Seventy-five years ago today, Joe DiMaggio went hitless against the Cleveland Indians. He was robbed twice of base hits on back handed stabs by Cleveland Indians third baseman, Ken Keltner as he went 0-4 on the day and the Yankees lost 2-1.
The day before, Joe had gone 3-4 to extend his consecutive game hitting streak to 56 games, the longest streak in Major League Baseball history and one of those few records that will never be broken. The 0-4, on July 17, 1941, against Cleveland pitchers Al Smith and Jim Bagby ended that streak. During the streak, Joe D, had 91 hits in 223 at bats for an average of .408.
The next day, July 18, 1941, The Yankee Clipper got two hits in four at bats against the Indians, starting a new streak of 16 games in which he would get at least one hit in each game and would bat 68 times while accumulating 29 hits for a .426 batting average.
The 56 game streak had started on May 15, 1941 and lasted through July 16. The 16 game streak started on July 18, 75 years ago tomorrow, and ended on August 3. In that 73 game stretch, just less than half of a season, in those days of the 154 game schedule, Joe went 120 for 295 for an average of
.406, (that includes the 0-4 against Cleveland that ended the first streak.)
When the streak started, on May 15, the Yankees had won 14 and lost 14 and were in fourth place in the American League, five and one half games behind the first place Cleveland Indians. When the streak ended, the Yankees had won 55 and lost 27 and were in first place by six games over Cleveland. During the streak, the Yankees had won 41 and lost just 13, ( there were two ties mixed in there.)
The Yankees would end the season with 101 wins and 53 losses and would beat the Brookly Dodgers in the World Series, four games to one. The World Series win was the Yankees fifth in six years after winning four im a row, from 1936 until 1939. They would win again in 1943, over the St Louis Cardinals, for a total of six wins and seven series appearances in eight years.
Willie Keeler of the Baltimore team in the old National League had held the consecutive game streak with 45 games prior to Joe’s streak. Keeler had his streak over two seasons, from 1896-1897. The closest anyone has ever come in the modern era was Pete Rose’s streak of 44 games in 1978.
Joe was no stranger to hitting streaks. He made his debut in professional ball with the San Francisco Seals of the AAA Pacific Coast League in 1932 and, that next year, he had a consecutive game hitting streak of 61 games which lasted from May 27 until July 25. That streak, according to Baseball Almanac had only been exceeded once when Joe Wilhoit hit in 69 consecutive games in the Western League in 1919.
I am sure that that number .406 that DiMaggio hit in that magical 73 game stretch, did not go unnoticed by the Red Sox fans among my readers. That, cooincidentally, is what the great Ted Williams hit for that entire year of 1941, the last person to hit over .400 in Major League History.
We can argue all day about who was the better hitter or the better all around player between the two of them. The fact is that the year 1941 saw two of the greatest performances in the history of baseball by two of the greatest players ever to play the game.
Ted, The Splendid Splinter, and Joe, The Yankee Clipper, had 997 at bats between them that year. Ted came up 456 times and struck out just 27 times. Joe had 541 at bats and 13 strike outs. In 997 at bats, they struck out a total of 40 times between them, an average of one stikeout in every 25 at bats. Ted hit .406 and had 37 homers and 120 RBI’s while Joe hit .357 with 30 homers and 125 RBI’s.
Ted’s performance over the entire year will probably never be equalled and neither will Joe’s streak. Ted’s career batting average was .344 over 19 years and Joe’s was .325 over 13 years. Ted lost four of his most productive years while serving his country in the miltary in the Second World War and Joe lost three.
Joe had the luxury of playing with some of the greatest teams ever assembled in New York while Ted was playing for an also ran in most of his career in Boston. Ted had a 19 year career, all of it spent with the Red Sox, while Joe spent his entire 13 year career with the Yankees.
In the history of baseball, there may never have been two such talented players playing for arch rivals for such a long period of time and the year 1941 saw them both at their best.
I was fortunate to have seen both of these greats play many times, later in their careers. There are not many people still around who witnessed their performances 75 years ago, in 1941. Over my desk in my office, I have a picture of the two of them, both holding bats and obviously talking hitting and who, in the history of baseball, was better qualified to talk hitting.
Whether you agree that they were probably the two best hitters of all time or not, no one can change the fact that, at least in 1941, they were as good as it can or ever will get.