Seventy-five years ago on May 15, Joe DiMaggio singled in the first inning against the White Sox. It drove in rookie Phil Rizzuto, but it was little noted, nor should it have been. It was the only run the Yankees scored in a 13-1 loss at Yankee Stadium witnessed by just 9,040 fans on a Thursday afternoon. The loss was the Yankees’ fifth straight and third straight in which they scored just one run. It dropped them under .500 at 14-15, six-and-a-half games behind the first-place Indians. Who knew that DiMaggio would hit safely in the next 55 games, for two months and a day, until the streak was stopped at 56 games on July 17, DiMaggio’s place in history as secure as the Yankees’ atop the American League. Here are 56 things to know about Joe DiMaggio and his hitting streak, thanks to baseball-reference.com, baseball-almanac.com, JoeDiMaggio.com, mlb.com, sabr.org, nytimes.com and Kostya Kennedy’s very fine book 56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports. Any errors in math or fact are mine. If you start the book today, you could finish the 350 pages in less time than it took DiMaggio to achieve his streak:
1. The 56-game-hitting streak wasn’t DiMaggio’s longest. He had a 61-game streak for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League at age 18.
2. After DiMaggio’s streak was stopped, he hit safely in the next 16 games. From May 15 through Aug. 2 of 1941, he hit safely in every game but July 17, 72 of 73 in all.
3. DiMaggio never bunted to keep the streak alive. Pete Rose bunted for hits, according to Kennedy’s 56, six times in his 44-game streak in 1978.
4. DiMaggio hit .357 in 1941, his second-best average in 13 seasons. The .381 he hit in 1939 was his best and led the AL; he did so again in 1940 at .352. His .357 in 1941 was only good for third in the AL — behind Ted Williams’ .406 and Cecil Travis’ career-high .359 (Travis was a Washington Senator infielder who, from ages 20-27, hit better than .300 in seven of eight seasons before World War II. When he returned from the war his skills weren’t the same, and he retired after 723 more at-bats with a .314 career average.)
5. DiMaggio’s number 5 is one of 20 the Yankees have retired. The other 19: Billy Martin (1), Babe Ruth (3), Lou Gehrig (4), Joe Torre (6), Mickey Mantle (7), Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra (8), Roger Maris (9), Phil Rizzuto (10), Thurman Munson (15), Whitey Ford (16), Jorge Posada (20), Don Mattingly (23), Elston Howard (32), Casey Stengel (37), Mariano Rivera and Jackie Robinson (42), Reggie Jackson (44), Andy Pettitte (46), Ron Guidry (49) and Bernie Williams (51).
6. DiMaggio was teammates with seven Yankees who had their numbers retired (Martin, Gehrig, Mantle, Dickey, Berra, Rizzuto and Ford) and managed by one (Stengel).
7. DiMaggio batted .300 in 11 of his 13 seasons, missing only in 1946, when he returned from World War II (he missed three seasons) and batted .290, and his final season in 1951, when he batted .263. His .325 average ranks 41st all-time in MLB, just behind Earle Combs (see 29).
8. DiMaggio received MVP votes in his first 12 seasons. He won three, was runner-up twice, was third once, top 10 10 times and top 20 all 12 times. He was 12th in 1949 when he played just 76 games because of injuries, but hit .346. The only season he didn’t receive an MVP vote was his last.
9. DiMaggio struck out just five times during the streak. His last strikeout during the streak was on June 8. He did not whiff for the final 32 games of the hitting streak, and not again until July 26, 42 games later.
10. DiMaggio had 91 hits in the 56 games of the hitting streak, batting .408, or two points more than Ted Williams hit for the entire season.
11. DiMaggio extended the streak to 11 games with a single in four at-bats vs. Lefty Grove, the first of four Hall of Famers he faced in the 56 games. At age 41, Grove was just 7-7 with a 4.37 ERA in his final season.
12. DiMaggio led the AL in ’41 in RBIs (125) and total bases (348); Williams led the league in runs scored (135), home runs (37), walks (147), average, on-base percentage (.556), slugging percentage (.735), OPS (1.287) and OPS+ (235). Williams was just five RBIs short of a Triple Crown. WAR gave Williams an edge, 10.6-9.1.
13. DiMaggio struck out 13 times in 1941 — in 622 plate appearances.
14. DiMaggio batted .194 (14-for-72) in the 20 games before the streak started.
15. DiMaggio hit 15 home runs in the streak, half of his season total of 30.
16. Despite Williams’ .406 average, DiMaggio was the AL MVP by 37 points, 291-254. DiMaggio got 15 first-place votes to Williams’ 8. White Sox pitcher Thornton Lee, who won 22 games with a 2.37 ERA, got the other first-place vote. It was the only MVP first-place vote Lee, who finished fourth (Bob Feller was third), ever received.
17. In the 20 games before the streak began, DiMaggio was hitless in nine of them. Twice in those 20 games he went hitless in three straight.
18. DiMaggio’s salary for the 1941 season was $37,500. Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg’s contract was for $55,000, though Greenberg played only 19 games before being drafted.
19. DiMaggio took the streak to 19 with a single and double off Hall of Famer Bob Feller.
20. On the day after Lou Gehrig died, DiMaggio stretched the streak to 20 with a home run.
21. DiMaggio reached No. 21 against Tigers Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser with an RBI triple in the sixth. Newhouser had just turned 20 two weeks before and finished 1941 9-11 with a 4.79 ERA. From 1944-46 he won 80 games with a 1.99 ERA and became the only pitcher to win consecutive MVPs.
22. Les Brown and His Band of Renown performed the song “Joltin Joe DiMaggio,” sung by Betty Bonney (above). Disc jockey Alan Courtney and Ben Homer wrote the words.
23. The lyrics to Joltin’ Joe say “He’ll live in baseball’s Hall of Fame, he got there blow by blow” and DiMaggio does, enshrined in 1955. But he was 0-for-2 until his third time on the ballot just three seasons after he retired, when he received 88.8% of the vote. He received 44.3% of votes in 1953 and 69.4% in 1954. He also received a vote in 1945 even though his career was suspended because of his military service, not concluded. And we think Hall of Fame elections of today are messed up.
24. In the 13 years DiMaggio was a Yankee, they never finished lower than third place or won fewer than 87 games. Five times they won at least 100 games in a 154-game season and 11 times they won at least 90 and had a .600 winning percentage. The ’39 Yankees won 107 games and played to a .702 percentage. The worst Yankee team DiMaggio played on won 87 games and had a .565 percentage in 1946.
25. DiMaggio homered almost as often as he struck out in his career. He hit 361 homers and fanned 369 times. His season-high for strikeouts was 39 as a rookie in 1936.
26. He walked 790 times in his career, or more than twice as often as he struck out.
27. DiMaggio walked twice but doubled in the third inning off Feller to take the streak to 27 games.
28. In the 56 games of the streak and the 57th in which it ended, almost 900,000 fans watched DiMaggio. The official attendance figures added up — if my math is correct — to 893,569 fans, more than all but two teams in 1941 played in front of for their entire home seasons. Only the Yankees and Booklyn Dodgers drew more, and only the Dodgers topped a million customers. But the official count is no doubt low, since attendance wasn’t given for two early dates at Yankee Stadium and a doubleheader for Games 41-42 at Washington. Even official figures probably weren’t all that official: attendance at Washington for Games 12-14 was announced as 8,000, 25,000 and 1,500. What are the odds? There were five crowds of more than 50,000 — two at Cleveland, one at Chicago and two at Yanke Stadium — and the smallest announced crowds were the 1,500 at Washington in Game 14 and 1,625 in St. Louis for Game 50. No wonder the Senators and Browns moved.
29. The Yankees’ record for a hitting streak was thought to be 29 games (see 33), shared by Roger Peckinpaugh (1919) and Earle Combs (1931), until DiMaggio made it 30. Both men were in uniform the game DiMaggio tied their record: Combs as Yankees’ first-base coach, Peckinpaugh as the Indians’ manager.
30. DiMaggio made it 30 games on a bad-hop single off White Sox shortstop Luke Appling. Baseball Writers Association president Dan Daniel of the New York Telegram called it a hit. From Kennedy’s 56: “If you think the hitting streak is tough for you,” (Daniel) would tell DiMaggio later, “you should be in the press box.”
31. In the game after the streak ended, DiMaggio doubled and singled off Feller in four at-bats before 18,000 fans.
32. In the game in which the streak was broken on July 17, the Indians drew 67,468 fans. The Indians drew 745,948 fans all season. The July 17 crowd was almost 9% of the Indians’ total attendance for the season.
33. Hal Chase was credited in 1941 with a 27-game hitting streak for the New York Highlanders in 1907. His was corrected to 33 games in later years, though DiMaggio easily surpassed both.
34. The Yankees won 14 straight during the streak from Game 40 to Game 53 and eight in a row from Games 22-29. In all the Yankees were 41-13 during the streak (two games ended in ties).
35. DiMaggio reached 35 with a home run in the sixth off Newhouser. He doubled Tommy Henrich to third off reliever Bobo Newsom to set up the game-winning run in the ninth.
36. DiMaggio was 0-for-3 in Game 36 and the Yankees led the St. Louis Browns 6-0 when DiMaggio came to bat in the eighth inning. According to Kennedy’s book 56, Browns manager Luke Sewell came out to the mound to tell rookie pitcher Bob Muncrief to walk DiMaggio and end the streak. Muncrief resisted. Sewell threatened to remove Muncrief. “You take me out of the game,” Muncrief said, according to 56, “and I’ll go up there in front of everyone and apologize to DiMaggio. He doesn’t deserve this. Let me get him out, skip.” Sewell relented. DiMaggio singled.
37. Muncrief went on to win 80 major-league games, including 13 for the 1944 Browns, when they won their only pennant. In 1948 he was traded to the Indians, who won that year’s World Series. Three years later he pitched his last three major-league innings as a Yankee and a teammate of DiMaggio’s. Who says there’s no such thing as karma?
38. DiMaggio was hitless in Game 38 with the Yankees leading 3-1 in the eighth inning when outfielder Tommy Henrich came up with one on, one out and DiMaggio on deck. Henrich hit 31 home runs in 1941 but on this plate appearance he didn’t even try to hit another: he bunted to advance Red Rolfe to second. Henrich’s sacrifice made less possible a double play and more probable another DiMaggio plate appearance. DiMaggio doubled.
39. The double in Game 38 came off the Browns’ Elden Auker. Four times in the streak — in Games 6, 23, 38 and 51 — DiMaggio extended it with hits off Auker. He had five hits off Auker in the streak, including two homers in Game 23. Auker won 130 big-league games, but lost Game 7 of the 1934 World Series to the Cardinals and Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean, 11-0.
40. DiMaggio was one of three major-league brothers. Vince played outfield 10 years for five National League teams and six times led the NL in strikeouts. Dom was a gifted centerfielder for the Red Sox who had a career .298 average and received MVP votes six times.
41. Hall of Famer George Sisler held the modern-day hitting streak record at 41 games (modern day in 1941 was considered post-1900, or anytime after the re-election of William McKinley). DiMaggio tied and passed Sisler on the same day, in a doubleheader at Washington.
42. The DiMaggio brothers combined for 4,853 hits, 573 home runs, 209 stolen bases and a .297 average.
43. DiMaggio hit safely during the streak off 44 pitchers. He did so in four games off three — Lee, Auker and the White Sox’s Johnny Rigney. He did so in three games off three more — Muncrief, the White Sox’s Eddie Smith and the Indians’ Al Milnar.
44. DiMaggio’s streak made 43 and 44 in a doubleheader against Boston to tie Wee Willie Keeler’s 1897 record, using an infield hit in the opener and a single in the rain-shortened nightcap. He homered in the next game to make 45.
45. Dom DiMaggio knocked in all three runs in Boston’s Game 7 World Series loss in 1946 but was hurt on his two-run, two-out, game-tying double in the eighth. When Enos Slaughter scored the Series-winning run in the bottom of the eighth on which Johnny Pesky was tarred with “holding the ball,” DiMaggio was not in center. “Slaughter was always good to me,” Pesky said, according to a 2004 New York Times story. “He always said he knew who was in center field.” Williams hit .200 in the ’46 Series — his only one — without an extra-base hit in 25 at-bats. And in the 25th at-bat, he popped out after Dom’s double with the go-ahead run on second.
46. Joe DiMaggio played in the World Series 10 times in his 13 seasons and won nine of them. DiMaggio batted .271 with eight homers and 30 RBIs in 51 Series games.
47. The pitchers who stopped the streak were Al Smith and Jim Bagby, with an assist from third baseman Ken Keltner. Smith retired DiMaggio twice on grounders to Keltner and walked him once; Bagby induced a 6-4-3 DP. DiMaggio had previously extended the streak against Bagby with a home run in Game 28; Smith relieved in that game and DiMaggio grounded out against him twice.
48. With the streak at 48, DiMaggio started for the AL in the All-Star Game. He was 0-for-2 with a walk when he doubled in the eighth. If you include the All-Star Game, he hit in 57 straight.
49. DiMaggio was married to actress Dorothy Arnold in 1937, and she was pregnant during the streak. Joseph Paul DiMaggio II was born on October 23 that year, little more than two weeks after the Yankees beat the Dodgers in five games in the World Series.
50. From Kennedy’s 56, on DiMaggio dining at the famous New York restaurant Toots Shor’s: “DiMaggio had two fears when he went out in public. One was that everybody would pay attention. The other was that nobody would.”
51. DiMaggio was 0-for-3 in the 57th game which stopped the streak, but a walk extended his streak of reaching base. In all he reached base for 74 consecutive games. From May 14-Aug. 2 (he was 0-for-3 with a walk in the game before the hitting streak began) he reached base in every game, until he went 0-for-4 against the Browns’ Johnny Niggeling.
52. DiMaggio reached 52 with three hits in the first game of a doubleheader against the White Sox, two off Ted Lyons, the last of four Hall of Fame pitchers he faced in the streak. Lyons was 40 in 1941 and had a 3.70 ERA, but led the AL the next year with a 2.10 ERA at age 41.
53. DiMaggio reached 53 in the second game of the doubleheader against Thornton Lee, who led the AL in 1941 with his 2.37 ERA and 30 complete games. Lee completed this one, too, even though it went 11 innings. DiMaggio singled in his third plate appearance in the sixth before the Yankees won 1-0 in the 11th. DiMaggio had six hits off Lee in the streak, more than any other pitcher, extending it against him four times — in Games 2, 26, 31 and 53.
54. Dom DiMaggio had hitting streaks of 34 games in 1949 and 27 in 1951. Together Dom’s two streaks barely surpassed Joe’s.
55. Joe DiMaggio started the streak with a hit off the White Sox’s Smith; he extended it to 55 with two more hits off Smith on July 15, two months after it began. He also had a hit off Smith in Game 32.
56. On the night the streak ended, DiMaggio, according to Kennedy’s 56, left his wallet in the locker room and borrowed money from Rizzuto to stop at a neighborhood tavern/restaurant. He took Rizzuto’s money, sent him back to the team hotel and went in by himself. From Kennedy’s 56: “So Rizzuto continued up the hill and DiMaggio went inside the restaurant, alone, and began the rest of his life.”