The mark is 76 years old and still deserves respect…and a fresh look.
In 1941, Ted Williams, the greatest hitter ever in the eyes of many, ended the season with a .406 average—the last Major Leaguer to bat over .400.
But Williams’ achievement was overshadowed by an even more impressive hitting display that season: Joe DiMaggio’s streak of hitting safely in 56 straight games.
The 1941 season was 76 seasons ago, but that doesn’t matter to true baseball fans. The 56-game hitting streak is an incredible feat—likely never to be broken—set by Mr. Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper, one of the best players of all time.
Here’s a look at the streak and some interesting related baseball facts, from a variety of perspectives…to help keep DiMaggio’s amazing record alive in our minds and hearts, and to look at it with fresh eyes.
Right off the bat.
There were two records (and two players) that DiMaggio was chasing as the batting streak got serious. The “modern” day record at the time was held by George Sisler, who in 1922 hit in 41 straight games; and there was the 45-game streak by “Wee” Willie Keeler, set in 1897. The game had changed significantly in the four decades since Keeler had set the record, but it was good that DiMaggio broke Keeler’s record, to stand alone with the mark.
• As it turns out, if DiMaggio’s streak had ended at 46 after passing Keeler, it would it remain the record today.
• It’s interesting to note that DiMaggio broke Keeler’s mark 44 years after Keeler established the record.
• The person to come closest to DiMaggio’s record since 1941 was Pete Rose, whose streak in 1978 reached 44 games.
An exciting (and quick) two months.
Fifty-six games sounds like a lot of baseball, and it’s certainly a long streak, but it came and went rather quickly. The 1941 season started on April 14th. A month later on May 15th, DiMaggio went 1-for-4 in a 13-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox. On July 16th, he went 3-for-4 in a 10-3 win over the Indians. But, by the middle of summer, and just nine days after the ’41 All-Star Game, the streak was over. It came to end on July 17th, in the 85th game of a 152-game season. There was still 2½ months of baseball left to play. During the streak, DiMaggio batted .408 with 91 hits, including 15 home runs and 55 runs batted in.
Beyond the streak, a great year.
The 1941 season was a fantastic year for Joe DiMaggio, who had one of the best of his thirteen seasons. For the year, DiMaggio batted .357, the second-highest average of his career. (He had hit .381 two years earlier.) He belted 30 home runs and drove in a League-high 125 runs.
And the Yankees? They were 14-14 when the streak started, and 55-27 on its last day. They won the American League pennant—there were no playoffs then—and beat the Dodgers in the World Series, 4-1.
The streak ends.
DiMaggio had extended the new record by 11 games when it finally came to an end during a night game against Cleveland on July 17, 1941. That game drew a crowd of 67,468 to watch the Yankees and catch a part of the streak, or to see it end. At the time, it was the largest crowd ever to see a game under the lights.
DiMaggio played a good game and got the bat on the ball solidly, but two great backhand stops by the third baseman robbed Joe of two possible hits. The Yankees were up 2-1 in the 8th inning, and then scored two runs to make it 4-1. DiMaggio came up the plate with the bases loaded and one out, and the crowd was crazy with excitement. With the count 1-1, DiMaggio hit into a double play. The hitting streak was over at 56 games. That night, he went 0-3, with a walk.
An account of the game that night in The New York Times quoted DiMaggio’s thoughts about the streak’s end:
“I can’t say that I’m glad it’s over,” DiMaggio said after the game. “Of course, I wanted it to go on as long as it could. Now that the streak is over, I just want to get out there and keep helping to win ball games.”
Streakin’ Joe DiMaggio
The ’41 season belonged to DiMaggio. The day after his streak ended, he started a new one, hitting safely over the next 16 games. That means he hit safely in 72 of 73 games.
His amazing season earned Joe DiMaggio the Most Valuable Player award, ahead of Ted Williams and his .406 batting average…which is also a record that still stands, 76 years later.