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Posted May 16, 2011 | comments Leave a comment

Records are made to be broken...?


By Josh Herzenberg - Strasburg Express

On the afternoon of Thursday, May 15, 1941, the Yankees and the White Sox squared off in a fairly typical Major League Baseball regular season day game. In the wake of World War II, baseball had very much become an incredibly popular event for many Americans to enjoy as a nation. The starting pitcher for the White Sox, Eddie Smith, stifled the superstar lineup of the Yankees for that afternoon and ended up on the winning end of a lopsided 13-1 victory. Perhaps the biggest star on the Yankees' roster was their strapping 26-year-old centerfielder, the immensely talented Joe DiMaggio. That day, Joltin' Joe went 1 for 4 off of Smith, earning his only hit of the day in the first inning via a single.

For more than two months, from May 15 on, the Yankees played in 56 more games. And Joe-D had a hit in every single one of them. From May 15-July 16, there was not a single game that DiMaggio and the Yankees played that he did not reach base safely with a hit. During this streak, his batting average was .408; he hit 15 home runs and had 55 RBI. He faced four future Hall of Fame pitchers (Lefty Grove on May 25, Ted Lyons on July 13, Hal Newhouser on June 5 and June 22 and Bob Feller on June 2 and June 14).

Seventy years ago, on May 15, 1941, Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 consecutive games, a record that still hasn't been broken. As a matter of fact, no one has even come close to breaking it. The second longest hitting streak of all time is held by Pete Rose, who hit safely in 44 games in 1978 (not so ironically, Rose also holds the record for the most career hits with 4,256). Rose and DiMaggio are the only two players to ever have hitting streaks over 40 games. Here are some more facts:

  • Only three players that have played the game since World War II have even come within three weeks of DiMaggio's streak. Those are Rose, Paul Molitor (39 hits, 1989) and Jimmy Rollins (38 hits, 2005-06).
  • There are only three players in baseball in the past 70 years who have had two hitting streaks in their career that add up to 56 games. Those are Rose, Molitor and Tommy Hayes.
  • There has only been one player since 1900 that has hit safely in 54 out of 56 games, and that was Derek Jeter in 2006-07.

I witnessed, just like most of the baseball-watching people in this country, Andre Ethier's hitting streak come to an end last week for the Dodgers. Ethier was on fire, and seemed to be able to hit every single pitch thrown at him, and hit it hard. It was very difficult to get him out. His streak was at 30 ... and would have had to continue for more than a month just to even come close to DiMaggio's.

Other records in baseball have been impressive and magical and thought to be "unbreakable." Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in 1927, a feat unmatched until Roger Maris's 61 in 1961. However since 1998, that number has been surpassed six times by three different individuals (Sammy Sosa three times, Mark McGwire twice and Barry Bonds once), culminated by Barry Bonds' record 73 in 2001.

Seventy-three could be an unbreakable number, but it is a very young record and remains to be seen. The speculation of the "Steroid Era" combined with the present regularity in home runs causes me to believe that this number can be broken in the future (for all those Nats fans in the Valley who are reading this ... there's a pretty decent 18 year old in the minors that you guys drafted last year named Harper who can hit it a long way...).

Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, and is the last player to hit .400 in a season in the Major Leagues. However, there were 27 other instances that a player hit over .400 prior to Williams's feat in '41. The closest since was Tony Gwynn's .394 in 1994, a season that was ended abruptly due to a strike. (Note: Prior to DiMaggio's 56, the longest hitting streak in history was Wee Willie Keeler's 44 consecutive games in 1897.)

For a single season, the most acknowledged hitting records are batting average, home runs and hits. In 2004, Ichiro Suzuki broke George Sisler's single-season hits record by recording 262 hits for the Seattle Mariners. However, none of these records, in my opinion, match up to DiMaggio's accomplishments. These records don't require 100 percent success day in and day out. Of course, these players are some of the most talented to ever play the game...but as Paul Molitor put it, "If you don't hit a home run, it's not like you don't have another chance tomorrow. But with a hitting streak, it's now or never. Every night."

In my eyes, the only record that comes close to Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hit streak is Cal Ripken Jr. The "Iron Man" shattered legendary Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played record by appearing in 2,632 over 17 seasons. This is an unbelievable feat (as was Gehrig's 2,130 games that was set 56 years before Ripken broke it). But it does not require Cal to be successful. Was he a great player? Absolutely. But he had hitless days, plenty of them. He had slumps, made errors, etc. It didn't require an incredible sense of focus and daily measure of success. Cal's accomplishment is one of baseball's greatest ever, but it's not Joe D's.

Seventy years ago, Joe DiMaggio began his hitting streak that lasted for 56 games. In history, no other Major League player has even completed 80 percent of this streak. In my opinion, this is the greatest single-season accomplishment in baseball. The man, 26 years old, played centerfield in the vast Yankee Stadium, in the heart of the media capital of the world. He was the best player on the best player in the league. He was the most popular player in the game, an American icon (Note: He was married to Marilyn Monroe during the 1950s). He was under the most excruciating spotlight there could have been, and he completed the accomplishment with grace and style. There have been many records set in the game, and some that have still yet to be broken (there are currently eight single season record that have been in tact for longer than DiMaggio's hit streak). But none have the magnitude, the enormity, the mystique that DiMaggio's does. None have the unbelievability. None have the requirement of daily successful consistency. None are quite as impressive.

I don't know who originally said that "records were meant to be broken." But whoever said that was maybe wrong. For the past 70 years, no one has really come close to The Yankee Clipper's record. And I don't see anyone doing it in the future either.

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