May 14, 2017

Joe DiMaggio “56 Straight” – Consecutive Game Hit Streak of 1941

This vintage sports wall art piece by Classic Sports Pictures captures the tribute to a record in Major League Baseball that may never be broken – Joe DiMaggio’s “56 Straight” consecutive game hitting streak in 1941. It began on May 15 and ended July 17. DiMaggio hit .408 during his streak (91-for-223), with 15 home runs and 55 runs batted in. DiMaggio kept his streak alive through the All-Star break (and in fact the game itself as he went one-for-four) and the death of Yankee great Lou Gehrig on June 2.

The magical run served as a much-needed distraction for a nation on the verge of entering World War II, captivating fans and inspiring countless news stories, radio bulletins and even a hit song. Updates on DiMaggio’s streak were soon competing for newspaper space with dispatches from World War II Europe. With the military draft underway and American involvement in the war looking increasingly likely, the record-chasing run became a fixation for baseball fans desperate for good news.  Wire services provided constant updates on DiMaggio’s progress, and radio shows were often interrupted to report on his hits. On game days, the question “How’d Joe do?” could be heard on street corners and in bars across the country.

Joe DiMaggio also had a long hitting streak in the minor league.  In 1933, as a rookie with the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals, he had gone 61 straight games with a hit—a minor league record. Now, as he continued to get on base in game after game, fans began to whisper about his chances of accomplishing a similar feat in the majors.

While DiMaggio was no stranger to being the star of an always impressive Yankee team, 1941 was even more special than usual. While the rival Red Sox were being led by Ted Williams and his unbelievable batting average, he ended the season at .406, DiMaggio pulled his team out of an early slump, and led them to the World Series, and himself to an Most Valuable Player Award. The run to the championship was jump started by DiMaggio’s streak. It is ironic that the streak began against the White Sox, who on at least four occasions nearly ended DiMaggio’s streak themselves. However, it was the Indians, not the White Sox who finally held the Yankee Clipper hitless. On July 17, third baseman Ken Keltner made two terrific back-handed stops to rob DiMaggio of two hits, ending the streak.

DiMaggio would help lead the Yankees to their ninth World Series title that October, but it was his hitting streak that became the most hallowed chapter of the 1941 season.  Journalists and fellow ball players hailed it as one of the most improbable records in sports history, and many predicted it would never be equaled. So far, they’ve been right: in 76 years, the closest anyone has come to matching DiMaggio was in 1978, when Pete Rose recorded 44 straight hits for the Cincinnati Reds.

It was reported Joe DiMaggio responded to the hitting streak ending with characteristic terseness. “I can’t say that I’m glad it’s over,” he said after the game. “Of course, I wanted it to go on as long as I could.” That evening, the star slugger went to a bar and had a quiet drink by himself. He was back in action just a day later, thumping a single and a double against the Indians and launching a new hitting streak that would extend for 16 games.

“The Streak” – as it has come to be known added to the legend of the great DiMaggio. The eleven-time All-Star was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955. The first line of his Cooperstown plaque pays homage to his 1941 streak.