Now that the single season home run record, the lifetime home run record, and the record for most career hits are held by individuals who will get into the Hall of Fame only by paying the admission fee, Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak really is the greatest and most glamorous record in baseball, but for a few minutes, on a muggy July afternoon, it appeared that the genuineness of the streak might be questioned.
Was It a Hit or an Error?
It was the first game of a twin bill against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.
The streak was at 42 games, which meant that DiMaggio could tie Wee Willie Keeler's major league record of hitting in 44 consecutive games if he got a hit in each game.
Boston lefty Mickey Harris retired Joe his first two at-bats.
Next time up, DiMaggio hit a tricky ground ball behind the third base bag that Jim Tabor, known for his powerful throwing arm, fielded cleanly, but hurrying his throw, Tabor made a wild peg to first base.
DiMaggio wound up at second as everyone wondered how the play would be scored.
There Was a Way to Remove All Doubt
Dan Daniel, the "dean of baseball writers,” who would receive the J.G. Taylor Spink Award in 1972, and who was official scorer for more than 20 of the games during the streak, felt the pressure.
Calling it a hit would create doubt, while ruling it a two-base error would create resentment.
Daniel realized that he had to decide quickly in order to demonstrate that he was certain of his ruling.
It was immediately called a hit, and Daniel charged Tabor with an error for allowing DiMaggio to reach second base.
The crowd roared its approval, but it was a questionable call. Of course, there was one way to get rid of any doubts. Next time up, Joe hit a hard single to left field for a clean hit.
The Last Chance
The streak ended in Cleveland on July 17.
Batting for the first time in the game, Joe was robbed of a hit when third baseman Kenny Keltner made a play similar to the one that Tabor did not make.
In the fourth inning, Joe walked, and in the seventh inning, Keltner made another fine play to retire Joe, but there would be one more chance.
Those who saw the game said when DiMaggio came to the plate in the eighth inning with the bases loaded and one out, he showed no emotion.
Except when Brooklyn outfielder Al Gionfriddo robbed him of a potential game-tying hit in the 1947 World Series, Joe never did show emotion, at least not publicly.
What Joe Said
The Yankees had already scored twice in the inning for a 4-1 lead. The count on DiMaggio went to a ball and a strike.
Joe hit the next pitch sharply to shortstop.
Lou Boudreau fielded the ground ball, flipped it to second baseman Ray Mack for the force at second, and Mack fired to first baseman Oscar Grimes to retire DiMaggio.
Everyone figured that the streak was over, and they were right.
After the game, after the streak was over, all Joe DiMaggio would say was, "I can't say I'm glad it's over. Of course, I wanted it to go on as long as I could."
Daley, Arthur. "Yankee Star Hits 44th Game in Row; DiMaggio Bats Safely in Two Contests to Equal Keeler's All-Time Major Mark." The New York Times. 2 July 1941, p.25.
DeGregoria, George. "Joe D.'s Streak Hits the Heights; DiMaggio Takes Streak to Record Height of 56." The New York Times. 1 August 1978, p.C9.
Drebinger, John. "Smith and Bagby Stop Yankee Star; DiMaggio, Up for Last Time in Eighth, Hits into a Double Play With Bases Full." The New York Times. 18 July 1941, p. 12.