May 15, 1941– Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper, ripped a single off of White Sox pitcher Eddie Smith. He was a wiry, young Italian-American who had learned the game of baseball on the sandlots of San Francisco and had grown to play centerfield for the New York Yankees. He didn’t know it at the time, but his hit off Smith had just set him on a journey to accomplish one of the most incredible feats in baseball history. DiMaggio would record a hit in 56 straight games, setting a Major League record that may never be broken.
Of course, while riding his amazing streak, DiMaggio rose to the rank of instant superstar. His name, littered with vowels in all the wrong places, became one of household commonality. Americans flocked to the front of busy newsstands and department stores so they could read the headlines or listen to radio broadcasts about Joltin’ Joe. Even Major League players, including DiMaggio’s own brother Dom, an outfielder with the Boston Red Sox, received updates on Joe’s performance while on the playing field themselves. There was not a man, woman, or child in America that wasn’t completely hooked on DiMaggio’s heroics.
And who could blame them? The simple fact was that, no matter what the circumstances, Joltin’ Joe would always come through with a clutch hit to extend the streak another day. And he did so for just over two months, racking up 91 hits (including 15 dingers), 65 RBI, and 56 runs scored…all in just 56 games.
All Good Things Come to an End
On July 17, DiMaggio took a taxi to Yankee Stadium where he would attempt to extend the streak to 57 games. The driver, a life-long Yankees fan, told Joe he had a bad feeling the streak would end that day. DiMaggio smiled and shook the man’s hand as he stepped out of the cab. Then he calmly strolled to the locker room and suited up for game number 57. He smashed two hard liners in the game, but both were gobbled up by White Sox third baseman, Ken Keltner. Pitcher, Jim Bagby, held Joe hitless in his final two at bats and that was that…the streak was broken.
Somewhere in New York City a taxi driver felt like stabbing himself in the eye with a white-hot poker for possibly jinxing his favorite player. “I felt awful,” Joe said of the cab driver after the game, “He might have spent his whole life thinking he’d jinxed me, but I told him he hadn’t. My number was up.” The very next day, DiMaggio started a new streak that lasted 16 more games…which meant he had recorded a hit in 72 out of 73 games. Now there’s a stat that’ll make your head spin around like that possessed chick from The Exorcist.
Dominic DiMaggio must have picked up some magic from his younger brother because, in 1949, it was his turn in the spotlight. From June 26 to August 7, Dom went on a 34 game hitting streak. He piled up 51 hits, 35 runs, and 13 RBI. His last chance to push the streak to 35 games came on August 9, in the seventh inning of a game against the Yankees. Dom hit a long fly ball that landed harmlessly in the glove of the centerfielder, who happened to be his kid brother, Joe DiMaggio. It was rumored Joe felt so bad about ending his brother’s streak he took him out for a steak dinner after the game.
In 1978, a young star named Pete Rose began the only modern streak ever to rival DiMaggio’s mark. Between June 14 and July 31, Charlie Hustle dished out 72 hits and batted nearly .400 while running his streak to 44 games. Many experts at the time believed he was on his way to breaking DiMaggio’s record. But on August 1, Braves’ pitcher Gene Garber, struck out Rose in his final at-bat of the game. Imagine the frustration Rose must have felt after delivering a knock in 44 straight, only to look up and notice he was still a dozen donuts shy of the Clipper. That’s the kind of stuff that can drive a man to drinking…or gambling. Hmm. That’s odd.
A Streak with a Twist
The most recent streak of any serious note was turned in by Phillies’ shortstop, Jimmy Rollins. During the final months of the 2005 season, Rollins delivered 61 hits. He knocked in 22 runs and stole 15 bases while building up a 36 game hitting streak. Then he met his worst enemy…the end of the season. Rollins was forced to take his streak into the off season and resume it again in April of 2006. He added a few more games to the total, but on April 6 Jason Marquis of the Cardinals halted J-Rolls’ streak at 38, still 18 games shy of DiMaggio’s record.
The Last Streak Standing
The mark of 56 straight games with a hit is one that DiMaggio has held for over 65 years. No modern player has come within 12 games of tying this mark and many (including this writer) believe it is a record that will stand as long as people play baseball. There’s really no question that DiMaggio completed one of the greatest feats in baseball history during the summer of ‘41.