Scoreless Innings Record Grows

By J.J. Cooper

May 21, 2004

After further research, the ever-lengthening minor league consecutive scoreless-innings pitched record appears to have found a stopping point. More than 80 years after his last pitch, Irving Wilhelm’s record has grown.

Additional research has shown that Wilhelm’s complete minor league scoreless-innings streak was 72 innings, stretching over two seasons, four years apart. Before Friday, there was a dispute whether Wilhelm’s streak was 56 or 59 innings.

The record came to light as Cardinals prospect Brad Thompson strung together his own impressive scoreless-innings streak. After throwing 8 2/3 scoreless innings to end last season, Thompson threw a scoreless inning of relief on April 14 this season, and then followed it up with six straight shutout starts. His own streak finally ended at 57 2/3 innings on Wednesday night, when he gave up a run with two outs in the sixth inning of the Smokies game against West Tenn.

When Thompson’s streak ended, there was a disagreement as to what was the record. The Smokies declared that Thompson had the record–based on Birmingham Barons records, including a Southern Association record book from the 1950s, which indicate Wilhelm’s streak was 56 innings. In a statement, the Smokies said they were open to the fact that the additional research may change the record, but they pointed to the Barons’ research as the best available evidence.

On the other hand, the National Association said Wilhelm still had the record, basing its findings on newspaper reports in the Memphis Commercial Appeal from 1907 listing Wilhelm’s streak as 59 innings. Later, a Birmingham News story from 1907 was also found. It also listed the streak as 59 innings.

All the debate became moot however with baseball historian Ray Nemec’s further research Friday. Nemec discovered Wilhelm’s consecutive innings streak didn’t end with his run of shutouts in 1907. Wilhelm spent the next three seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but he returned to the minors in 1911, again with the Barons. According to Sporting Life magazines from 1911, Wilhelm pitched a complete-game shutout for a 1-0 win over Montgomery in his first start of the season on April 18. He finally saw his streak end on April 23, when he gave up a run in the fifth inning of a 2-1, 13-inning loss to New Orleans.

So Wilhelm’s streak stretches 72 innings (or 69 if you go by the Barons record book), making it the longest documented streak in the minors.