DiMaggio breaks Keeler’s mark

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Kristen Gowdy

It wasn’t The Shot Heard ‘Round The World, but the 8,682 fans at Yankee Stadium on July 2, 1941 witnessed a home run that will forever remain a piece of baseball history.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, 26-year-old Joe DiMaggio crushed a two-run home run over the left field fence off of Red Sox pitcher Dick Newsome, breaking Willie Keeler’s 44-year-old record by hitting safely in 45 consecutive games.

After he broke Keeler’s record, DiMaggio extended his streak 11 more games. He reached 50 games on July 11 when he singled to center field off of St. Louis Browns pitcher Bob Harris.

His streak was finally snapped at 56 games when he went 0-for-3 against the Cleveland Indians on July 17.

Surpassing Keeler’s record defined DiMaggio’s career in 1941 and still does today, as no player in Major League Baseball has passed even a 40-game hitting streak since Pete Rose hit safely in 44 games in 1978.

“I don’t believe anybody but a ballplayer is in a position to appreciate just what it means to hit safely in 45 straight games,” Yankees manager and Hall of Famer Joe McCarthy said.

While hitting safely in 56 consecutive games is a nearly insurmountable feat in itself, DiMaggio’s record was made all the more impressive by his other statistics. During the streak, he hit .408 with 15 home runs, three triples and 16 doubles. Recording hits off of 43 different pitchers, he drove in 55 runs and crossed the plate himself 56 times. DiMaggio struck out just seven times during the 56-game period that lasted more than two months and spanned eight cities.

‘The Streak’ came to an end in front of 67,468 fans packed into Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium as the Indians’ third baseman Ken Keltner robbed DiMaggio of two base hits down the line. DiMaggio also walked and hit into an inning-ending double play.

The Yankees beat the Indians that night 4-3 en route to the 1941 American League Pennant and the World Series title.

During the two months of the streak, DiMaggio’s efforts propelled the Yankees from second place in the American League standings to six games up on the second-place Indians.

“It’ll suit me fine,” DiMaggio said of his streak ending in the New York Daily News on June 25, 1941. “If my streak ends… with us winning a ball game. That’s all that matters.”

“There never was a guy like DiMaggio in baseball,” famous saloon-keeper Toots Shor said, quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle in 1991.

“The way people admired him, the way they admire him now. Everybody wanted to meet Joe, to touch him, to be around him… Joe was a hero, a real legitimate hero. You can’t manufacture a hero like that. It just has to be there, the way he plays, the way he works, the way he is.”

Kristen Gowdy was a public relations intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series