DiMaggio's 56-Game Hitting Streak May Never be Broken - HowTheyPlay - Sports
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DiMaggio's 56-Game Hitting Streak May Never be Broken

Following a successful career as a journalist, graphic designer, and marketer, Gary Kauffman is now a freelance writer.

Joe DiMaggio in 1937, four years before he set his unbreakable record.

Joe DiMaggio in 1937, four years before he set his unbreakable record.

Records hold an almost magical appeal in baseball. For many years, numbers like 61, 714, 4, 181, and 2,130 were spoken in almost reverential tones. Those were the long-standing records for home runs in a season, career home runs, career hits, and consecutive games played that had stood the test of time. But, one by one, they were broken.

But one number still stands and seems as unreachable as the stars: 56. That’s Joe DiMaggio’s record for consecutive games with a hit in 1941. Perhaps one day it, too, will topple, but it seems more and more unlikely as each year passes.

The simple reason is that hitting is hard and any number of factors—the opposing pitcher, the opposing defense, the field conditions, the elements and luck, both good and bad—can change the outcome of a ball put into play. To get halfway to DiMaggio’s number, you have to hit in 28 consecutive games. Since 1941, only 48 players have ever had a streak of at least 28 games.

Few Players Have Reached 30 Straight

In a nice bit of symmetry, the number of players hitting in 30 or more consecutive games since 1880 is 56. The number since 1901, when the modern era began, is 47. Only five other players besides DiMaggio have reached 40 consecutive games (two of them before 1901), and only one player since DiMaggio has reached that high—Pete Rose, with 44 straight games in 1978.

In fact, since DiMaggio’s streak, only six players have reached 35 consecutive games with a hit. Consider that Rose would have needed to play 12 more games, about two more weeks, with a hit to tie DiMaggio. The others would have needed up to three weeks of games to reach 56. Only 521 players since 1904 have maintained even a 21-game hitting streak, which considering how many players played in how many games over that span, that is a very small total. To think someone could reach a 35-game hitting streak and then tack on another 21-game streak is mind-boggling.

The Longest Hitting Streaks in the Past 80 Years

YearName & TeamStreak

1941

Joe DiMaggio, Yankees

56

1978

Pete Rose, Reds

44

1987

Paul Molitor, Brewers

39

2005-06

Jimmy Rollins, Phillies

38

1945

Tommy Holmes, Braves

37

2006

Chase Utley, Phillies

35

2002

Luis Castillo, Marlins

35

1987

Benito Santiago, Padres

34

1949

Dom DiMaggio, Red Sox

34

2011

Dan Uggla, Braves

33

1996-97

Hal Morris, Reds

32

2018-19

Whit Merrifield, Royals

31

1999

Vladimir Guerrero, Expos

31

1980

Ken Landreaux, Twins

31

1975-76

Ron LeFlore, Tigers

31

1970

Rico Carty, Braves

31

1969

Willie Davis, Dodgers

31

1965-66

Vada Pinson, Reds

31

2016

Freddie Freeman, Braves

30

2011

Andre Ethier, Dodgers

30

2009

Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals

30

2007

Moises Alou, Mets

30

2006

Willie Taveras, Astros

30

2003

Albert Pujols, Cardinals

30

1999

Luis Gonzalez, Diamondbacks

30

1998

Eric Davis, Orioles

30

1997

Nomar Garciaparra, Red Sox

30

1997

Sandy Alomar Jr., Indians

30

1989

Jerome Walton, Cubs

30

1980

George Brett, Royals

30

1950

Stan Musial, Cardinals

30

Some Streaks Span Two Seasons

14 of the 56 players on the 30-plus list accomplished their streak over two seasons. For many years this wasn’t counted, for the simple reason that the pressure of maintaining a streak with six months in between is very different than going on a streak during a season. For example, the most recent addition to the list, Whit Merrifield of the Royals, is credited with a 31-game streak—20 at the end of 2018 and 11 to start 2019. But is that 31 straight, or two streaks, one of 20 and one of 11? Would he have been able to maintain the streak through the pressures of 31 games during the regular season?

Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies is credited with a 38-game hitting streak, but he finished 2005 with a 36-game streak (an impressive accomplishment) then got hits in the first two games of 2006. Hal Morris has a 32-game streak, but that included 29 games at the end of 1996 and then three more to start 1997.

Be that as it may, that many consecutive games with a hit is still impressive. Ted Williams’ longest consecutive hitting streak of his career is 23 games—ironically, started on the same day as DiMaggio’s 56-game streak. (Williams does hold the record of consecutive times reaching base with an astronomical 84).

To reach even 32 consecutive games with a hit puts a player in rarified air. That’s only happened 20 times in the modern era, and only seven times in the past 35 years. The longest streak in the past 35 years is Paul Molitor’s 39-game hitting streak in 1987.

The Longest Hitting Streaks Since 2000

YearName & TeamStreak

2005-06

Jimmy Rollins, Phillies

38

2006

Chase Utley, Phillies

35

2002

Luis Castillo, Marlins

35

2011

Dan Uggla, Braves

33

2018-19

Whit Merrifield, Royals

31

2016

Freddie Freeman, Braves

30

2011

Andre Ethier, Dodgers

30

2009

Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals

30

2007

Moises Alou, Mets

30

2006

Willie Taveras, Astros

30

2003

Albert Pujols, Cardinals

30

A Few Oddities

Perhaps the oddest member of the 30-plus club is Dan Uggla of the Braves, who collected a hit in 33 straight games in 2011. Uggla was known as an all-or-nothing hitter, basically either hitting a homer or striking out. But for more than a month, he got at least one hit in every game. During his streak he batted .377 with 15 homers and only 27 strikeouts. But the rest of the season he hit .194 with 21 homers and 129 Ks.

Nearly as strange was Rollins’ streak. In the 21 games before he started his streak, he’d hit a pathetic .156. Then suddenly everything clicked and the rest of the season he batted .379.

One of the longest streaks since DiMaggio’s 56 was a 34-game streak in 1949 by his brother, Dom, who played for the Red Sox.

The Start of DiMaggio's Streak

Hitting streaks for DiMaggio were not exactly stop-the-presses news. DiMaggio had hit in 61 straight games in the minor leagues. In 1937, his second Major League season, DiMaggio just missed a 44-game hitting streak. He hit safely in 22 consecutive games, then went 0-4 before starting a 21-game streak. In 1940 he had a 23-game hitting streak. He ended the ’40 season with a 14-game streak then started ’41 with a 10-game streak, for a combined 24 straight. So it’s not surprising that no one noticed another long DiMaggio streak until it had reached 19 games.

After going hitless but with a walk on May 14, DiMaggio banged a first-inning RBI single to left off Chicago’s Eddie Smith the next night. The following day he collected two more hits and the streak was underway.

The streak almost ended at 35 games. On June 24 against the St. Louis Browns, Tommy Henrich had just blasted a two-run homer to put the Yankees ahead 6-0 in the eighth inning, bringing DiMaggio to the plate. He was 0-3 at that point, but the Browns manager allegedly ordered an intentional walk. Pitcher Bob Muncrief argued against it, though, and convinced the manager to let him pitch (there is no confirmation that any of this had to do with DiMaggio’s streak). DiMaggio promptly laced a single to left and the streak kept going.

On June 29 in Washington, he got hits in both games of a doubleheader to reach 42 straight games, breaking George Sisler’s modern record of 41. In the second game of a doubleheader on July 1 against Boston, he singled to tie Willie Keeler’s record of 44 and the next day singled again to establish a new record of 45 straight games (research since has added one hit to Keeler’s mark from the previous year to give him 45 over two seasons).

The streak was at 47 games when it was interrupted by the All-Star game. DiMaggio doubled in the game and played all nine innings. He was on base when Ted Williams homered off the facing of the upper deck at Detroit’s Briggs Stadium in the bottom of the ninth to give the American League the win.

The Streak Ends

On July 16 at Cleveland, DiMaggio had a double and two singles to stretch the streak to 56 games. The next night, Joe D started with a hard shot down the third base line but third baseman Ken Keltner, playing nearly on the outfield grass, snagged it and threw him out by a half step. He walked in the fourth inning and then in the seventh roped another shot down the third base line that Keltner gobbled up practically in left field and again beat DiMaggio by a half step.

In the midst of a Yankee rally, DiMaggio came to the plate in the eighth inning with the Yankees ahead 4-2, one out and the bases loaded. The Indians brought in Jim Bagby to face him and DiMaggio topped the ball to shortstop Lou Boudreau, who turned it into an inning-ending double play. With that, the streak was over.

In 34 games during the streak, DiMaggio managed just a single hit; he had two hits 13 times; three hits five times; and four hits four times. In the 56 games he batted .408 with 16 doubles, four triples and 15 homers, scored 56 runs and drove in 55 and had an OPS of 1.181.

DiMaggio's Hitting Streak and Season Stats

GPAABRH2B3BHRRBIBBSOAveOBPSLGOPS

56

247

223

56

91

16

4

15

55

21

5

.408

.463

.717

1.181

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

139

622

541

122

193

43

11

30

125

76

13

.357

.440

.643

1.083

A New Streak and an MVP award

But he wasn’t done just yet. The next day he hit a single and double off Bob Feller to start a new 16-game hitting streak. That gave him a hit in 72 of 73 games, and with the walk the day before the hitting streak started and in the game the streak ended, he had been on base in 74 consecutive games.

In the 73 games from May 15 to Aug. 2, DiMaggio hit .408, with 120 hits, 25 doubles, 6 triples, 20 homers, 73 runs and 73 RBIs. He walked 33 time with only six strikeouts. His OPS was 1.209 and he reached base 155 times in 330 plate appearances.

He won the MVP award that season, although many thought it should have gone to Ted Williams who batted .406 and led the league with 37 homers. He missed the Triple Crown because DiMaggio led the league with 125 RBIs, five more than Williams. The streak, playing for the World Champions and the sportswriters' dislike for Williams conspired to give the MVP to DiMaggio.

It’s possible that someday all the factors needed for a long streak will align and someone will hit safely in 57 or more straight games. But considering that no one in the past 30 years has been within 19 games of doing so, I think it’s a record that will stand for many years to come.

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