#CardCorner: 1981 Topps Ken Landreaux
It remains one of just 24 in-season streaks of that length or longer in the game’s history.
And it gave Landreaux his moment in the sun on the big league stage.
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Born Dec. 22, 1954, Landreaux grew up in Compton, Calif., led Dominguez High School to a state title and was selected by the Astros in the eighth round of the 1973 MLB Draft. But he chose to enroll at Arizona State University, where he would star on the diamond along with other future big leaguers like Gary Allenson, Floyd Bannister, Bob Horner, Ken Phelps and Gary Rajsich.
The Sun Devils were ranked No. 1 in the country for much of 1976 before finishing third overall, and Landreaux led the way by topping all NCAA hitters with 87 RBI. The junior center fielder batted .413 while setting an NCAA record with 112 hits and did not commit an error in the field.
The Angels made Landreaux the No. 6 overall pick in that year’s draft and signed him to a contract that featured an $82,000 bonus. They sent him to Double-A El Paso, where he hit .220 in 21 games. But in 1977, the lefty-hitting Landreaux set the minor leagues on fire at El Paso and Triple-A Salt Lake City, batting a combined .357 with 27 home runs, 116 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 119 games. He was named the Minor League Player of the Year by Topps and earned a promotion to the big leagues, where he hit .250 in 23 games for the Angels.
In his big league debut on Sept. 11, Landreaux recorded three assists from center field.
“I can do better,” Landreaux told the Salt Lake Tribune just before being called up to the Angels. “I can’t afford to allow myself to let down. This biggest part of this game, I have discovered, is to keep yourself disciplined.”
Landreaux spent the 1978 season as the Angels’ fourth outfielder, appearing in 93 games and hitting .223. Then on Feb. 3, 1979, Landreaux was dealt to the Twins in a trade that also sent Dave Engle, Paul Hartzell and Brad Havens to Minnesota in exchange for future Hall of Famer Rod Carew.
“I realize I was in a trade with the best hitter in baseball,” Landreaux told the Orlando Sentinel during Spring Training of 1979. “I don’t feel pressure at all. I’m just going to play the game to be best of my ability – that should be enough or more than enough.”
It was. Landreaux hit .305 in 151 games in 1979, scoring 81 runs, recording 15 home runs and notching 83 RBI. He was regarded as one of the game’s top young players, and his 31-game hitting streak in 1980 did nothing to diminish that standing.
Landreaux’s hitting streak went from April 23 through May 30, with one game hitless game on May 7 when he entered the contest in the eighth inning as a pinch hitter – drawing a walk against the Orioles' Sammy Stewart but keeping his streak intact.
Landreaux hit .392 with 49 hits in those 32 games during his streak.
“We’ll start another one,” Landreaux told United Press International after going 0-for-4 against the Orioles on May 31, leaving his batting average at .348. “The important thing is that I did it once. Now I know I can do it and there is no reason I can’t do it again.”
“(At the Winter Meetings), they wanted Hatcher and Pete Guerrero. We said adios. A day ago they asked for just Guerrero and the minor leaguers. We said no. When they asked for Hatcher, we said we’d think about that.”
Landreaux was happy to return to Southern California.
“It’s like a dream come true: Dodger Blue,” Landreaux said. “I get a chance to play at home.”
Landreaux stepped in as the Dodgers’ every day center fielder and hit .251 with 18 stolen bases. He struggled in the first two rounds of the postseason, hitting .166 with one RBI and one run scored – but the Dodgers defeated the Astros and Expos to advance to the World Series against the Yankees.
Landreaux moved into a reserve role in 1986 and 1987, hitting .203 in the latter year before his contract with the Dodgers expired. Finding no big league offers following the season, Landreaux signed with the Orioles and spent the year with Triple-A Rochester, hitting .272 in 64 games.
“I’m just keeping myself in shape,” Landreaux told the San Bernadino Sun. “But things don’t look too good.”
But for Ken Landreaux, his legacy will always be defined by the number 31 – and the magical spring of 1980.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum