An Illustrated Life
by Dick Johnson and Glenn Stout
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The events of the next day, June 17, have since been retold a thousand times, from a thousand different perspectives, but always with the same result. Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak came to an end.
This game was played at night in Cleveland's enormous Municipal Stadium before 67,468 fans. A story says that when DiMaggio and Gomez took a cab to the ballpark, the cabbie told the men that today the streak would end, putting a hex on DiMaggio. Still another claims a shoeshine boy in the hotel lobby said the same thing, just to Gomez. No matter. It wasn't any hex or jinx that broke DiMaggio's streak. It was a matter of luck and the glove of Cleveland third baseman Ken Keltner.
The Yankees jumped out to a quick lead. In the first inning, after Johnny Sturm made an out, Red Rolfe singled off Cleveland left-hander Al Smith. Tommy Henrich cracked a double and the Yankees led 1-0.
Smith was struggling. He threw DiMaggio a curve in on his hands and DiMaggio pulled the ball sharply to third. Keltner, playing DiMaggio deep and to pull, backhanded the ball on the line and his momentum carried him into foul territory. DiMaggio had trouble getting out of the box, which was soft from rain the day before, and Keltner's long throw to Oscar Grimes at first just beat him.
DiMaggio next came to bat in the fourth, the score still 1-0 in the Yankees'favor. Keltner, taking note of the field conditions and DiMaggio's performance in the earlier at bat, inched back and closer to the line, figuring the soft ground of the base paths gave him that much more time. He also remembered a play he had made against DiMaggio six weeks before, when Joe hit one just off his glove toward the line. But Smith walked DiMaggio.
Cleveland tied the game in the bottom of the inning. In the seventh, DiMaggio faced Smith again. He again grounded to Keltner, who backhanded the ball, this time on a short hop, and gunned down DiMaggio. The plays were no matter of luck. Keltner was easily the best-fielding first baseman in the American League in 1941. Gordon followed with a home run to put New York ahead, 2-1.
From DiMaggio: An Illustrated Life by Dick Johnson and Glenn Stout.
text Copyright © 1995 by Glenn Stout. Reprinted with permission.