75 years ago, a young man began a mission that some thought would be impossible. As America was finding itself inching closer to being involved in the Second World War, a New York Yankees team had lost one icon when Lou Gehrigh would die of the illness that would bear his name. It was a time when America was a house divided socially, racially and found itself not knowing if they should get involved in the fighting overseas.

For that one summer in 1941, as the wars in Europe and the Pacific raged around it, America turned its attention to the son of a fisherman who was born in San Francisco on November 25, 1914 to Sicilian immigrants made America notice the grand old game. Joseph Paul DiMaggio, the “Yankee Clipper,” spent his entire 13-year career for the New York Yankees. He is perhaps best known for his 56-game hitting streak (May 15 – July 16, 1941), a record that still stands.

56. A number that for some means not a lot. For others, it was magic. It was history in the making. It was baseball’s answer to Mount Everest. It was a mountain that to this date no one has touched, let alone climbed since July of 1941. Joe Dimaggio’s 56-game hit streak is a record that probably will not be reached in our lifetimes. Although Pete Rose would be the closest to come to the streak before Gene Garber stopped him in Atlanta. Jimmy Rollins (38), Paul Molitor (39) and Rose (44) would be the three major names in this era that have come the closest to the streak.

It would not be easy for DiMaggio to extend the streak but can you even imagine the pressure on the person that was the official scorer? At that time, scorers did not work for their respective teams as is the case now, they were usually assigned to the team by the league. Also keep in mind that there was no television, let alone Facebook, Twitter, MLB Network or social media. The only media involved at that time was radio for fans to listen to the contests live and newspapers to read about it after the contest came to an end. Imagine if he had done that today, with all the media hype and requests for press passes.

The odds of anyone hitting in 56 games in our lifetimes? Let’s put it this way. You have a better chance of making a hole in one on the 17th tee at TPC Sawgrass, getting a prom date with the head cheerleader in high school, striking oil in your back yard and getting the keys to the Playboy Mansion.

5 strikeouts, 21 walks .408 batting average, he put the ball in play an average of 3.89 times per game and those are numbers that still boggle even the smartest of minds, whether they’re baseball fans or not. In case you’re wondering, the Yankees played seven twin-bills during the streak and the team went 41–13–2 in that time.

The streak began on May 15, 1941, a couple of weeks before the death of Lou Gehrig, when DiMaggio went one-for-four against Chicago White Sox pitcher Eddie Smith.[16] Major newspapers began to write about DiMaggio’s streak early on, but as he approached George Sisler’s modern era record of 41 games, it became a national phenomenon. Initially, DiMaggio showed little interest in breaking Sisler’s record, saying “I’m not thinking a whole lot about it… I’ll either break it or I won’t.” As he approached Sisler’s record, DiMaggio showed more interest, saying, “At the start I didn’t think much about it… but naturally I’d like to get the record since I am this close.” On June 29, 1941, DiMaggio doubled in the first game of a doubleheader against the Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium to tie Sisler’s record and then singled in the nightcap to extend his streak to 42.

A Yankee Stadium crowd of 52,832 fans watched DiMaggio tie the all-time hitting streak record (44 games, Wee Willie Keeler in 1897) on July 1. The next day against the Boston Red Sox, he homered into Yankee Stadium’s left field stands to extend his streak to 45, setting a new record. DiMaggio recorded 67 hits in 179 at-bats during the first 45 games of his streak, while Keeler recorded 88 hits in 201 at-bats. DiMaggio continued hitting after breaking Keeler’s record, reaching 50 straight games on July 11 against the St. Louis Browns. On July 17 at Cleveland Stadium, DiMaggio’s streak was finally snapped at 56 games, thanks in part to two backhand stops by Indians third baseman Ken Keltner.

He wasn’t finished. Although that streak was over, he would start a new one, hitting in twelve more games, hitting safely in 72 of 73 games, also a record. The closest anyone has come to equaling DiMaggio since 1941 is Rose, who hit safely in 44 straight games in 1978. Some of the pitchers that he got hits off of were no slouches, four of them (Lefty Grove, Bob Feller, Hal Newhouser, Ted Lyons) are in Cooperstown and he got more than one hit off of Feller and Newhouser.

His hit streak helped the Yankees win the World Series in 1941 and allow him to win the MVP title that year. Joe DiMaggio was celebrated not only on the field, he’s mentioned in Simon and Garfunkle’s “Mrs. Robinson” from the movie “The Graduate.”

A 56-game hit streak is like Captain Ahab going after Moby Dick. From May 15th to July 16th, with a world in chaos because of a war that would eventually draw America into it, a nation turned its lonely eyes to him and that nation for a few short months lived a dream along with him. Will that be broken in our lifetimes? It’s difficult, given the amount of travel that teams now do these days, along with teams going to the West Coast (prior to 1958, Major League Baseball did not expand westward past St. Louis, north past Chicago or south past Cincinnati), the majority of the contests were played in the daylight hours and pitching in that time was nothing like it is now. In order for that to happen, someone would have to be really good and they would need to stay healthy and away from PEDs. It’s not easy but it’s doable. Will it happen in our lifetimes? One can only guess.

And hope.

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