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The Ultimate Book on Joe DiMaggio's Streak of 56 Games
on February 26, 2011
The first indication I was in for a special treat came from reading the recommendations on the back cover from the likes of Roger Kahn, Richard Ben Cramer, Bob Costas, Tom Verducci, and Leigh Montville. Author Kostya Kennedy has certainly enriched the baseball library with his book entitled 56, in relation to Joe DiMaggio's record-breaking hitting streak in that historical year of 1941. Other books have been written about this event, but this book is the one by which all others will be measured.
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.