Dale Long, who briefly regained a place in the limelight in 1987 after a generation-long absence when his 31-year-old record for consecutive games with home runs was tied by Don Mattingly, died Sunday at 64 after a long bout with cancer.
In 1956, while playing first base for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Long hit home runs in eight consecutive games, beginning May 19 against Jim Davis of the Chicago Cubs and running through May 28, when he hit a homer off Carl Erskine of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Between those dates, Long hit home runs off Ray Crone and Warren Spahn of the Milwaukee Braves, Herman Wehmeier and Lindy McDaniel of the St. Louis Cardinals and Curt Simmons and Ben Flowers of the Philadelphia Phillies.
After the streak, he was batting .411 with 14 homers. He later had a two-for-54 streak and tailed off to .263 with 27 homers and 91 runs batted in during 1956, his finest of 11 major league seasons.
“I don’t know what it is with me,” he said in an interview in July, 1956. “Sure, I got a little tired by all the things that suddenly began happening to me when I hit those eight homers in a row, but I can’t blame my slump for that. I still think most of my troubles came from the fact that I was trying to hit the ball 900 miles. I should have been satisfied with those 390-foot jobs.”
Long, born in Springfield, Mo., played in the major leagues for the Pirates, St. Louis Browns, Cubs, Washington Senators and San Francisco Giants until finishing with the New York Yankees in 1963. He hit 132 home runs and drove in 467 runs during a career in which he batted .267.
A 6-foot-4 left-hander, he achieved notoriety in 1951 when Pirate boss Branch Rickey decided to flaunt tradition and try him at catcher in spring training.
In an exhibition game at San Diego, Long said in a 1957 interview, “I knelt down to give the sign to some new kid who could really blaze that ball. In my head, I called for a curve.
“But I put down one finger for the fastball instead. I’m squatting there, looking for the curve and, whoosh, here comes the fastball. The only thing I could do was reach out and catch it with my bare hand. Pretty soon, I went to the Browns on waivers and went back to first base.”
Long caught two games in 1958 with the Cubs, using a first baseman’s mitt.
He spent several seasons in the minor leagues after signing in 1944. His final minor league stint was with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League in 1953-54.
In 1953, he was the PCL’s most valuable player, batting .272 with 35 home runs and 116 RBIs.
Long is survived by his wife, Dorothy, and his sons, Dale Jr. and Jonny.