Joe DiMaggio wasn't baseball's best hitter during his hitting streak.
The number 56 is iconic in the baseball world. You know it refers Yankees great Joe DiMaggio’s MLB-record hitting streak from 1941. Other than Pete Rose getting to 44 games in 1978, no player since that magical ’41 season has put together a 40-game streak. It seems like someone usually gets to about 30 games each season (including Dan Uggla’s 33-gamer this season), and the media lauds and lauds the long-standing record of DiMaggio.
But are hitting streaks overhyped? Most hitters are obviously productive when they have a long streak, but the reality is that you only need to one-for-four each game to keep it going. Many times, there is another player who is more productive than a batter on a long hit streak. However, we all know which hitter will get more attention.
Now back to 1941 and DiMaggio’s 56-game streak. During that season, Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox hit .406 to become the first player since 1930 to reach that incredible milestone. DiMaggio batted an admirable .357 in ‘41, but that was 49 points below Williams. The Splendid Splinter scored more runs, hit more homers, had only five fewer RBIs than DiMaggio and had a higher on-base and slugging percentage.
Yet, DiMaggio outdistanced Williams for MVP getting 15 first-place votes to Williams’ eight. Presumably, the reasoning was that writers around the league liked DiMaggio and had no patience for Williams. But the magical streak didn’t hurt.
Certainly the streak was magical for DiMaggio. But examining the numbers a little deeper shows that even during that streak, Williams was better. Better than a 56-game hitting streak?
In DiMaggio’s 56 games, he batted .408 with 15 home runs, 55 RBIs and scored 56 runs. He walked 21 times and whiffed just five times. He reached base via hit or walk 112 times. Now that’s impressive. However…
His rival to the north in Boston was even more impressive. During those same 56 games, Williams played in 55 games and batted .412 and scored 61 runs. He hit 12 homers and drove in 50, but reached base 127 times, 50 times via a walk. Williams had a higher average, on-base and slugging percentage than DiMaggio during the famous Yankee’s famous streak.
Nothing against the amazing consistency that the Yankee Clipper showed during those two months in 1941, but fans should note that there was a better hitter during the iconic 56-game streak.