When Ken Landreaux was traded from the Twins to the Dodgers in spring training of 1981, Twins owner Calvin Griffith said "We thought he'd be better than he was." And that may be the best way to sum up the career of Ken Landreaux.
Landreaux was an 8th round pick of the Houston Astros out of Dominguez High School in Compton in 1973, but opted not to sign and went to play at Arizona State where he became an All-America and in 1976, the California Angels made him their first round pick.
In 1977, Landreaux tore up AA El Paso and AAA Salt Lake City and the Angels called him up for a few games in September. In 1978, Landreaux was up to stay and he was the Angels fourth outfielder before getting a promotion to a regular starting job for the last week of season in the worst way after Lyman Bostock was murdered.
The Angels sent Landreaux, along with Dave Engle, Paul Hartzell, and Brad Havens to Minnesota in the offseason and got Rod Carew. Landreaux was quoted at the time that he thought the trade should have just been one for one as he was as good a hitter as Carew. And the Angels went to the playoffs for the first time while the Twins finished in fourth, six games out. Landreaux batted .305 and hit 15 home runs.
In 1980, Twins manager decided to start Landreaux in left field and go with Rick Sofield in center. Landreaux had a 4-hit game in Oakland early in season, but hadn't shown much power. Coming into a game on April 23, 1980 against the Angels, Landreaux was hitting .269.
Landreaux would get hits in his next 11 games and he got his average up to .340, but on May 7 in Baltimore, Mauch rested Landreaux (possibly because he didn't like the matchup against lefty starter Mike Flanagan, although he had had a four-hit game against Ron Guidry on May 2.) and started Dave Edwards instead in left. But in eighth inning of a 6-6 tie, Mauch sent Landreaux up to pinch-hit for Edwards against right-handed reliever Sammy Stewart. Landreaux walked against Stewart and did not bat again and his hitting streak stayed intact.
After that, Mauch decided to keep writing Landreaux's name on the lineup card. And Landreaux kept on hitting. The Minnesota record of 24 games, set by Lenny Green, was in sight. But Landreaux was almost stopped before reaching that number when Bill Travers of Milwaukee shut out the Twins 5-0 on May 23 on just four hits. But Landreaux singled in the ninth to keep his streak alive and tie Green.
The Twins would be shut out again by a Brewers pitcher (Moose Haas) on May 24, 4-0 and the Twins again had just four hits, but Landreaux singled in the fifth to limit the suspense. The next player in Landreaux's sights would be Heinie Manush, who had a 33 game hitting streak for the Washington Senators in 1933.
Game #26 in the streak came in another loss to the Brewers (3-2), although the Twins managed to scrape out two runs, including an RBI single from Landreaux in the first.
The Twins returned home on May 26 and Landreaux was batting .357. 5,436 fans filed into Metropolitan Stadium as the Twins lost again, 6-3 to the White Sox and Steve Trout. Landreaux singled in the seventh and ninth. The streak was at 27.
Encouraged by that win, 5,204 fans came for the final game against the White Sox and the Twins won 5-2 on a complete game from Jerry Koosman. Landreaux had singles in the fourth and sixth to put him at 30 games.
When a hitting streak reaches 30 games, the media began to take notice. Or as much as they would take notice of any Twins player back in 1980. That is, there were a couple of stories in the papers outside of the Twin Cities. But the fans in Minnesota weren't all that eager to watch. Only 4,889 fans showed up for a game against the Orioles on May 30.
On May 31, Scott McGregor started for the Orioles and Landreaux was starting in left and batting second. In his first at bat, Landreaux hit into a force play. In the third inning, Landreaux flied out to right. In the sixth, Landreaux grounded out to short. And in the eighth, Landreaux flied out to left. The Orioles won 11-1. The streak was over.
During the streak, Landreaux batted .392 with 49 hits in 125 at bats. He had just eight extra base hits during the streak, five doubles, a triple, and two homers. He drew 10 walks. Landreaux was batting .356 for the season when the streak ended.
But the rest of 1980 wasn't so hot for Landreaux. He finished the season at .281 and hit just seven home runs. He played in just 129 games. The Twins did manage to get out of the cellar and finish third, but they were 77-84 and 19 ½ games in back of Kansas City. Landreaux did play in the 1980 All-Star game at Dodger Stadium and lined out against Bruce Sutter in his only plate appearance. And I was there to see Landreaux in his powder blue road Twins uniform! Note to others, All-Star games are REALLY boring in person.
Before the 1981 season started, Dodgers GM Al Campanis felt the Dodgers needed another left-handed hitting outfielder as Reggie Smith was out with a shoulder injury. This was despite the fact that the Dodgers had two other left-handed hitting outfielders on the roster in Rick Monday and Jay Johnstone.
Campanis first tried to swing a deal to get Bill Buckner back from Chicago, but that fell through as the Dodgers didn't think he could play the outfield anymore and there were fears that Buckner wouldn't get along with Steve Garvey. So, instead Campanis acquired Landreaux in exchange for Mickey Hatcher and two minor leaguers.
And like Calvin Griffith said about him, many Dodger fans thought, "Wasn't he supposed to be better?"
But Landreaux hit .251 in his first season with the Dodgers in 1981. And although the Dodgers won the World Series, Landreaux saw limited time in the World Series as Monday and Derrel Thomas got most of the time in center after Landreaux batted 5 for 30 in the Division Series and NLCS. Landreaux was on the field to catch the final out of the 1981 World Series however.
Landreaux never batted higher than .284 in any season with the Dodgers nor did he hit more than 17 home runs. But fans always seemed to marvel at "the sweet swing." Which was something I never saw. I always thought he just swung poorly since he never seemed to do much at the plate.
In 1987, Landreaux batted .203 and lost his starting job to John Shelby and was out of baseball at age 32. After his career ended, Landreaux admitted to a drug and alcohol addiction, but claimed it started after he had stopped playing.