As a 27-year-old with the Boston Red Sox in 1950, Walt Dropo had one of the finest rookie seasons in baseball history. The 6-foot-5 inch, 220-pound first baseman from Moosup, Connecticut hit .322, with 34 home runs and an American League-leading 144 RBIs. He scored 101 runs and had a slugging percentage of .583. But he suffered through a bad sophomore season, which included a month-long trip back to the minor leagues. His final numbers for 1951 (11 homers, 57 RBIs, .239 average) had many wondering if he was a one-year wonder.
He started slow again in 1952, and on June 3 he was part of a nine-player deal between Boston and the Detroit Tigers. Along with third baseman Fred Hatfield, outfielder Don Lenhardt, shortstop Johnny Pesky, and pitcher Bill Wight, Dropo was sent packing to the Motor City, in exchange for outfielder Hoot Evers, third baseman George Kell, shortstop Johnny Lipon, and pitcher Dizzy Trout.
The right-handed hitting Dropo was expected to provide some much-needed power at the first-base position. Up to that point in the season it had been manned by 33-year-old Don Kolloway, who was hitting .303 but with no home runs and only 14 RBIs in 34 games.
From the start, Dropo played solidly enough for the Tigers (certainly an upgrade over Kolloway), but he still hadn’t displayed the offensive firepower he’d shown as a rookie. In his first 39 games in Detroit, he hit seven home runs, with 21 RBIs and a .265 average.
On July 14, the cellar-dwelling Tigers and first-place New York Yankees squared off in the Bronx for the finale of a three-game set. Dropo, batting fifth for Detroit, came up in the first inning, and laced a single into right off pitcher Jim McDonald. He singled again in the third, the fifth, and the seventh (all against McDonald). Finally, facing relief pitcher Bobby Hogue in the eighth inning, Dropo hit a bases-loaded single, driving in two (his only RBIs of the game). Backed by his 5-for-5 effort, the Tigers prevailed 8-2.
But Dropo didn’t stop there. The Tigers headed to Griffith Stadium in Washington to take on the Senators in a doubleheader on the 15th. In the first game, against right-hander Walt Masterson, Dropo singled in the first inning for his sixth consecutive hit. Another single in the fourth made it seven in a row. In the very next frame, he came up with runners on first and third, and singled, driving in a run. That was eight in a row. Leading off the top of the eighth, he again singled. Dropo finished the game (which the Tigers lost 8-2) with four hits in four at-bats, all against Masterson. His nine consecutive hits over two games were all singles.
For the second game of the doubleheader, the Senators sent righty Bob Porterfield to the mound. He loaded the bases in the first inning, and up came Dropo. Finally showing some extra-base power, he tripled, and later scored. Ten hits in a row! Porterfield served up a single to Dropo again in the third, for number eleven. By the fifth inning, Washington had brought in Lou Sleater. Dropo doubled off the lefty, for his twelfth consecutive hit.
That tied a major league record, established by Pinky Higgins of the Boston Red Sox, back in 1938. One more hit, and Dropo could set a new mark.
He batted again in the seventh. Facing Sleater, Dropo hit a high pop fly behind the plate, near the seats. Senators’ catcher Mickey Grasso hovered under it, and waited…and waited. With nearby fans shouting for him to drop it, Grasso reached up his glove, caught the ball for the out, and Dropo’s streak was over.
“I just stood there and prayed the ball would drop into the stands” the Tiger lamented later.
It was a fastball right down the middle, according to Sleater. “I guess Dropo was just too anxious,” the pitcher pointed out.
But Dropo’s day wasn’t done. With the bases loaded in the ninth, he came up against Sleater again, and again the pitcher threw him a fastball down the middle. This time Dropo singled to drive in two more runs. The next batter, Johnny Hopp, flied out to end the game, which the Tigers lost, 9-8.
“I asked myself why I couldn’t have gotten that hit in the seventh,” Dropo declared. “But I have no kicks coming. I’m tickled to death I tied the record.”
While Dropo and Higgins both made twelve hits in a row, Higgins also had two walks mixed in. Most sources list both players as holding the consecutive-hit record, but Dropo alone holds the benchmark for most consecutive hits without a walk.
After his trade to Detroit, Dropo smacked 23 home runs in 1952. He drove in 96 runs for the team the following season, but in December of 1954 he was traded to the Chicago White Sox. After his rookie season with Boston, Dropo never again hit .300, never hit 30 home runs, and never had 100 RBIs. But he had a solid 13-year career with five teams, hitting .270 with 152 home runs.
For three days in 1952, the new Tiger was unstoppable while capturing a dozen hits in a row, a feat no Detroiter or any other batter has ever bested.