DiMaggio's record will stand test of time

June 17th, 2016

Suddenly, while leaving a restaurant in Atlanta, midday on May 15, my smart phone beeped, and there was a push notification. It mentioned how Joe DiMaggio did something wonderful 75 years ago.

There are few things I find more stimulating as a sports historian than reading, watching or talking about baseball's past heroes, especially when they are wrapped in pinstripes.

So that was neat, but this is better: Those DiMaggio notifications have continued every day from my MLB.com At Bat app since that May afternoon, and they'll keep coming through July 16, which will be the 75th anniversary of when Joltin' Joe ended his record for hits in consecutive Major League games at 56.

Until then, I'll still pause after those beeps to check my app, to see what DiMaggio did on that particular day to keep his streak alive. The whole thing sends me back to the early 1940s, but only to a certain extent. There was no texting in those days. People relied on the radio to deliver the news, or they waited for the evening paper if the Yankees game went past deadline. If not, they were forced to wait until the next morning to find out if the streak was still alive.

What a record for the ages. Among baseball's all-time marks that are at least somewhat doable regarding individual performances -- for instance, nobody is going to past Cy Young's 511 victories -- DiMaggio's hit streak is the safest. Well, that along with the 2,632 straight games played by Cal Ripken. Then again, folks never thought anybody would top Lou Gehrig's previous record of 2,130 consecutive games played.

Remember, too, that Hank Aaron accomplished the incredible before Ripken. Not only did the Braves slugger slam his 715th career home run to surpass Babe Ruth's sacred 714, but he ended with 755. Barry Bonds later ripped seven homers more than that before he retired.

Even now, there are players flirting with record-breaking performances. Bob Gibson managed his unfathomable 1.12 ERA during the Year of the Pitcher in 1968, but "unfathomable" likely isn't the correct adjective anymore. Have you seen what Clayton Kershaw is doing? He's at 1.58 during the Era of the Designated Hitter, and four other pitchers (Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Noah Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarner) are under 2.00.

It also isn't a stretch to envision baseball falling back in love with the stolen base someday to give speedsters such as Billy Hamilton the opportunity to maneuver past Rickey Henderson's career total of 1,406. Hamilton is just 25, and Mike Trout can run a little, too, and he's 24.

The DiMaggio streak? As they've shouted for decades around his old stomping grounds of the Bronx ... fughtitaboutit. There are just too many moving parts for this record of records to fall.

First, you must be able to hit like crazy, beyond just a few stretches during a season. Second, you need the cooperation of pitchers, which means they've got to throw within the hemisphere of the strike zone. Third, you have to retain enough stamina to prosper for two months. Fourth, you need the ability to handle all of that attention, and that's particularly true during this time of social media, 24/7 news and sports media outlets.

Then you need luck -- and lots of it.

Since DiMaggio did his thing, I've covered the stretch drive as a sports journalist of baseball's two longest hitting streaks.

I was around for most of Pete Rose's journey in 1978 to a modern-day National League record of 44 games. Even DiMaggio's mark seemed in jeopardy. Rose kept finding ways late that summer with the Reds to make Joltin' Joe and his followers squirm as the days became weeks. Finally, at Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium, Rose's streak ended after he struck out on a changeup from Gene Garber, and he said of the Braves closer, "He pitched me like it was the seventh game of the World Series."

Which brings something else to mind -- the bizarre tends to happen when you're chasing DiMaggio.

I saw as much on August 30, 1987, in Milwaukee, where local hero Paul Molitor snapped his hitting streak at 39. He couldn't get on base that night for the Brewers after four plate appearances, and each time, he went against Indians rookie pitcher John Farrell, the same John Farrell who is now the manager of the Red Sox, making only his second Major League start.

The game went into extra innings, so Molitor was in position to keep his streak alive in the bottom of the 10th. Instead, he was left standing in the on-deck circle after Rick Manning came off the bench to single home Mike Felder with the game-winning run for the Brewers.

The hometown crowd booed. It's likely the only time in Major League history that ever happened. Brewers fans were miffed, because they wanted to see Molitor continue his pursuit of catching Rose's 44 along the way to becoming the first person to conquer DiMaggio's 56. 

We're still waiting -- we'll be waiting forever.