It was 70 years ago, on a mild and misty night in Cleveland, before the largest crowd of the 1941 baseball season — 67,463 in Municipal Stadium — that Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak came to an end. The game became, in today’s parlance, an “instant classic.” It would have been destined for countless airings on many sports channels had only there been footage to air.
Instead the night of July 17, 1941 survived only in memory (and in some part myth), re-lived and re-told not just by DiMaggio himself but also by his teammates and by the opposing Indians players and by the coaches and the batboys and by the people who attended the game and by the many thousands more who were not at the game, but who would swear, year after year, that they were.
The facts are simple: DiMaggio went 0-for-3 with a fourth-inning walk. Yet each of DiMaggio’s at-bats that night was an event, the mass of fans cheering and hooting each time he strode to the plate. Many of the people felt unsure whether or not they wanted to see the Great DiMag, as he was called, succeed against their Indians. Cleveland’s ace pitcher, Bob Feller, felt that way as he watched from the Indians dugout. When I spoke to him, some nine months before his death at age 92 last December, Feller said he remembered the game clear as if the floodlights were still upon it.
Of course, a new hit streak started the next day.