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Baseball Analysis  John Holway / Yankees

Men willingly believe what they want to believe.

Julius Caesar


Baseball’s greatest  myths -- #3


DiMaggio did not hit

in 56 straight games


By John B Holway


            Joe’s streak is as full of holes as an archery target.  Two questionable calls by a friendly New York scorer rescued him from having his streak cut in half.   In 1929 Chuck Klein hit in two 26-game streaks.  Who remembers Chuck Klein? 

Until DiMaggio, hitting streaks received very little publicity.  The papers mentioned them low in the story without fanfare.  They just happened naturally.  When George Sisler’s 41-game streak, the “modern” record before DiMaggio’s, was broken in a game against the Yanks, the New York Times didn't even mention it.

            But none of those early streakers was a Yankee.  When the New York publicity machine discovered Joe’s streak, suddenly it became nation-wide news.  Tin Pan Alley wrote a hit song about it.  And every player on the field, every manager in the dugout, every scorer in the press box became part of the drama.

            First of all, it’s a myth that DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games:

             Game #12, May 26.  Jimmy Halperin, a sore-armed Class B pitcher, stopped Joe, 0-for-2, in an exhibition game.  So DiMaggio didn't hit in 56 straight baseball games.  This is rarely mentioned by Joe’s biographers.

            Game #30, June 17.  White Sox fast-baller Johnny Rigney retired Joe the first three times up.  In the ninth DiMag slapped a ground ball straight at shortstop Luke Appling, hitting him on the shoulder and bouncing into leftfield.  All eyes turned to the press box, where official scorer Dan Daniel of the New York World- Telegram held up one finger – a hit.

            Game #31, June 18.  Chicago Lefty Thornton Lee, the league ERA champ, walked Joe and got him on a double play before the Yankee came up in the fifth and hit another grounder to Appling.  Again Luke bobbled it and didn't even make the throw.  Again Daniel came to the rescue and kept the streak alive.  The New York papers called it “lucky” or “fluky.”  Chicago papers didn't even mention the streak in their stories – it wasn't big news outside of New York yet.

            There were no Hit/Error signs on the scoreboard then.  “I marked it an error on my scorecard,” says Tom Knight, a Brooklyn baseball historian.  It wasn't until he got home and tuned in the radio that Knight learned it was a hit.  “If the record hadn't been on the line, I don't think he would have called it a hit.”

            Game # 37, June 26.  Under-hander Elden Auker of St Louis held Joe hitless for seven innings.  The Yanks had a 4-1 lead with Joe the fourth man due up in the eighth (there probably would not be a ninth).  With one out, the second man walked as Browns catcher Rick Ferrell fumed.  “Bill McGowan, the umpire, walked the guy – Auker threw six strikes, and he still walked the guy.” 

Tom Henrich was next up.  A double play would end the inning and Joe’s streak.  “Mind if I bunt?” Tom asked manager Joe McCarthy.”  “Good idea,” McCarthy nodded.  “In those days the Yankees didn't bunt,” said Ferrell.  “They were playing for the streak, not the game.” 

That brought DiMag up with a runner on second.  Should Auker walk him?  Elden decided to pitch to him, and Joe cracked an infield hit.  Ferrell was upset, this time with Auker:  “If I'd been pitching, I wouldn't have laid one in there.” 

In an earlier era, say Keeler’s 45-game 1896 streak or George Sister’s 41 in 1922 – or even early in DiMaggio’s streak before anyone knew it was a streak – that inning might have been played entirely differently.

Game #40, June 28.  There’s another myth-within-a-myth.  DiMaggio claimed that Philadelphia pitcher Johnny Babich boasted he would walk Joe all four times as Joe went after Ty Cobb’s mark of 40.  Joe says he reached out and hit a 3-0 pitch through Johnny’s legs. 

However, there is no record that Babich ever threatened to walk Joe.  “He and I were the best of friends,” John insisted. 

DiMaggio did hit an outside pitch between Babich’s legs, but it was on a

1-0 pitch, not 3-0.  However, the story fits the larger DiMaggio myth so well that even reputable historians still repeat it without checking the facts.



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