Shaking his head and flashing a deprecatory grin, Joe DiMaggio started talking about it again.
“There has to be an element of luck to it,” he modestly told a group of baseball writers, “but the one thing that sticks in my mind is that whenever I kept the streak alive with a scratch hit, I always came through in that same game with an honest hit that could not be questioned. That’s what made it so satisfying.”
DiMaggio recalled one game in which he was facing the St. Louis Browns’ Eldon Auker, who was a tough submarine ball pitcher. Auker had held Joe hitless going to the ninth inning. The Yankee Clipper was scheduled to bat fourth.
Auker retired the first hitter, bringing up Red Rolfe, who worked out a walk. Tommy Henrich, who followed Rolfe in the batting order, called time and went back to the dugout to talk to manager Joe McCarthy.
“Joe, if I hit into a double play, DiMadge won’t even get to bat. Is it all right with you if I bunt?”
Despite the revisionist history with respect to DiMaggio over the last few decades, the truth is that his teammates respected, admired, and were fond of the greatest of all New York Yankees’ center fielders.
McCarthy didn’t hesitate for a second. “Good idea. Drop down a bunt.”
Players knew how to play the game. Henrich was a power hitter who was expected to drive in runs, but in those days, all players were taught how to bunt when they were in the minors.
Henrich deftly sacrificed Rolfe to second, bringing up DiMaggio.
Joe stepped into the batters box, got into his wide stance, and waited for Auker’s first delivery.
The 6’2″ right hander checked Rolfe at second and fired a fast ball over the inside corner of the plate. DiMaggio reacted immediately, slashing a drive into left field for a double. The streak continued.
Probably the closest call occurred against the Boston Red Sox. Joe had hit in 44 consecutive games, which tied the great Wee Willie Keeler for the longest consecutive game-hitting streak in baseball history.
Facing Dick Newsome, who always gave Joe problems, Joe hit a drive to the outfield that seemed destined to break Keeler’s record, but Stan Spence made a circus catch as Joe’s heart sank.
In his second at-bat, Joe hit a drive into the deepest part of center field, but another DiMaggio, who might have been better defensively than even Joe, made a sensational catch to rob his brother of extra bases.
Returning to the dugout, Joe said to no one in particular, “It speaks well for the integrity of the game, but it wasn’t diplomatic, especially when Dom is coming over to my house for dinner tonight.”
Next time up, Joe made sure that only a fan could catch the ball as he blasted a home run to set a new consecutive game hitting streak.
Finally, there was the time that Bob Muncrief of the Browns could have ended the streak by walking DiMaggio in his last at-bat, but Muncrief would have no part of it.
“That wouldn’t have been fair to him or me. Hell, he’s the greatest player I ever saw.”
DiMaggio singled to keep the streak alive.
By ARTHUR DALEY. (1969, August 6). Sports of The Times :An Epic Accomplishment. New York Times (1923-Current file),21. Retrieved October 22, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2007). (Document ID: 89361979).