Whack, Whack …
July 16, 1941: Joltin’Joe sets a Major League Baseball record. Joe DiMaggio was born in California in 1914 as Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio. He was the eighth of nine children in the family. The father was a fisherman and hoped that his five sons would follow in his footsteps but young Joe would do anything to escape the boat. The smell of dead fish nauseated him. His father called him “lazy” and “good for nothing”. Joe began playing semipro baseball with his older brother, Vince, who talked the manager into letting his baby brother fill in as shortstop. Joe made his professional debut on October 1, 1932 at the age of 17. Between May 27 and July 25, 1933, Joe hit safely in 61 consecutive games, a Pacific Coast League record.
In 1934, Joe tore the ligaments in his knee when he misstepped while getting out of a taxi. It could have ended his career in baseball, but scout Bill Essick of the New York Yankees was sure it would heal and brought Joe in for a look. Joe passed the physical in November and the Yankees purchased his contract from the San Francisco Seals for $50,000 and five players. Joe stayed with the Seals for the 1935 season. He made his major league debut on May 3, 1936 batting ahead of Lou Gehrig. Joe played with the Yankees for his entire MLB career – 13 years. He led the team to nine titles during those years. He signed a record breaking contract in 1949 and became the first baseball player to earn over $100,000 for a year.
The record he created on this day has remained unbroken. Beginning on May 15, 1941 (just weeks before Lou Gehrig died of ALS), Joe began his hitting streak when he was up against the Chicago White Sox and pitcher Eddie Smith. The previous record hitting streak in MLB went for 41 games and was held by George Sisler from his 1922 season. At first, Joe was not trying to break Gorgeous George’s record, but as he got closer both he and the press of the day began to speculate about the possibility. On June 29, Joe broke George’s record when he doubled in the first game of a double header against the Washington Senators and then singled in the nightcap game with a record 42 game streak.
There were close to 53,000 Yankee fans to watch Joe tie Wee Willie Keeler’s 1897 44 game streak. July began with this momentous statistic but Joltin’Joe wasn’t finished. He kept getting hits and finally broke the 50 game level on July 11 against the St. Louis Browns. In his 56th game on this day, he again safely hit while playing against Cleveland. The next day, while once again facing Cleveland, his string was finally broken. He was walked, but did not get a safe hit. He made the next 16 games, as well and so make it to base for 73 games, 72 of 73 with a safe hit. Another record. He retired at age 37, announcing it on December 11, 1951. He lived to age 84, dying from lung cancer in 1999.
DiMaggio’s streak is the most extraordinary thing that ever happened in American sports. – Stephen Jay Gould
When baseball is no longer fun, it’s no longer a game. – Joe DiMaggio
‘m just a ballplayer with one ambition, and that is to give all I’ve got to help my ball club win. I’ve never played any other way. – Joe DiMaggio
We need a hit, so here I go. – Joe DiMaggio
Also on this day: Phony – In 1951, The Catcher in the Rye was published.
Calendars – In 622, the Islamic calendar began.
No Kissing – In 1451, King Henry VI banned kissing.
Lovely Rita – In 1935, the first parking meter was unveiled.
Hijacked – In 1948, a plane was hijacked.