An Illustrated Life
by Dick Johnson and Glenn Stout
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In his column in the World-Telegram on the morning of May 15, Dan Daniel, perhaps thinking of DiMaggio's earlier slump, made a prescient comment. "Slumps are overcome suddenly," he wrote, "and once the bellwether shows the way, a whole club will often follow him. It is possible when DiMaggio begins to hit again he will pull the other Yankees with him."
This situation was radically different. DiMaggio had been a minor league rookie in 1933. Now, he was the man the Yankees looked to for leadership. The concept of responsibility was one that DiMaggio was keenly aware of off the field as well. Dorothy was pregnant.
In 1933, with his baseball future hanging precariously in the balance, Joe had responded. Now, although his own status was secure, everyone expected DiMaggio to end not only his slump but that of the entire Yankee team. Again, Joe responded.
On May 15, the Yankees lost to the White Sox, 13-1, for their fifth straight defeat, leading Robert Cooke in the Herald Tribune to open his game story with the comment "The New York Yankees, who are currently going downhill at a great rate in the American League pennant race, continued their non-stop flight toward the second division ... the Yankees floundered before the crowd of 9,040 as though they were playing in complete privacy."
DiMaggio himself opened the gates to the White Sox win in the first inning. Chicago's Billy Knickerbocker, the same man who tried to goad DiMaggio into a fight five years before, singled, then Luke Appling followed with another single. DiMaggio charged the ball, and Knickerbocker decided to test DiMaggio's arm. DiMaggio's throw caromed off Knickerbocker's arm and he scored, Appling moving to third and eventually scoring himself on a sacrifice fly, giving the White Sox the only two runs they needed. DiMaggio was charged with an error, but the miscue may have woken him from his slump.
In the Yankee half of the first, Phil Rizzuto doubled off White Sox left-hander Edgar Smith. Then DiMaggio, hitless in his last two games, drove in Rizzuto with a solid single to center. Although the hit scored the last Yankee run for the day, DiMaggio was not finished. In two subsequent at bats he smashed the ball to third, where Dario Lodigiani, his old North Beach teammate, backhanded one behind the bag and deflected the other to Appling at short. DiMaggio was out on each play, but now he was turning on the ball and hitting it hard.
The next day McCarthy shook up his lineup again, sitting down Rizzuto and Priddy, moving Gordon back to second, and installing Crosetti at short and rookie Johnny Sturm at first. DiMaggio continued to hit the ball hard, homering into the left-field bleachers at Yankee Stadium in the first inning and tripling off the left-field fence in the ninth to key a Yankee comeback for a 6-5 win.
But the Yankees dropped two of the next three. DiMaggio managed hits in each game, even going 3 for 3 in a 12-2 win over St. Louis on May 18. But his perfect day at the plate was not without a struggle. According to the Herald Tribune, "DiMaggio was credited with three hits on drives that were manhandled by fielders," yet he received the benefit of the doubt from the scorekeeper. Had such a thing taken place later in the streak, he'd likely have faced criticism, but thus far DiMaggio's streak was only a modest four games and escaped notice.
The Yankees turned a comer on May 20 against St. Louis. New York fell behind early, rallied to take the lead, then fell behind again, trailing 8-6 after St. Louis scored three times in the top of the eighth. In the bottom of the inning, DiMaggio, hitless so far, stroked a leadoff single, then scored on Dickey's three-run homer. The Browns tied the game in the ninth, but the Yankees came back again to win 10-9 as Henrich scored all the way from second on a play at first.
The victory keyed a five-game Yankee winning streak, not including a 9-9 tie against Boston on May 23 in a game called because of darkness. The contest counted statistically, and DiMaggio's eighth-inning single stretched his hit streak to nine games. The Yankees climbed to third place. DiMaggio's streak reached ten games the next day. In the sixth inning, Dominic DiMaggio, playing center field for Boston, twisted and turned under Joe's deep fly before dropping it for an error. (Joe DiMaggio would later mistakenly credit his brother with making a catch on a similar play in game 44 of the streak, when in fact no such play ever took place.) DiMaggio singled in the seventh to keep the streak alive.
From DiMaggio: An Illustrated Life by Dick Johnson and Glenn Stout.
text Copyright © 1995 by Glenn Stout. Reprinted with permission.