Tuesday, March 09, 1999

56-game hit record stands 58 years later




BY MURRAY CHASS
The New York Times

        Tommy Henrich walked toward home plate. It was the first inning of the second game of a doubleheader in 1941, and the Yankees' right fielder was preparing to face Jack Wilson, the Boston Red Sox right-hander. Suddenly, Mr. Henrich heard a voice behind him.

        “Joe comes out,” Mr. Henrich related, “and the first time in his life he shouted at me, "Tom, you got my ball bat?' I said, "I got one of your bats, but it's the one I've been using.' He looked at it and said, "Someone stole my ball bat.'”

        The day before, against the Washington Senators, Mr. DiMaggio had broken George Sisler's American League record by hitting in his 42nd consecutive game. Now he was a hit away from tying Willie Keeler's major league record of 44 in a season, but he didn't have his game bat.

        In his first time up against Mr. Wilson, using another of his bats, Mr. DiMaggio lashed a line drive to right-center field that was caught. Mr. Henrich suggested to Mr. DiMaggio that he use the bat Mr. Henrich had been using. “The third time he batted,” Mr. Henrich said, “he used it and got a hit.”

        About a week later some fans in Newark discovered the bat had been stolen and returned it to Mr. DiMaggio, and he used it for the remainder of the most famous streak in sports history.

        On July 17 in that fabled season of 1941, Al Smith and Jim Bagby of Cleveland held Mr. DiMaggio without a hit, stopping the streak at 56 games. For all of his greatness during his 13-year career, Mr. DiMaggio will be remembered many years into the future for a record that many people in baseball believe will never be broken.

        “It seems that one's going to stand the test of time,” said Tony Gwynn, the best hitter of this time. “But all records are made to be broken. Someone's going to come along and get on a roll, at least get close enough to mention Joe DiMaggio.”

        The closest was in 1979, when the Reds' Pete Rose hit in 44 consecutive games. In 20 seasons since then, only seven players have reached 30 games.

       



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