Harvey Frommer / Records & Feats / Yankees
Joe Dimaggio's 56 Game Hitting Streak Began May 15, 1941
by Harvey Frommer
It was truly remarkable - a hit every game for two months, from May 15 through July 17, 1941 in Yankee wins and defeats, in games played in the daytime and those played at night. Single games, doubleheaders, meaningless games and ones that really counted - - Joe DiMaggio was locked in for 56 straight. And what made the epic feat even more dramatic was that it took place in the summer of '41, a time America was locked into news of the triumphs and tragedies of World War II.
The Yankee Clipper started the 1941 season slumping. He managed a single in four at bats on May 15 against Edgar Smith in a game the Yankees lost to the White Sox, 3-1.
On May 24 in his final at bat of the game against the Red Sox, DiMaggio singled in two runs. He had a modest ten game hitting streak, but hardly anyone paid it any attention. On May 30th the Yankee centerfielder made three errors in the second game of a double header. He was pressing. In the fifth inning, his fly ball to right was lost in the sun by Boston outfielder Pete Fox. DiMag, credited with a hit, had pushed the streak to 16.
Hits in both games of a doubleheader on June 1 against the Indians moved the streak to 18. It was at 19 the next day, the day Lou Gehrig died. The American League record set by George Sisler of 41 straight seemed out of reach. But there was lots of speculation in the newspapers and on the radio.
"That's when I became conscious of the streak," DiMaggio said. "But at that stage I didn't think too much about it.
Newspaper and radio began to dramatize what Joe DiMaggio was doing. Most games then were played in the afternoon, and radio announcers would routinely interrupt programs with the news of the Yankee Clipper's progress. Day and night, Les Brown band's recording was played by radio disc jockeys:
"Who started baseball's famous streak/That's got us all aglow/He's just a man and not a freak/Jolting Joe DiMaggio/Joe. . . Joe. . .DiMaggio/We want you on our side/From Coast to Coast, that's all you hear/Of Joe the One-Man Show/He's glorified the horsehide sphere/Jolting Joe DiMaggio/Joe . . Joe. . .DiMaggio/We want you on our side/He'll live in baseball's Hall of Fame/He got there blow-by-blow/Our kids will tell their kids his name/Jolting Joe DiMaggio."
On June 17, official scorer Dan Daniel credited DiMaggio with a hit. His grounder to short bounced up and hit Chicago's Luke Appling on the shoulder. The streak stood at 30. The George Sisler American League consecutive-game hit record of 41 was in reach.
On June 29, DiMaggio singled off Washington knuckleballer Dutch Leonard in the first game of a doubleheader. A seventh-inning single off Walt Masterson in the second game set a new record. - - 42. The taciturn DiMaggio became America's most famous athlete, pestered by the media, ogled by fans, adored by his Yankee teammates.
Before 52,832 at Yankee Stadium on July 1, DiMag paced a doubleheader sweep of Boston. The Yankee Clipper rapped out two hits in the first game. The nightcap was called after 5 innings but DiMaggio got a hit and tied the 43-year-old major league record of 44 set by Willie Keeler.
The next day DiMag moved the streak to 45, homering off Dick Newsome of the Sox.
Even the All Star Game did not stop Joe DiMaggio's streak. "I doubled," the Clipper smiled remembering the time, "and (brother) Dom drove me in with a single."
The 16th of July saw the Yankees in Cleveland for the start of a series with the Indians. 56!! Joe Di stroked a first inning single. The crowd at vast Municipal Stadium cheered.
On July 17, 1941, DiMag and Lefty Gomez were headed in a cab to the ballpark in Cleveland. "I've got a feeling that if you don't get a hit your first time up tonight," the cabby told him, "they're going to stop you."
"Who the hell are you?" Gomez snapped at the cabby. "What are you trying to do, jinx him?" Before 67,468 - 40,000 of whom had purchased their tickets some time in advance - veteran left-hander Al Smith took the mound for Cleveland. It was not the Indians the throng came out to see. It was Joltin' Joe DiMaggio.
Inning one, DiMaggio slashed a 1-0 pitch past third base but Ken Keltner, playing deep, backhanded the ball, fired to first. Out! DiMag was walked in the fourth inning.
The intense Yankee came to bat in the seventh inning lusting to extend the streak. Almost deafening was the noise level in the huge ballpark. A shot to third, a pickup by Keltner. DiMaggio out at first base.
The bases were loaded in the eighth inning, and there was one out when the Yankee Clipper came up displaying no emotion. But there was plenty in the rocking, rowdy stands. The count was 1-1. Ground ball to Lou Boudreau at short. The flip to Ray Mack at second who pivoted and threw to first. Double play. The streak was over.
"I can't say I'm glad it's over," DiMaggio said after the game. "Of course, I wanted it to go on as long as I could."
During the streak Joe DiMaggio had 91 hits, 22 multi-hit games, 5 three hit games, four four hit games, a. 408 batting average that included 15 home runs and 55 runs batted in.
Incredibly, with the streak over - DiMaggio began a new one.
He hit in 16 consecutive games - giving him the distinction of having hit safely in 72 of 73 games that 1941 season.
A P.S. to the remarkable streak took place more than 30 years later. Joe DiMaggio recalled: "The guy said he was that cab driver. He apologized and he was serious. I felt awful. He might have been spending his whole life thinking he had jinxed me, but I told him he hadn't. My number was up."