"Did he get a hit?" was the common question on every American's mind in the summer of 1941. Joe DiMaggio got at least one base hit for fifty -six games in a row, breaking the previous record of forty-four held by Wee Willie Keeler. As he got closer and closer to breaking the record, the American public watched his every at bat with unprecedented interest and anticipation. According to sportscaster and author, Maury Allen, "It had become the most important event in America." Letters poured into Yankee Stadium. When he got a hit in his forty-fifth game straight, the public response was remarkable. Newspapers of the time recorded the popular reaction. "In San Francisco, the fishermen on the wharf heard the news and celebrated with whine. In Chicago, a big, burly truck driver heard the announcement on his radio, leaned out of his window to tell a pretty girl passing by, and got a kiss blown to him for his news. In Denver, the announcement of DiMaggio's hit was made at a public roller-skating rink and the kids there banged on the boards with their skates. In Cincinnati, in a summer high school history class, a poll was taken to name the greatest American of all time. Abraham Lincoln finished third, George Washington second, and first...Joe DiMaggio. (Allen, pg. 102-103)"
It was an event that effected everyone, a tangible occurance that unified a very diverse people. Everyone knew about the streak, everyone followed it. Sports fans, Italian-Americans, young kids in awe of the great DiMaggio, and women dazzled by his proud demeanor and haunting appeal followed the events of one man's life with profound intrigue and interest. According to Yankee pitcher Lefty Gomez, "Joe was probably the least excited guy in America over the streak. He didn't talk much about it while it was going on. He just went out and got a hit day after day."
On July 17, 1941, there were 67,468 people in the stands at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. It was the largest night-baseball crowd ever, who had come to see Joe DiMaggio extend his amazing streak. Joe went 0-for-3 with a walk that night, robbed twice of potential base-hits by Indian third baseman Ken Keltner's superior defensive plays. The Yankees won the game that night, 4-1, but the streak officially came to an end at fifty-six. "I can't say I am glad it's over," said DiMaggio shortly afterwards, "Of course, I wanted it to go on as long as it could." But, according to his teammates, the fans, and the reporters, Joe DiMaggio reacted to the end of his streak in classic Joe DiMaggio manner. He was calm, polite, and stoic as always, crediting Keltner for his brilliant fielding, never displaying much emotion about his own tremendous accomplishment.
So, what was all the hype about anyway? How did one man's fifty-six game hitting streak grip a nation of people so tightly and intrigue them so poignantly? Below the surface of an obvious fasination with extraordinary success, it wasn't the consecutive hits that fascinated the American public, but the man who was getting them. It was his cool and collected demeanor, upheld throughout the entire fifty-six game ordeal, that Americans witnessed and desired to find more about. Because DiMaggio himself never replied and acted in a controversial manner, the American public could employ their own notions about DiMaggio to DiMaggio, and he would accordingly fit them. Joe DiMaggio and his fifty-six game hitting streak brought to life everyman's wildest dreams of success. The number, although a fantastic athletic accomplishment, was merely a marker for those who watched a great man at work. In the summer of 1941, the American public lived, vicariously through Joe DiMaggio; happy for his triumphs, saddened by his failures, and forever eager to hear more about their hero.
There are events that survive the passage of time, that stay alive in memory despite all subsequent experience. For millions of Americans, "the streak" had that special significance. Robert Creamer writes that "DiMaggio's streak "transcended the Yankees and New York; it transcended baseball..." "No athlete before it or since...has held the country's fascinated attention day after day, week after week, the way DiMaggio did in 1941."(Sklansky and Edgar)."
"DiMaggio's remarkable achievement-its uniqueness, in the unvarnished literal sense of that word-lies in whatever he did to extend his success well beyond the reasonable expectations of random models that have governed every other streak or slump in the history of baseball...DiMaggio activated that greatest and most unattainable dream of all humanity, the hope and chimera of all sages and shamans: he cheated death, at least for a while."(Sklansky and Edgar 26).
To gain a "modern day" perspective of this astounding feat check out ESPN'S ANALYSIS OF THE STREAK.