It has been 75 years since two of the most prized accomplishments in the storied histories of these rivals intersected, with Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams spending the summer of 1941 collecting hits across America's ballparks at staggering paces.Sunday marks the date on which DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak finally met
It has been 75 years since two of the most prized accomplishments in the storied histories of these rivals intersected, with Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams spending the summer of 1941 collecting hits across America's ballparks at staggering paces.
Sunday marks the date on which DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak finally met its end, stealing the nation's attention during a season in which Williams was well on his way to a remarkable .406 batting average. It only seems appropriate that the Red Sox and Yankees should occupy the same grounds for the anniversary, scheduled for an 8:05 p.m. ET showdown on ESPN in the Bronx.
Boston's Jackie Bradley Jr. made it more than halfway to DiMaggio's record this year, riding a 29-game hitting streak that expired on May 26, and that experience has him convinced that the Yankee Clipper owns the more incredible accomplishment.
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"Fifty-six straight. Absolutely," Bradley said. "That's 56 straight games! That's tough to do. Hitting .400 would be tough to do as well, but you could go 0-for a few times and just light it up other days. We'll see if [the Nationals' Daniel] Murphy can catch back up there."
It is worth noting that from May 15 to July 17, Williams actually posted a higher average than DiMaggio, batting .412 (77-for-187) with 12 homers, 50 RBIs and 61 runs scored. Over the course of the streak, DiMaggio batted .408 (91-for-223) with 15 home runs, 55 RBIs and 56 runs scored.
Then consider this: after DiMaggio was stopped on July 17 in Cleveland, victimized by the fancy fielding of Indians third baseman Ken Keltner, he promptly started another 16-game streak. If 56 is mind-blowing, and it is, what would you say about 72 of 73?
"That's amazing," the Yankees' Carlos Beltrán said. "I would guess we might see 56. You see a lot of streaks, but hitting .400 from the get-go to the last game of the season? You've got to be a beast. It's not that hitting 56 in a row, you're not a beast, but I would say you get more chances of getting on a good streak than hitting .400."
Carrying a .400 mark (actually .39955, rounded up), Williams would have been assured the batting title even if he had not opted to play in both ends of a doubleheader at Philadelphia on the season's final day. Williams went 6-for-8 in the twin bill, forever cementing his magic number at .406.
"I think it's harder to hit .400 in a season," the Angels' Mike Trout said. "To be that consistent over an entire season, it's tough. The only person that could touch it, I think, is [the Astros' Jose] Altuve. It's very tough; very unlikely."
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Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera agreed.
"Maybe somebody like Altuve could do that," Cabrera said of hitting .400. "He can run fast, he always puts the ball in contact. And this year, he's hitting like .350 and he doesn't have too many infield hits. Think about it."
In a decision that still sparks debate, DiMaggio was selected as the American League's MVP for 1941. Perhaps that was because 56 already seemed unassailable, while Williams became the 28th player to eclipse .400. In today's game, it has become completely out of reach, as far as the Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman is concerned.
"Hitting .400, I mean, it's a joke," Zimmerman said. "Neither of them will ever get touched, I don't think. Not taking anything away from [DiMaggio], but we face so many different pitchers, it's just a different game now. Hitting .400, you have to do that every single day. I would say that's more impressive if I had to choose one, but getting a hit for 56 straight games? I had a year where I had 30 and still got a month to go."
Said Cabrera: "I mean, .400, you have to get two hits every day. It's too hard."
The Royals' Eric Hosmer said that he believes 56 is the more incredible accomplishment.
"You can hit .400 and that is hard to do, and I don't think anyone will do it, but even then, you can have some 0-for-3s or 0-for-4s and still do it," Hosmer said. "But the hitting streak, you can run into so much bad luck. You can hit a laser right at someone or someone can make a diving catch. Plus, nowadays, if you don't have a hit by the sixth inning, it gets way tougher because then you're facing a specialist or someone who throws 99 or 100 [mph]."
Pete Rose came the closest to DiMaggio, enjoying a 44-game hitting streak with the Reds that ended in August 1978. Paul Molitor hit in 39 straight for the Brewers in 1987 and Jimmy Rollins is the leader among active players, having rode a 38-game streak with the Phillies in 2005-06.
Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner said that he thinks it would be more difficult to replicate what DiMaggio did.
"Not that hitting .400 is easy -- I've never hit .300 or even close to it -- but I think that somebody may be able to hit .400," Gardner said. "Fifty-six is a lot of games, and I think that with defensive shifts and the way that pitchers have gotten better, I don't think that either one will ever happen again. But the streak is pretty special."
Williams witnessed numerous chases of .400, but Tony Gwynn's .394 average for the Padres in the strike-shortened 1994 season stands as the game's highest mark since '41. The Royals' George Brett batted .390 in '80, Rod Carew hit .388 for the Twins in 1977 and the Rockies' Larry Walker landed at .379 in '99.
We'll give the final words to the Splendid Splinter, who probably thought he'd have some company by now:
"It was something that required a kind of nonstop consistency," Williams said in 1991. "I never thought of it as going 2-for-5 every day, but that's what it adds up to. I had to maintain my focus throughout. Although I never imagined that all these years later, no one else would do it again.
"If I had known hitting .400 was going to be such a big deal, I would have done it again."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.