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DiMaggio’s 56 or Williams’ .406. What’s More Impressive?


Which of the two records is more impressive? Do you have an opinion now? And what will you think once you know a few more facts?

It seems like something from a Hollywood movie, but amazingly, it’s quite real. During the baseball season of 1941, two of the greatest—and still unbroken—hitting records were set.They are the 56-game hitting streak by Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams’ .406 season-ending batting average. Just about everyone thinks both records will remain unbroken…and remain two incredible feats of hitting.

Fact is, most fans are aware of the two records but don’t know many details around the achievements (how could they…that was 75 years ago!). Here’s a look at Williams’ and DiMaggio’s records, from different views:

  • During his impressive streak, DiMaggio hit .408. For the season, he hit .356.
  • Williams hit .412 during DiMaggio’s streak.
  • DiMaggio’s streak started on May 20.
  • That same day, Williams started a 23-game hitting streak of his own.
  • Williams hit .489 during his mini-streak.

  • .406—anything but average.
    Ted Williams had one of the smoothest and most beautiful swings ever. His eyesight, supposedly, was exceptional, though he claimed he actually had one bad eye from a childhood mishap. He had quick hands, an amazing memory and a sharp mind. He loved hitting and approached it like a science.

    Most people agree that he is probably the greatest hitter of all time.

  • No one in the American League had hit .400 since 1923. A National League player had hit at least .400 in 1930.
  • During the ’41 season, Ted Williams hit 37 homers and had 120 RBIs.
  • He had 147 walks.
  • He struck out only 27 times the entire season.
  • His .553 on-base percentage was a Major League record for 63 years.
  • Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians, who faced both DiMaggio and Williams, said Williams was the “best hitter I ever faced. And I never saw anyone hit like he did in 1941.”

    Who has come close? Since 1941, just a few players have hit for a high average, but no one has hit .400, let alone .406. Rod Carew hit .388 in 1977, and George Brett hit .390 in 1980. In 1984, Tony Gwynn hit .394 in a year in which he played in just 110 games in a strike-shortened season. Larry Walker hit .375 in 1999.

    But maybe the best part of Williams’ .406 average in 1941 is what happened on the very last day of the season: With only one game left, Williams was hitting .39955. Had he sat out the game and played it safe, his season-ending average would have been rounded up, to .400.

    But we’re talking about Ted Williams, one of the truest competitors ever. And he had said that if he couldn’t hit .400 from the beginning to the end, he didn’t deserve the recognition. So Williams took the field and played BOTH games of a double-header. He went 6-for-8 that day, which boosted his average to .406. And that’s the last time anyone in the Major Leagues has ended a complete season with more than a .400 average.

    Streak in time.

    Ted Williams did not win the MVP that year, despite leading the American League in average and home runs, two thirds of the Triple Crown. Only one person could take the MVP title from Williams in 1941, even with his .406 average: Joe DiMaggio, and his 56-game hitting streak.

    One thing must be pointed out up front: While a few batters have flirted with .400 (or .390), virtually no one has come remotely close to DiMaggio’s record…and most baseball players think it never will be broken.

  • Pete Rose, perhaps the best hitter behind Ted Williams, has the second-longest streak in MLB history, 44 games. That’s a little more than 75% of the way there.
  • The record DiMaggio broke was 44 games, by Willie Keeler…in 1897.
  • Paul Molitor had a 39-game streak and Jimmy Rollins had a 38-game streak. Their streaks, like Rose’s, ended three weeks short of DiMaggio’s.
  • DiMaggio’s hitting streak is impressive perhaps because hitting streaks are pretty rare in baseball, today and in years past. Even Rose’s hitting streak was almost 40 years ago. In 2014, the longest hitting streak was 26 games—not even halfway there—by Edwin Encarnación of the Blue Jays. Only one player has had two streaks that were half as long as DiMaggio’s was: George Sisler, and that was in the 1920s.

    DiMaggio was streak-savvy by the time 1941 rolled around: In 1933, while playing for the Minor League San Francisco Seals, and at the ripe age of just 19, DiMaggio hit safely in 61 straight games, despite having a bruised thumb that required taping on the day the streak started.

    Here’s what DiMaggio accomplished during his 56-game hitting streak:

  • He hit .408.
  • He had 91 hits.
  • He hit 15 home runs.
  • He had 22 multi-game hits.
  • He drove in 55 runs.
  • He had four 4-hit games.
  • Here’s another amazing fact related to the streak, one that few die-hard baseball fans are aware of: The streak ended on July 17 against the Cleveland Indians, with DiMaggio grounding into a double play to end it. And then…
  • As soon as the next game, Joe DiMaggio started a new 16-game hitting streak.
  • DiMaggio’s having two streaks means that he hit in 72 of 73 games!
  • Somebody once asked a great question: How many games did he NOT get a hit in that year?

    Which was more impressive?

    Which record might be broken first? Some people think that because few batters have hit in the high .300s in the past 20 years, perhaps a great contact hitter could break .400 someday. But could that same batter, if he’s so good at getting the bat on the ball, also hit 56 straight? Or maybe it’s simply going to take a hitter who just has one of those years when everything goes right.

    Finally, here are a few thing to consider:

  • Someone once pointed out that a hitter would have to get a hit in all of his games for more than two-and-a-half months to approach the 56-game streak.
  • The game has changed. In 1941, starting pitchers tried to complete their own games, which means they probably lost steam in the late innings.
  • The pressure on any player to hit more than .400 or go on a streak would be tremendous. In 1961, Roger Maris started losing his hair due to the stress of trying to break Babe Ruth’s home run record.
  • With more teams in both leagues today, more travel, and better pitchers and fielders, is it possible we will ever see a season like the one Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio had in 1941?
  • It’s not likely. But what do you think?