The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Joe DiMaggio

Although Joe DiMaggio would still have been a Hall of Fame caliber player without the legendary 56-game hitting streak he enjoyed in the summer of 1941, in the few short months before the U.S. was drawn into the Second World War, much of the myth and romance that surrounds his illustrious career would have vanished.

Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees, cropped ...

Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees, cropped from a posed picture of 1937 Major League Baseball All-Stars in Washington, DC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Statisticians, mathematicians and computer programmers have concluded that the odds of a player of DiMaggio’s capabilities actually producing a 56-game hit streak are something in the order of 1 in 10,000 seasons.  It is baseball’s equivalent of witnessing someone coming up with heads in coin toss a hundred consecutive times.

Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised, of course, that no one since Pete Rose in 1978 (34-years ago now), has come within a dozen games of matching DiMaggio’s record.  And Rose was the first player in 37 years to come that close.

During those 56 games, DiMaggio had 91 hits in 223 at bats, a .408 batting average.  He had four 4 hit games.  Fifteen of his hits during The Streak were home runs.  He slugged .717, considerably higher than his (still impressive) .579 career slugging percentage.

Interestingly, The Streak might have ended in game 30, when a bad hop grounder off  DiMaggio’s bat hit White Sox shortstop Luke Appling in the shoulder, but the official scorer ruled it a hit instead of an error.

Also, in the fifth inning of game 16 of The Streak, Boston outfielder Pete Fox lost a DiMaggio fly ball in the sun.  Joe D. was credited with a hit.

As you can see, even during a hot streak, it certainly helps to be a little bit lucky.

English: New York Yankees slugger during the a...

English: New York Yankees slugger during the at . * Screen capture from the film located at: http://www.archive.org/details/NewsMaga1950 This movie is part of the collection: Prelinger Archives (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Impressively, in the next game after his hit streak ended, DiMaggio then began a 16-game hitting streak, meaning he had at least one hit in 72 0f 73 games played beginning on May 15th of that year.

That led me to ask the following question, “What is the second-longest hitting streak in Yankees history?”

It turns out that although he did surpass the relatively small 16 game hit streak in ’41, Joe DiMaggio never again managed to hit safely in even 30 consecutive games in his career.

DiMaggio’s next best hit streaks were each relatively modest.  He hit in 23 games in 1940, and 22 in 1937.

Sources seem to disagree whether or not the notorious Yankee first baseman, Hal Chase, reached a high of 27 games or 33 games, (or was it 22 games?) in 1907 when the Yankees were called the Highlanders.  If he did in fact reach 33 games, he is the only other New York A.L. player to top 30 consecutive games.

Otherwise, Roger Peckinpaugh (1919), Earle Combs (1931) and Joe Gordon (1942) came the closest, each Yankee cresting at 29 games.  Babe Ruth’s longest hitting streak, by the way, was 26 games in 1921.

Interestingly, Joe’s brother Dom DiMaggio of the Red Sox twice led the A.L. with the longest hitting streak, 34 games in 1949 and 27 games in 1951.

By my count, there are still ten Major League teams that have never had a player produce a 30-game hitting streak.

It is nearly impossible to imagine anyone breaking Joe DiMaggio’s record.  For example, relief pitching specialists, a role that did not exist in DiMaggio’s day, add an extra layer of difficulty for the modern hitter.

Also, teams use video and modern hit charts to track every batter’s “hot” and “cold” zones around the plate.  Then there is also the likelihood that no pitcher would throw any pitch remotely close to the strike zone if a hitter came within a game or two of Joe D.’s record.

Finally, there is the sheer mental exhaustion that would probably overwhelm a hitter today who made a serious run at this record.  He would be subjected to constant media scrutiny, the distraction of frenzied fans and, of course, the pressure he would put on himself.

Certainly, Joe DiMaggio faced a lot of pressure back in 1941 during his hit streak, but media attention has increased exponentially in the years since, as have advances in defensive strategies and available technologies.

Therefore, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is certainly one of the safest records in all of sports.  Yet there is no doubt that, statistically speaking, someone will once again come along, as Pete Rose did in ’78, and make a valiant attempt to come as close as possible to matching the glory that Joe D. enjoyed in that last great summer before the war.

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6 thoughts on “Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Joe DiMaggio

  1. Kevin Graham on said:

    Joe D. hit .408 during his streak, and Ted Williams only managed to hit .406 for the season…..slacker.

  2. Thanks Bill. Another fine addition to this Stat Series.
    Allan

  3. I agree with you that the record will–as all records seemingly must–fall, but it’s so hard to fathom that I don’t see it happening any time soon.

    • Well, I don’t know if this record will actually ever fall, but I do think someone will come along and make a valiant challenge to it. If someone even managed to get up to 50 games, that would be quite an accomplishment.
      Thanks for reading,
      Bill

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