The year was 1941. The month was May.

World War II dominated headlines as Germany attempted to assert its might on the rest of Europe. The U.S. was still contemplating its entry to the war. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the President of the United States. Big bands were the preferred popular music and Jimmy Dorsey’s hit “Amapola” was the most popular song on the jukebox. A candy bar set you back a whole 5 cents, “Citizen Kane” was in the middle of production, and a gallon of gas for your $850 Chevy would run you 12 cents at the pumps.

On Thursday May 15, 1941, a 6’2” lanky 26-year-old wearing pinstripes with the number 5 on the back and nicknamed “Joltin’ Joe” strode to the plate against the White Sox. The result was an RBI single. But what happened next proved that the hit that day began one of the greatest accomplishments in Major League Baseball history—Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hit streak.

What transpired over the course of the next two months during the summer of 1941 captivated a nation still recovering from the Great Depression and helped cement Joltin’ Joe into the lexicon of American history.

In 1941, DiMaggio was in his sixth season as center fielder for the New York Yankees. He had already helped lead the team to the American League pennant and World Series wins alongside first baseman Lou Gehrig in 1936, ’37 and ’38. When the streak began on May 15, the Yanks were 14-14, 5 1/2 games behind Cleveland in fourth place.

After Game No. 56 of the streak, the Yankees were 55-27 and first place with a 6-game lead over Cleveland. During the streak, DiMaggio hit .408 (91-for-223), with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs. After extending the streak to 56 on July 16, DiMaggio led the American League in runs (80), hits (124) and RBIs (76), was tied for the lead in HR (20) and was second to Ted Williams in batting (.395 to .375). DiMaggio was voted the American League MVP that season over Boston’s Ted Williams who hit .406, the last time a major-leaguer hit over .400.

joe dimaggio

Record still stands, never a bunt

Three quarters of a century later, the feat still stands as one of the greatest accomplishments to take place on the diamond. The closest anyone has come to matching DiMaggio’s record was Pete Rose who managed a streak of 44 games in 1978. Add to it the fact that DiMaggio never bunted for a hit during the streak.

One more hit would have been worth big bucks

DiMaggio reportedly confided to a teammate following the streak that failing to extend it one more game cost him a contract with Heinz Corporation to endorse their Heinz 57 products, the contract was rumored to be $10,000.

The 56 game hit streak in the Major Leagues was certainly DiMaggio’s most impressive streak, but wasn’t his longest hitting streak. DiMaggio had a 61 game hit streak with the San Francisco Seals (Pacific Coast League) in 1933, second-longest in minor-league history to Joe Wilhoit (69 games, 1919).

DiMaggio’s more than two month hitting streak has been revered for years by those who have gotten even half way there. Jimmy Rollins had a 38 game streak that spanned the 2005 and 2006 seasons. “It was nice to be mentioned,’’ Rollins said, referring to DiMaggio, “but it would be like throwing three consecutive no-hitters.’’

Joltin’ Joe was arguably the best player of his generation, and one of the greatest of all time. As the old adage goes, records are meant to be broken. But as we come upon the 75th anniversary of his famous hitting streak, DiMaggio’s mark on the game seems as unbreakable as ever.


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