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July 17, 1941: The End of the Streak

I missed this in the chaos of my weekend:

It was 70 years ago yesterday that Joe DiMaggio finally went hitless, thanks to a pair of incredible plays by Indians' third baseman Ken Keltner. The Jolter would launch into another 17 game hit streak as soon as The Streak ended.

I struggle to explain why I find the feat so captivating. It's celebration is in part a celebration of a forgotten (or overshadowed) measure of greatness. Baseball in the '30s and '40s honored consistency much more than modern sports. To go each day and perform meant success in ways that the fleeting tremendous does not; it seems to me that today we celebrate the incredible but evanescent much more. A tremendous home run from Jose Bautista, Adam Dunn, or Ryan Howard leads the news, while a fifth day of 1-3 with a walk for Brett Gardner never will. The Streak as the pinnacle of consistency makes it matter to me.

I also think I'm drawn to the sheer mathematical improbability of the event. Imagine I'm a .333 hitter. There is a one in three chance that I'll get a hit in any given at bat. If I get four at bats a game, the odds that I'll get one hit during the game seem pretty good. But to do it once a game for a week? For a month?

I think I like the measuring stick of the Streak for the same reason I find the distinctions of 3 outs per inning, 27 outs per game to be magical. Each inning and each at bat is duel, a pivot on which the game might, but probably won't, turn. In the same way, the chance to have a lasting, memorable, seemingly inviolate record built out of so many fragile moments, so many chances when it all could have collapsed, makes The Streak different from nearly every other record in baseball while also touching the essence of the game.