Zimmerman’s 30 game hit streak had come to a close, reminding those around baseball exactly how impressive ‘56’ truly is.
The thought that somehow flies into my head at the exact moment a lengthy streak ends is a scene from the movie Old School.
Will Ferrell decides amidst a blackout drunk that everyone is “GOING STREAKING,” preferably “up the quad and through the gymnasium” if his plan works to perfection.
Suddenly he finds himself stark naked in the middle of the road, jogging alone in the dark of night. His face upon realizing the abandonment of streaking companions is utterly priceless.
As Zimmerman closed the book on his feat, Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio is smiling down from Heaven. No one has touched ’56,’ and no one likely ever will.
To put things into perspective, DiMaggio’s feat lasted from May 15 to July 16 during the 1941 season. It all began with one fateful swing off of White Sox pitcher Eddie Smith.
Hitting safely in 56 consecutive games requires countless factors to align at exactly the right time. It must be enveloped by a perfect storm of good fortune, skill, consistency, patience, poise, and a helping hand from the baseball gods.
What adds to the uniqueness of a hitting streak is that a player does not actually need a hit to be successful on a given day, and his ability to produce can literally be taken away from him.
If DiMaggio had gone 0-for-1 with two walks, a sacrifice fly, and an RBI groundout, he would have generated two RBI and a .667 on-base percentage. He may have assisted his team much more than a 2-for-4 with two singles, but the streak would be over.
Secondly, unlike most other professional sports, a team’s best player can be neutralized and virtually eliminated in America’s Pastime.
Whether simply expanding the zone to force DiMaggio to chase a bad pitch, or intentionally walking him in a critical point of the game, he was never guaranteed a chance to rewrite history.
It takes a very special player, and an even more special man, to possess the skills necessary to prolong a streak of this magnitude.
DiMaggio possessed all of these unique qualities and many more, as he was always composed and determined—but never rushed.
While I was never given the honor of watching DiMaggio turn a baseball diamond into his own personal playground, those who watched him on a daily basis couldn’t help but marvel at his God-like abilities.
"There was an aura about him. He walked like no one else walked. He did things so easily. He was immaculate in everything he did. Kings of State wanted to meet him and be with him. He carried himself so well. He could fit in any place in the world." - Phil Rizzuto (teammate)
"Joe DiMaggio batting sometimes gave the impression, the suggestion that the old rules and dimensions of baseball no longer applied to him, and that the game had at last grown unfairly easy." - Donald Hall (poet laureate)
"He was just a smooth outfielder and smooth in his hitting. No mistakes, ever. He was a solid ball player in every way. I never saw him make a mistake, but there was a smooth way he had of going about everything. That's why they put that name on him, The Yankee Clipper." - Red Schoendienst (opponent)
(All quotes can be found at http://www.baseball-almanac.com/)
These awed first-hand spectators seem to focus on the most imperative qualities for successfully developing an extended streak.
DiMaggio was mistake free and incomparably consistent, allowing for his mechanics and plate discipline to never waver. He had an air of confidence about him that provoked a feeling of impending success.
The game came so easily to DiMaggio that he never had to press, never had to question if he belonged, and never had to wonder what was missing.
Though the 1941 streak ultimately became the lasting legacy of an immortalized career, it was the second most important accomplishment of DiMaggio’s season.
He would tell you that winning the World Series over Brooklyn meant more to him than personal accomplishments. Adding another ring to his hand would be what truly lives on forever in his thoughts.
That was the kind of player DiMaggio was—always arrogant but never selfish. He knew he was the best and wanted to hear you acknowledge it, but he would never compromise the team for personal gain.
Hall of Famers have tried to replicate the streak, though Paul Molitor (39) and Pete Rose (44) fell short. Other potential suitors such as Tony Gwynn and Rod Carew never even approached intriguing terrain.
Of all the streaks seemingly meant never to be broken, Ted Williams’ .406, Cal Ripken’s 2632, Cy Young’s 511, and DiMaggio’s 56 stand alone.
Perhaps a player will one day realize the goal so many have failed in trying before him. Perhaps someone will one day be able to call himself equal to DiMaggio in just one area of his timeless career.
It is likely never to occur during my lifetime, however, and I hope it never does.
“The streak” is a record that cannot be broken with the benefit of performance-enhancing drugs, and does not require light tower power in order to move toward.
The number ‘56’ has become a symbol for all that was once right in the game that has since taken so many wrong turns.
DiMaggio will forever be recognized as a representation of greatness in the game he continually dominated, and he would have it no other way.