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56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports Hardcover – March 8, 2011
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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Winner, CASEY Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year, Spitball Magazine
Runner-Up, PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing
Best Biography/Autobiography, San Francisco Book Festival
"The best baseball book to appear in many a season." --Roger Kahn
"The era, the ballplayer and the record are all laid out beautifully.... The tension of the times is matched by the pressure of the streak." --San Francisco Chronicle
"Kennedy combines the sweep of a historian, the narrative power of a novelist and the passion of a fan." --Allen Barra, Newsday
"Kennedy has produced a book that, like its subject, is destined to hold up over time." --Tom Verducci
"A wonderful book. And what may be the last word on a record that may last forever." --Gay Talese
"Kostya Kennedy rescues The Streak from the numberish precinct of the record book and brings it back to the realm of drama which it dominated in 1941. He follows the ripples of DiMaggio's doings to the wide world beyond baseball and delivers to us a tale that's a delight." --Richard Ben Cramer
"56--the number alone still has meaning, but there is a compelling and textured story behind it, a story that pre- and postdates the summer of 1941. Kostya Kennedy tells that story beautifully." --Bob Costas
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This is more than a recounting of the games in which the Yankee Clipper swatted his way into the baseball history books. We are also provided with the relationship with his wife, the former Dorothy Arnold who cheered her husband along. When their child was born in October of 1941 things changed between the two partners with a divorce eventually ensuing. The death of Yankee great Lou Gehrig took place on June 2nd during the early stages of the streak, and author Kennedy relates tidbits about Gehrig I hadn't read in numerous other accounts of the Iron Horse. This is also the story of Joe's relationship with brother Dominic, the center fielder of the Boston Red Sox and his superstar teammate Ted Williams who went on to hit an astounding .406 that year.
While DiMaggio may have appeared to be calm and regal as he went about his business during the streak he was churning up inside. The first goal he was to take aim at was George Sisler of the St. Louis Browns who hit in 41 consecutive games in 1922, then came Willie Keeler's streak of 44 consecutive games with the Baltimore Orioles in 1897. DiMaggio also had to deal with the likes of former Yankee pitcher Johnny Babich, who sought revenge on his former team by attempting to walk the streaking DiMaggio rather than let him hit if he could retire him in his first at bat. On his second at bat Joe swung at a bad 3-0 pitch and hit a scalding liner back at Babich for a solid hit to put an end to that strategy.
Author Kennedy takes us back to the year 1941 which belonged to both DiMaggio with his magical 56 and Ted Williams' magical .406. You mention both numbers and any self-respecting baseball fan will immediately know what your are referring to. World War II was raging in Europe, and America would enter in the waning days of that year.
Bits of information are also provided on Willie Keeler that I haven't read in a baseball book since reading The National League Story by the late Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen. Pete Rose's streak is also dealt with along with Rose's post-game career of selling his wares to fans.
Is DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak the ultimate baseball record never to be broken? It certainly added to the mystique of Joe DiMaggio. Will anyone bat .400 again as Teddy Ballgame did in 1941? Both of these events took place in the same year of 1941. DiMaggio was awarded the MVP over Williams, possibly because the Yankees won the pennant. As an aside I might say that Cy Young's 511 victories is the ultimate record never to be broken. A pitcher who won 20 games for 20 years would still be 111 wins short of Cy Young. Certainly with pitchers pitching every 5th day this is highly unlikely to take place.
I did find one minor error in the book. On page 279 the author quotes the words on Lou Gehrig's plaque which was unveiled at Yankee Stadium on July 4th, 1941. The word "former" does not appear on the plaque.
If you are a baseball fan I assure you this book is a gem. Buy it with confidence. I hope author Kostya Kennedy has other historical baseball books to follow. He is an author to keep an eye on.
For two straight months, DiMaggio came to the ballpark, and for two straight months, he hit. Some games, he would get his hit in his first at-bat; others, it would be in his final at-bat. There were questionable events along the way that helped keep the streak alive, such as the official scorer ruling a potential error a hit, and an opposing pitcher's decision to go against his manager and pitch to DiMaggio rather than walk him. As the streak grew in length, Joe was mobbed by fans in every stadium he played in, but none more so than Yankee Stadium. After each game, fans would run onto the field and try to steal his cap or pat him on the back (imagine fans trying to do that today). A song was written about Joe by Les Brown that became a big hit.
Finally, in the sweltering heat of July, the Yankees traveled to Cleveland for a series with the Indians. DiMaggio had extended his streak to 56 games, and was looking for more, but he ran up against two fine pitchers, and Ken Keltner, the Indians' 3rd baseman, made two spectacular defensive plays, taking away a sure hit each time. Just like that, the streak ended. But DiMaggio hit in 16 straight games afterward.
I've been a big baseball fan my entire life, and I've read books about Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, but this great book is the best I've read so far. Not only does Kostya Kennedy go into great detail about Joe's streak, he also introduces the reader to Joe's teammates, including Lefty Gomez and Phil Rizzuto. The reader also gets a glimpse into Joe's private life as well. One of the best aspects of the book is Kennedy's "The View From Here" chapters he included. These informative chapters include analysis on DiMaggio's streak as well as Pete Rose's 44-game run in 1978.
I give "56" my highest recommendation. Baseball fans will love this great book.