The numbers tell only the partial story of DiMaggio's streak. From May 15, 1941, through July 16, 1941, DiMaggio hit .408 with 91 hits in 223 at bats. He scored 56 runs, drove in 55, hit 16 doubles, 4 triples, and 15 home runs. He walked 21 times and struck out only 5. Over the same time period, Ted Williams of Boston hit .412, but DiMaggio, by a slim margin, was more productive -- Williams, playing in 55 games, hit 12 home runs, knocked in 50, and scored 61. Moreover, the Yankee record during the streak was 41-13, with two ties, and the club went from fourth place, playing barely .500 baseball, to first place, six games ahead of Cleveland (for additional statistical comment on the streak, see the Appendix).
Since 1941, much has been said and written analyzing the streak and pondering its meaning. Before DiMaggio, the hitting streak was one of baseball's more obscure records. The fact that DiMaggio, and not some other player, set the record, has contributed to the public's enduring fascination with the mark.
Some observers view the streak as symbolic of the capacity of American society to ignore the conflict in Europe in the months before World War 11 and escape into something more pleasurable, an interpretation that is rarely attached to Ted Williams's pursuit of .400. Others see the streak as emblematic of DiMaggio the hero, while a handful of writers have consistently tried to deride the record and question its authenticity.
Before DiMaggio, other ballplayers had captured the attention of fans with their bids to break records. Most notably, in 1927, Babe Ruth's pursuit of a new home-run record received widespread attention in the final weeks of that season. In 1931, even Yankee outfielder Ben Chapman was the object of a short burst of intense publicity when it briefly appeared as if he might challenge Ty Cobb's stolen-base record.
Many people mistakenly believe that DiMaggio's streak was a public passion that lasted fully two months. In fact, like Williams's quest to hit .400, it went unnoticed by most fans until the final three weeks. The public's earnest devotion to DiMaggio's streak was unique in that it came about due to the increased role of print and radio in American life. 'Me streak's popularity was in part a product of the growing efficiency of the media. Toward the end of the streak, nearly everyone in America knew the result of each of DiMaggio's at bats within minutes. Radio bulletins even enabled Boston's Ted Williams to receive reports from the scoreboard operator in Fenway Park in the middle of a game and relay the information to Dominic DiMaggio in center field.
The streak played a dominant role in the public's perception of DiMaggio as a hero, and has colored every subsequent account of his career. While many fans already looked upon DiMaggio as a hero, the hitting streak reinforced the notion and provided more evidence of what the press and the public were already feeling.
Yet some have sought to denigrate the streak as a fiction, attacking its authenticity primarily because of Dan Daniel's decisions as official scorer. While close scrutiny of the streak can call hits into question in four or five games, and one can even infer that DiMaggio may have been the beneficiary of Daniel's friendly scorekeeping, to conclude that this taints the record is misguided.
To be sure, were there any evidence of collusion between DiMaggio and Dan Daniel, the authenticity of the streak would be tarnished. But there is none. Daniel wasn't even involved in any of the scoring decisions that took place after game 44. A few earlier hits may have been less than genuine. That's speculation, not fact, but over the course of 56 games some hits were bound to be questionable. Judgment is part of the game. The streak, like any other record, is in some ways artificial, subject to circumstance, timing, and luck. To deride the streak as tainted because of a borderline scoring decision makes no more sense than penalizing DiMaggio for benefiting from a pitcher who refused to walk him, or from the positioning of an outfielder who played him deep to prevent a run, rather than shallow to prevent a hit, or because the Yankees played St. Louis twelve times and the Indians only seven. Day after day, DiMaggio faced the factual reality of the streak, with all its resultant pressures. And day after day, he succeeded.
From DiMaggio: An Illustrated Life by Dick Johnson and Glenn Stout.
text Copyright © 1995 by Glenn Stout. Reprinted with permission.