Beginning on June 2, the Yanks lost three in a row, yet still clung to third place with a record of 25-21, 3 1/2 games behind Cleveland and 2 1/2 games behind Chicago. The slump was understandable. Lou Gehrig died on June 2.
Before the Yankees played in Detroit on June 3, in the same ballpark where Gehrig had taken himself out of the lineup just over two years before and ended his consecutive-game streak at 2,130, the players stood somberly on the field for a moment of silence. After the 4-2 loss, manager Joe McCarthy and Bill Dickey left for Gehrig's funeral in New York. The rest of the Yankees remained in Detroit, and were rained out as Gehrig was laid to rest. Although DiMaggio remained with his teammates, his wife attended the services at Christ Protestant Episcopal Church in New York. Gehrig's illness had weighed heavily on the ballclub, and his passing, while saddening all who knew him, was seen as Gehrig's final relief from terrible suffering. Just as the Yankees had responded with a streak of wins when Gehrig took himself out of the lineup in May of 1939, they now embarked on a similar tear.
Beginning on June 7, the Yankees won 41 of their next 47 games. Joe DiMaggio hit safely in all but one of those contests. He may not have been the reason for the Yankees' earlier turnaround, but he was certainly the determining factor in the club's record after Gehrig's death. His performance over the next six weeks spoke as eloquently as any eulogy for his teammate.
DiMaggio keyed the first win of the streak. In St. Louis, the Yankees took a 6-1 lead over the Browns on Charlie Keller's third-inning grand slam but couldn't hold on. Trailing 6-4 in the eighth, the Browns tied the game at six on pinch hitter Walt Judnich's two-run home run, then loaded the bases with none out. Roy Cullenbine drove a deep fly to center field to put the Browns up 7-6, but DiMaggio snuffed the rally by nailing George McQuinn going to third for a double play.
Rolfe singled and Henrich doubled him home to tie the score in the ninth. Then DiMaggio, who already had two singles to his credit, beat out an infield hit. The Yankees went on to score four more times and win by the score of 11-7.
DiMaggio's streak was at 22, and for the first time, he was stinging the ball. His teammates followed suit. On June 8, Joe accounted for four of the Yankees' 19 extra-base hits as New York swept St. Louis, 9-3 and 8-3. DiMaggio knocked in seven runs for the day and hit three home runs, the last over the right-field roof of Sportsman's Park.
Meanwhile, Ted Williams went hitless in the Red Sox doubleheader sweep of Chicago. His streak was over at 18 games, the longest of his career. Although Williams was hitting well over .400, with almost four months left in the season there was as yet little speculation he might hit .400. Attention turned toward DiMaggio.
The timing was perfect. Williams's streak ended just as the Yankees took off. With DiMaggio hitting in every game, the Yankees ripped off eight wins in a row. With each game, Joe received more attention, as writers took note of the Yankees' surge and DiMaggio's relentless drive to the record book.
From DiMaggio: An Illustrated Life by Dick Johnson and Glenn Stout.
text Copyright © 1995 by Glenn Stout. Reprinted with permission.