter reached base safely in 53 games to start the 1999 season. He slashed .349/.438/.552, en route to a sixth-place finish in the MVP Award voting, and his 8.0 WAR remains the franchise record for shortstops. Like Gehrig and Dickey, Jeter’s career-year ended with the Yankees winning the World Series.
Only one man on the Yankees’ season-opening on-base streak list ahead of Voit failed to lead his team to a title — and that was due to no fault of his own. Don Mattingly began the penultimate season of his career by reaching base safely in 35 consecutive games. His Yankees held the best record in the American League when the player’s strike caused the cancellation of the Fall Classic in 1994.
The more I dig into Voit’s streak and what he contributed to the team during it, the more impressed I am. Voit is a major reason that the Yankees currently hold a playoff spot (and are nipping at Tampa Bay’s heels for first place), in spite of all the injuries. The fact that he batted his way onto some lists that include players ranging from superstars to inner-circle Hall of Famers might not guarantee Voit an MVP-caliber year moving forward. But it certainly bodes well, both for him and the team.
At the very least, his streak tells me that he’s seeing the ball really well, and he’s consistently producing quality at-bats. A hitter really can’t ask for much more than that.
Voit has already etched his name into the history books alongside some of the most legendary players ever to wear the Yankee pinstripes. Perhaps we should stop allowing ourselves to be surprised by what Voit can do.