About this time three quarters of a century ago, Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio was in the heart of his illustrious hitting streak. The Yankee Clipper batted .408 during that historic two-month span, and never needed a bunt to record a hit during his 56-game streak.
Many regard this record as the most difficult to ever break, and rightfully so. Pete Rose, baseball’s all-time hits leader, remains the closest runner-up to the record, with a 44-game hitting streak back in 1978. Even a 12-game hitting streak (the difference between their records) is difficult in baseball, so just how close Rose really was to DiMaggio is another debatable discussion.
Taking a look at the state of baseball in the present day, it is hard to see anybody ever clipping the Yankee Clipper’s torrid streak.
Most recently, we saw Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. “flirt” (using that word ever so lightly) with history when he extended his hitting streak to 29 games. It quickly became news, and it took that streak halting at 29 for everyone to ease back in their chairs and realize that he was only just over halfway to DiMaggio’s mark.
Countless new obstacles lay ahead of hitters today that make the record seem very well protected, and almost untouchable. This is, of course, no knock on one of the greatest to ever don the pinstripes. DiMaggio slugged 15 homers during the streak, and collected 55 RBI. He also faced four future hall of fame pitchers, including Bob Feller and Lefty Grove. That is downright impressive even for one of the greatest hitters in history.
Still, the art of the bullpen had not nearly been perfected in 1941, with starters still handling the bulk of the duty. That gave players like DiMaggio more hacks against one pitcher, learning their tendencies and becoming more and more comfortable in the box with each passing at-bat.
Nowadays, we see bullpens overflowing with powerful arms, trotting out to the mound to throw a lone inning of work or less, consistently touching the mid-nineties with their fastball. Players are striking out at incredibly high rates this season, making a prolonged hitting streak difficult to maintain, especially for two months straight.
Take Bradley Jr. for example. Shortly after his hitting streak ended, the Giants elected to intentionally walk Hanley Ramirez, who was batting below .200 in his last 20 games, to pitch to Bradley Jr. The hot hitting of Bradley Jr and the cold hitting of Ramirez didn’t matter to Giants skipper Bruce Bochy. He wanted the lefty-on-lefty matchup, and Giants southpaw Josh Osich forced a flyout off the bat of Bradley Jr., summing up today’s baseball, and the cat-and-mouse affair that is the bullpen.
Rewinding to 1941, almost to the day, DiMaggio stood in the box with his hit streak at an already respectable 35 games on June 24. The streak, however, was in jeopardy. DiMaggio was hitless into the seventh inning, and St. Louis Browns manager Luke Sewell instructed his pitcher Bob Muncrief to walk the offensive threat and avoid trouble. Muncrief, interrupted by ego, refused and elected to come right at DiMaggio, who responded with a single, effectively reviving the almost dead hitting streak. Do you see that happening in baseball today?
Another aspect to consider was the absence of integration in the early forties. Jackie Robinson was still six years away from breaking the color barrier, leaving crops of solid talent playing in the Negro Leagues. As was stated earlier, DiMaggio faced his share of hall of fame pitching during his streak, but a showdown with the likes of Satchel Paige sure would have been interesting.
Thankfully for the sport, the barrier was broken and we have been privileged to witness incredible talents from all over the world. Unfortunately, for many hitters in the modern day, they are forced to try and hit these incredible arms. Hitting streaks are difficult to maintain when you look at the schedule and see you are going up against a Johnny Cueto, or realizing that your last hope for a hit that day will have to come off of the arm of an Aroldis Chapman. Good luck.
The evolution of baseball has produced loads of statistics and advanced metrics to help determine the best matchup for a pitcher to have success. This makes it almost impossible for a hitter to reach base by way of hit more than 56 games in a row. That seems impossible. In this day and age, even 40 games in a row with a hit is unheard of.
Nowadays it’s difficult to even catch a break to keep a streak alive. Up until a few years ago, it was possible to record a hit on a “bang-bang” play at first, with the umpire rescuing you from what should have been called an out. Regardless of what should have been called, it was a hit in the score book. Today, the use of replay will get that call right, and erase that hit from memory.
Again, even without these newer components added to the game, a 56-game hitting streak is absolutely incredible. That streak on its own is a record that is hard to dream of eclipsing. These added speed bumps on the road of a hitting streak elevate that difficulty from extremely hard to just short of impossible.
The Yankee Clipper won the MVP in 1941, despite rival Ted Williams finishing the season batting over .400. That’s how amazing his hitting streak was, and how it was seen in the eyes of the voters. If it was that incredible back then, without many resources the game has today, imagine the magnitude of somebody making a run, a real run, at that record today.
Truth is, nobody has come close to the record since Charlie Hustle recorded his 44th hit. It is safe to say nobody ever will.