DiMaggio singles to start hitting streak

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Nick Anapolis

Coming off back-to-back hitless games, Joe DiMaggio was due for a hit.

It would be more than two months later when the hitting stopped.

On May 15, 1941, Joe DiMaggio singled off White Sox southpaw Eddie Smith, starting a hit streak that would last 56 games.

In the first inning versus Chicago, DiMaggio lined a single into left center field scoring Phil Rizzuto for the Yankees’ only run of the game. DiMaggio was held hitless for the remaining innings in the 13-1 loss to the White Sox at Yankee Stadium.

It was the fifth straight loss for the 14-15 Yankees, who were looking for something to help spark their young season. It was “Joltin’ Joe” who ignited the Yanks, turning their season around on his way to one of the greatest streaks in all of sports.

The 26-year old DiMaggio wasn’t new to long hit streaks, having hit safely in 61 consecutive Pacific Coast League games in 1933.

Keeping this streak alive was a little more difficult however – facing four future Hall of Fame pitchers, coping with Lou Gehrig’s death on June 2, and having the All-Star break deep into his streak.

“Why should I worry? The only time to worry is when you’re not hitting. I’m not worried now – I’m happy. It’s no strain to keep on hitting. It’s a strain not to be hitting. That’s when your nerves get jumpy,” said DiMaggio regarding his hit streak.

On July 17, DiMaggio’s hit streak ended after 56 games – but not before he shattered Willie Keeler’s previous record of 45 consecutive games. In front of 67,463 fans at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium – a then-record attendance for a night game at the time – DiMaggio went hitless, as Al Smith and Jim Bagby shut him out for the first time in over two months. Third baseman Ken Keltner made two brilliant defensive stops on hard hit balls, leaving DiMaggio 0-for-3 on the day with a walk.

The next game, DiMaggio would start a new 16-game hit streak, eventually hitting safely in 72 of 73 games. Since DiMaggio recorded his 56 game hit streak, no player has been closer than Pete Rose in 1978 with 44.

During the course of the streak, DiMaggio batted .408, slugging .717 with 15 home runs, 55 RBI, 56 runs, 21 walks, and striking out just seven times in 223 at-bats. Of the 56 games, DiMaggio had 34 one-hit games, 13 two-hit games, five three-hit games, and four with four hits.

DiMaggio credited roommate and future Hall of Fame teammate Lefty Gomez for keeping him focused throughout the streak.

“I couldn’t have done it without him,” said DiMaggio.

Raising his average from .306 to .375 after the streak, DiMaggio finished the season hitting .357 with a .440 on-base percentage and 30 home runs and led the league in RBI and extra base hits. DiMaggio went on to win the MVP award, beating out Ted Williams who hit .406 that season.

With DiMaggio’s efforts, the Yankees turned their season around, going from fourth to first in the division over the course of his streak. New York went on to win the World Series that season, beating the Brooklyn Dodgers in five games.

Nick Anapolis was a public relations intern at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series