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Joe DiMaggio's legendary hitting streak had a very innocuous beginning

Joe DiMaggio lines a single to left field in the seventh inning of the second game of a doubleheader at Washington June 29, 1941, to set a record for hitting safely in 42 consecutive games. In the first game, DiMaggio tied George Sisler's record of 41 games, set in 1922. The catcher is Jake Early of the Washington Senators. Yankees won both games, 9-4, 7-5. (AP photo) (/AP)

At the time, May 15, 1941, was not a particularly auspicious day for Joe DiMaggio and the Yankees. New York got knocked around by the White Sox in a 13-1 loss that dropped it to 14-15 overall -- not the start they wanted after finishing a disappointing third place in 1940. DiMaggio committed a throwing error in the first that led to a run and finished just 1-for-4 with a single, part of a .197 stretch over his last 21 games. Just how bad was it? Ask The New York Times: "The Yanks never looked worse," their recap went, "and derisive shouts greeted the final out of each inning."
Two months later, though, everything had changed. The Yankees sat comfortably in first in the American League, six games ahead of Cleveland. DiMaggio, meanwhile, had gone on a pretty nice run:

That innocuous single in the first inning of an early-season blowout would grow into one of sports' most hallowed numbers: 56 straight games with a hit. From May 15 to July 16, Joltin' Joe hit .408/.463/.717 -- against a group of pitchers that included four Hall of Famers -- with 91 hits, 35 of which went for extra bases. (Although it nearly ended at 35: DiMaggio entered his final at-bat against the St. Louis Browns 0-for-3 on the day, and St. Louis manager Luke Sewell ordered pitcher Bob Muncrief to walk him. Muncrief refused, and DiMaggio picked up a base hit.)
It's a testament to what an accomplishment it was that, some 77 years later, the streak seems as untouchable as ever. The closest any big leaguer has gotten is still Pete Rose, who put together a 44-game streak back in 1978:

Of course, if it weren't for that cabbie and his dark magic, who knows what number everyone would be chasing instead.