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Yankee for a Minute: 1995

Yanks signed Neil Walker on Monday afternoon; late of the Pirates, Mets and most recently Milwaukee, on a 1-year/$4 mil deal to ostensibly be the start at second on Opening Day, but more likely to act as the veteran bridge for both Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres. While Walker is essentially a downgrade offensively from Starlin Castro, his defense is considered a valuable upgrade; the hope being that he can stabilize both the right side of the infield and the bottom of the lineup while the Andujar and Torres are being groomed for third and second, respectively (and it doesn’t hurt for the organization that it adds another year of control for both of them). Everyone and their moms knew that Cashman was not going to go straight in with the rookies to start the season, so he played the market and got a solid player for a bargain.

That sort of selectivity didn’t come from just anywhere; Cashman had started his Yankee career as an intern in the 80s and received an education on how Steinbrenner and the Yanks did business; having a front row to the highs and lows of the organization from the field to the front office.  Steinbrenner introduced a young Cashman to his lieutenants by saying, “pay attention; he’s going to be your boss someday.”

In 1995, The Strike continued on into the beginning of April. The players, who didn’t trust the team owners for a minute after they’d forced Commissioner Fay Vincent to resign in 1992 and never bothered to officially replace him, were purportedly striking to prevent the institution of a salary cap planned by the owners, who complained that revenues were down all over and threatened to bankrupt small market teams that didn’t have the capacity of big market teams to be profitable on their own. Revenue sharing was part of their plan, but holding costs down by instituting a cap was preferred. Naturally, this didn’t go over well, and the players’ union sued after walking out. The owners decided to use “replacement” players; mainly baseball players from the minors or independent leagues who would likely not have made it to the bigs at any rate. Striking players discouraged so-called replacement players from considering crossing their picket for the most part, but there were eventually enough players to field teams for each organization to kick-start the new season (though there was not much excitement and a lot of resentment from both players and fans for such a move). Fortunately for baseball (in the long run), an injunction was issued against the owners (by Bronx-bred Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York Sonia Sotomayor; aka future Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court), forcing them to meet the players and work out a deal while still abiding by the previous expired CBA. By April 2, the strike was over and baseball plotted for a shortened season.

In 1995, The Boss was Steinbrenner once again; having been reinstated in 1993, but remaining low-key as his son-in-law Joe Molloy kept things in order and supported Michael and Showalter as they rebuilt the team from the ground up. Molloy invested in scouting and development; something that had been taken seriously for granted during Steinbrenner’s blustery and blundering run through the 80s. Molloy remained a general partner after George’s return. Within a few years, however, he would leave the organization and the Steinbrenner family mainly due to George’s “managing style”.

In 1995, Buck Showalter would lead the Yankees into the postseason as the first wildcard team in the AL for the new playoff format, but would lose in heartbreaking fashion to a stacked Seattle Mariners team which boasted future Hall of Famers, team favorites as well as former and future Yankees. Steinbrenner, once again being Steinbrenner, wanted among other things a blood sacrifice for this “failure” in Rick Down, Buck’s hitting coach, during negotiations for an extension.  Buck, figuring this was part of the negotiations, replied no, I can’t accept a contract under those circumstances, and waited for a reply. The reply came from his wife, who informed him that reporters were calling to get his response after being let go. Buck and George had been butting heads for some time, with George again doing what he normally did in taking potshots at players or making veiled threats against the coaching staff. Buck, by most accounts not an easy man to get along with himself, pushed back against the onslaught, the tension permeating the Stadium and the clubhouse.  Whether or not you can blame Buck for not keeping his players loose or George for disrupting the peace that had settled in his absence, Steinbrenner took advantage of the rejection to cut ties with Showalter altogether. The burn would last seemingly forever.

In 1995, on August 13 at 2am, the legendary and uncompromisingly American Mickey Mantle left our world.  Flags were hung in half mast and bittersweet tears were shed across the Yankee universe as people of all thoughts who knew what a baseball was for reflected on all of what made him The Mick.

Donnie Baseball finally made it to the postseason, which had sadly eluded him throughout his career. He acquitted himself well; going 10 for 24 with a .417/.440./708 slash line; four doubles, six ribbies and a homer in Game 2. All the more heartbreaking, Mattingly played like a man rediscovering his lost childhood and trying to reach heaven; the fans willing him along every step of the way. The stadium conducted the electricity of excitement and relief, as well as the cold gusts of desperation. Mattingly wanted it. The fans wanted. The team wanted it. The whole city wanted it. But the Mariners, led by a strong mix of youth and veteran grit that included Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Jr. Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, Tino Martinez and phenom shortstop Alex Rodriguez, outlasted the dream.

Stick, for reasons I don’t really know of at the moment, yet at an oddly appropriate moment, resigned as general manager at the end of the season and took on the mantle of Vice President of Scouting with the team. Despite the playoff loss, the Yankees were set up for a marathon run. Along with Molloy, he made two crucial recommendations for the next hires…

  • Opening Day Starters:                                   underline
  • Also Played:                                                        #
  • Regulars On Roster:                                       blank
  • Renowned From Other Teams:                 bold
  • Unheralded Rookie/Prospect:                   *
  • Unheralded Vet:                                                italics
  • Rookie Season (became regulars):          ~

1995 New York Yankees Roster


  • 54 Joe Ausanio
  • 25 Scott Bankhead
  • 31 Brian Boehringer*
  • 36 David Cone
  • 47 Dave Eiland
  • 41 Sterling Hitchcock
  • 47 Rick Honeycutt
  • 57 Steve Howe#
  • 28 Scott Kamieniecki
  • 22 Jimmy Key
  • 34 Rob MacDonald
  • 38 Josías Manzanillo
  • 19 Jack McDowell
  • 39 Jeff Patterson*
  • 56 Dave Pavlas
  • 33 Mélido Pérez
  • 46 Andy Pettitte~
  • 42 Mariano Rivera~
  • 35 John Wetteland#
  • 27 Bob Wickman#


  • 13 Jim Leyritz
  • 62 Jorge Posada~
  • 20 Mike Stanley


  • 12 Wade Boggs
  • 24 Russ Davis
  • 50 Robert Eenhoorn
  • 26 Kevin Elster
  •  6 Tony Fernández
  •  2 Derek Jeter~
  • 14 Pat Kelly
  • 23 Don Mattingly
  • 43 Dave Silvestri
  • 18 Randy Velarde


  • 39 Dion James
  • 21 Paul O’Neill
  • 17 Luis Polonia
  • 17, 25 Rubén Rivera+
  • 26 Darryl Strawberry
  • 45 Danny Tartabull
  • 51 Bernie Williams
  • 29 Gerald Williams#


  • December 14, 1994: Jack McDowell was traded by the Chicago White Sox to the New York Yankees for a player to be named later and Keith Heberling (minors). The New York Yankees sent Lyle Mouton (April 22, 1995) to the White Sox to complete the trade.
  • December 15, 1994:Tony Fernández was signed as a Free Agent with the New York Yankees.


  • April 12, 1995: Randy Velarde was signed as a Free Agent with the New York Yankees.
  • June 5, 1995: Josías Manzanillo was selected off waivers by the New York Yankees from the New York Mets.
  • June 8, 1995: Kevin Elster was released by the New York Yankees.
  • June 19, 1995: Darryl Strawberry was signed as a Free Agent with the New York Yankees.
  • July 1, 1995: Kevin Maas was signed as a Free Agent with the New York Yankees.
  • July 16, 1995: Dave Silvestri was traded by the New York Yankees to the Montreal Expos for Tyrone Horne (minors).
  • July 28, 1995: David Cone was traded by the Toronto Blue Jays to the New York Yankees for Marty Janzen, Jason Jarvis (minors), and Mike Gordon (minors).
  • July 28, 1995: Danny Tartabull was traded by the New York Yankees to the Oakland Athletics for Rubén Sierra and Jason Beverlin.
  • August 11, 1995: Luis Polonia was traded by the New York Yankees to the Atlanta Braves for Troy Hughes (minors).

Draft picks

June 1, 1995: Donzell McDonald was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 22nd round of the 1995 amateur draft. Player signed July 22, 1995.

June 1, 1995: Future NFL quarterback Daunte Culpepper was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 26th round (730th pick) of the 1995 amateur draft. Culpepper was drafted out of Vanguard High School.

Dante Culpepper… the Yanks sure love their foosball QBs (they just had one in for a week or two of Spring Training, didn’t they?). Danny Tartabull, who had become a frequent target of Steinbrenner, was traded for the indomitable Ruben Sierra, who somehow managed to miss a championship with the Yanks in two tours with the team. Polonia was traded away for a minor leaguer who never made it to the bigs. David Cone finally did make it to the Yanks though, after several years of trying to get him.  Kevin Maas made a cameo appearance on a minor league contract, but did not play for the big club, soon moving onto Milwaukee’s minors and then Japan. How many knew or remember that Strawberry actually had two separate stints with the Yanks? Though not separated by much, Darryl first signed with the Yanks mid-season in 1995 after having been suspended for drug use (cocaine, an old-fashioned drug suspension by today’s standards). However, he started out in 1996 with the indie St. Paul Saints, mainly to clean himself up and get into real baseball shape. The Yanks resigned him on July 4, 1996 and the rest is written about in many biographies of him, other players and of the Yankee Dynasty.

Octavio Antonio Fernández Castro; better known as Tony Fernandez. A stalwart of the Toronto Blue Jays from the early 80s-on (though he only played and won with the Jays in the second of their back-to-back championships due to having been traded to San Diego a few seasons earlier, then traded from the Mets back to Toronto in mid-season), he was considered one of the premier shortstops in baseball for a combination of clutch hitting and sparkling defense earlier in his career, but then his prolific production stalled by the early 90s and he never managed to reach the pinnacle of personal stardom; he was one of three young shortstops in 1983 predicted to be a sure-shot Hall of Famer; the other two being Alan Trammel and Cal Ripkin, Jr., whom all played together in the All Star Game in 1987. However, in these parts Tony is known best for getting injured in May of 1995, which opened the door for another shortstop who ended up sticking around for a good while. Oh, he did have some heroic moments, like in 1997 when he hit a home run off of Orioles reliever Armando Benitez to clinch the pennant for Cleveland, and he did contribute a lot to Toronto winning their second championship in a row, and he even helped them win their first division title way back when. But because his career stats didn’t add up to dominant player status, the damned voters dropped him off the ballot after his first try in 2007.

John Wetteland, old reliable, was traded to the Yanks from Montreal for a player with a last name that you probably have to pause before saying and an interesting career of his own. Wetteland had originally been drafted by the Mets in 1984, but he turned them down and was drafted by the Dodgers a year later. In December 1987, he was a Rule 5 selection by the Detroit Tigers, but was later returned. In 1991, he was involved in the trade that brought Reds All-Star Eric Davis to L.A. to be united with his homeboy Strawberry. He was subsequently flipped with someone else to the Expos for Dave Martinez, Willie Greene and somebody else, where he finally established himself as a star reliever. Stick closed in on that promise and swung an easy deal, one that greatly benefitted them in the long run. However, Wetteland’s stay with the Yankees was relatively short compared to other places; his longest tenure being with the Texas Rangers, with whom he signed as a free agent for the first time in his career; a move that shocked and likely annoyed him at the time, but worked out again for the Yankees in the long run.

For some reason, I remember Scott Bankhead’s name, though not him as a player so much.  He was a first round draft pick by the Kansas City Royals in 1984 and quickly debuted for them in 1986, but ended up being part of a trade that brought Danny Tartabull to the Royals from Seattle. The bulk of his career was with the Mariners from then until 1991, when injuries diminished his pitching ability and he was eventually released.  He reinvented himself as a reliever and played for Boston until his contract was bought by the Yanks in 1994, but the strike prevented him from playing.  When he did, it was basically a one-and-done deal; barely used and barely missed.  Rick Honeycutt I remember from the Oakland A’s of the late 80’s with their dominant pitching, from starters to relievers.  Honeycutt probably represents the last of the Mohicans in that respect; the remaining player from that particular championship team either poached or signed on the cheap in their late career stage by the Yanks, this time for a postseason push in late September. He didn’t help much, and ended up with the Cardinals the following season, finishing out his long career with them a year later.

And then there’s “Black Jack” McDowell.  Sigh. He was actually pretty good for the Yanks in his lone season, but the infamous “Jack Ass” incident when he walked off the mound after being bombed out by his former team to a cascade of boos and subsequently giving the fans a defiant finger not only torpedoed whatever good will might have existed for him to that point, but effectively put a hex on his career from then on.  It was McDowell who gave up the wild card series-winning hit to Mariners hero Edgar Martinez in Game 5 that year, and it was he who Steinbrenner derided the most at every opportunity he got. Luckily for him, he was a free agent at the end of the season and he signed with Cleveland, who was another team on the come-up, but he had lost his mojo by that point and retired four years later after being released by Anaheim.  At least he had his music to fall back on, though it’s been said that it was a night of drinking with his musician buddies that led to the Jack Ass incident.

Lastly, before I forget, the + after Ruben Rivera; cousin of the legend with the same name. This Rivera was the almost exact opposite of his cousin; highly anticipated to be a prolific outfielder with all kinds of tools, he made little impression on the Yankees in his first two seasons beyond being highly promising, but highly immature and was traded in 1997 season to San Diego, where he played the bulk of his major league career. But even as a starter, he was a poor hitter and was subsequently released by the Padres.  After two seasons of failing as a role player for Cincinnati and Texas, he was once again signed by the Yanks, largely on the strength of his cousin.

So what does he do? Steal Jeter’s glove and bat and sell them for $2,500. What is worse, honestly: that he stole his teammate’s work tools, or that he sold them so cheaply? His teammates voted him off the team, and the front office followed suit and released him.  He made one last ditch effort to salvage his MLB career with San Francisco, but it just didn’t work. After a couple years in team minors, he ended up making his way to Mexico, where he was ironically able to put together a highly respectable career, and at age 44 (though it was erroneously announced that he’d retired as a player in 2015), he is still playing pro ball.  All of which is to say: nepotism guarantees nothing more than an opportunity most people have to fight hard to get, if they get it at all.  But in baseball, there always seems to be some form of redemption.

Fly, Flied, Flew

In Game 5 of the 2000 World Series, Mike Piazza represented the tying run with two out in the bottom of the ninth. Mariano Rivera was on the hill for the Yankees protecting the 4-2 lead and attempting to shepherd home another World Championship. Rivera uncorked an 0-1 cutter and Piazza appeared to make solid contact and drove the ball to center field.


The ball took off and spun Bernie Williams around as he raced back in pursuit. But Shea Stadium isn’t a band box and the last second cut of Mariano’s signature pitch guided the ball past Piazza’s sweet spot and down towards the end of the bat. Bernie caught up to the ball easily before the warning track and the Yankees were champions again.


Mike Piazza flied / flew out to center field.

Steven Pinker, author of The Language Instinct and expert linguist (among other things), says, “In  baseball, one says that a slugger has flied out; no mere mortal has ever “flown out” to center field.”

Before you trust him implicitly, be careful, dude’s a Red Sox fan.

Let us know your preference in the comments.

Where & When Game #3

Today’s gem is a little a little difficult to date, so I’ll be lenient with the exact date unless you can figure out the hint.
Hint: This picture was taken two years after one of the buildings in this picture was built.
When & Where 03

A root beer to you if you get the location depicted and the date. Bonus if you know the nickname of a certain feature within this picture. Feel free to discuss as much as you want on the thread about it without directly revealing the answer (which will be published at or after 6pm tonight). Hey, I’m still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, so bear with me >;)

Answers, challenge submissions and suggestions can be sent to cixposse@gmail.com. As usual, do not use the photo credit link in researching your answer. Have fun!

{photo credit: Shorpy Historical Photo Archive}

Cruel Shoes

Here’s Red Smith on Mickey Mantle’s first day in the big leagues:

East Beats West Again

One-run games haven’t been kind to the Yankees. So, when they failed to add an insurance run with two on and no outs in the bottom of the eighth, Joe Girardi may have developed a lump in his throat. Then, when an Eric Chavez throwing error, which was actually a missed call by the first base umpire, prolonged the game with two outs in the top of the ninth, the Yankees’ skipper probably swallowed hard once again. Instead of being bad omens, however, these unfortunate late game developments only delayed what turned out to be the Bronx Bombers’ eighth straight home victory against the Texas Rangers. Considering the almost two hours spent waiting for the rain to stop, it was a small price to pay.

The Yankees 3-2 victory not only pushed the team’s record in one-run games to 15-17, but also marked their second consecutive victory when scoring three or fewer runs. Before the series, the Yankees had the second lowest winning percentage in the A.L. when scoring three or fewer, while the Rangers had the best mark when allowing no more than that many, so maybe the team’s luck in low scoring games is starting to change? Or, maybe the Yankees are just getting outstanding starting pitching?

Following the lead of David Phelps and Hiroki Kuroda, Freddy Garcia kept the Rangers off the board until the fourth inning, extending a string of 19 consecutive innings in which Texas failed to score. However, that came to an immediate halt when Josh Hamilton hit a laser shot into the right field second deck. Ironically, it was the first regular season Yankee Stadium home run ever hit by the Rangers’ center fielder, whose home run derby performance in the Bronx remains legend. And, Hamilton must have enjoyed the trip around the bases because in the sixth inning he followed it up a 450-foot blast deep into the bleachers.

Hamilton’s two solo homers chipped away at the Yankees’ 3-0 advantage, which was built in the bottom of the third inning. For the third straight game, Nick Swisher gave the Yankees their first lead of the game, but instead of a home run, the first baseman dunked a double down the left field line that scored Jayson Nix. A sacrifice fly by Curtis Granderson and two-out RBI single by the white hot Eric Chavez, who went 3 for 3, capped the scoring in the inning and, as it turned out, the game.

Aside from the long balls, Garcia allowed only two other hits in 6 2/3 innings before giving way to the trio of Boone Logan, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano, who collectively retired all but one of the hitters (the aforementioned error/bad call) they faced. As a staff, the Yankees have only allowed four runs in three games to a team that entered the series averaging five, so, needless to say, the starters and bullpen have both been equal to the challenge presented by the reigning American League champs.

Will the struggling Ivan Nova be able to take the baton in tomorrow’s matinee? Either way, the Bronx Bombers have made an early statement and, perhaps, reasserted themselves as the team to beat in the American League.

July 17, 1941: Streak Over

This was finally the night when Joe DiMaggio’s streak would end. The Yankees topped the Indians 4-3, but all eyes were on DiMaggio, as usual. Luck is a huge part of baseball, perhaps larger than any other sport, so it’s no surprise that Joe D. benefitted from more than a few lucky breaks throughout the streak. What’s interesting about DiMaggio’s four at bats on this night is how easily he could’ve extended the streak had he just gotten the slightest bit lucky.

The villains in what could’ve been Game 57, Al Smith, Jim Bagby, and Ken Keltner, have all become famous for their part in DiMaggio’s demise, but other powers seemed to be at play here. In DiMaggio’s first at bat, he smashed a hard hopper down the line towards third. Cleveland third baseman Keltner was playing incredibly deep. DiMaggio remembers that he was actually on the outfield grass. He knew DiMaggio would never bunt (in fact, DiMaggio never bunted during the streak), and he had one of the stronger throwing arms in the league, allowing him to play deeper than most third baseman. As the ball bounded down the line, ticketed for the leftfield corner and a certain double, Keltner somehow was able to backhand the ball behind the bag. His momentum carried him into foul territory, but he turned quickly and unleashed a bullet to first base, denying DiMaggio. (Below that’s DiMaggio and Keltner clowning for the cameras years later.)

Cleveland starter Al Smith then walked DiMaggio in his next at bat, much to the dismay of the Cleveland crowd, which was approaching 70,000. In his third at bat DiMaggio again tested Keltner with another two-hop smash down the line, and the result was the same. Keltner was able to glove the ball and fire to first, getting DiMaggio by a step. In what would be his final plate appearance of the streak, DiMaggio came up in the top of the eighth inning and promptly smashed a grounder to shortstop Lou Boudreau. The ball took a wicked hop, and if luck had been with DiMaggio that night the ball might’ve bounded into left field for a single. Instead, Boudreau fielded the ball easily and started a 6-4-3 double play. The streak was over.

Or was it? Down 4-1, Cleveland mounted a ninth-inning rally to bring the score to 4-3. If they could tie the score and send the game into extra innings, DiMaggio would have another shot, as he was scheduled to hit in the top of the tenth inning. That tying run stood at third base in the person of Larry Rosenthal. There were no outs, so extra innings seemed an almost certainty. Unfortunately for our hero, the Indians weren’t able to cash in that run, and DiMaggio never got that extra at bat. The streak really was over.

The Yankees would continue their hot pace in the games to come, and they would eventually win the pennant easily, leaving Cleveland far out of first place. And what of DiMaggio? Failing to hit in Game 57 apparently cost him a $10,000 deal to endorse Heinz 57, but DiMaggio promptly started another streak the next game. This second streak lasted seventeen games, which means that had DiMaggio managed a hit on the fateful night in Cleveland, he might have put together an seventy-four game streak. With his base on balls in this game, DiMaggio did reach base in seventy-four straight, the second-longest such streak in history, trailing only the 84-game string put together by Ted Williams in 1949.

The 1941 campaign, of course, is memorable not only for DiMaggio’s streak, which lasted a bit more than a third of the season, but also for Williams’s season-long feat of hitting .406, the last time a hitter has topped the .400 barrier. From a numbers point of view, the Splendid Splinter’s .406 is generally felt to be more impressive than the Clipper’s fifty-six, but it wasn’t seen that way at the time. The need for DiMaggio to get a hit in each game captivated the nation in a way that Williams could not, and the simplicity of the Streak surely played a role as well. You didn’t need a calculator to track DiMaggio; either he got a hit or he didn’t.

Also, no one had seen a streak like DiMaggio’s, but older fans certainly remembered other players hitting .400. Even though it had been eleven years since Bill Terry hit .401 in 1930, the barrier had been breeched five other times in the decade before that. People probably felt like DiMaggio’s streak would never be touched, but they never would’ve guessed that seventy-one years later we still wouldn’t have seen another .400 hitter.

Williams finished second to DiMaggio in the MVP voting that year. Even though Williams often spoke about wishing he could hit like DiMaggio, that clearly wasn’t the problem. He was a far better hitter than his Yankee counterpart — in fact, better than any hitter in history aside from Babe Ruth. What Williams needed was some love.

Consider this. Williams hit .406 in 1941, and won the Triple Crown in 1942 and 1947, but finished second in the MVP balloting all three years. DiMaggio’s win in ’41 can be excused because of the Streak, but the other two years are indefensible.

MVP Runner-Up
1941 DiMaggio (.357/30/125) Williams (.406/37/120)
1942 Joe Gordon (.322/18/103) Williams (.356/36/137)
1947 DiMaggio (.315/20/97) Williams (.343/32/114)

But this is about Joe DiMaggio and his transcendent hitting streak. Certainly he was one of the two or three best players of his era and one of greatest players in baseball history, but the Streak elevates him. Though some have dismissed it as a quirky accomplishment that’s more about defying probability than hitting curve balls, it permanently positioned DiMaggio on center stage. Statistically he wasn’t as good as Mickey Mantle, and not even in the same conversation as Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, but thanks to these two months in the spring and summer of 1941, he sits alongside them in baseball lore.

July 16, 1941: Game 56

In time, of course, this fifty-sixth game would become known as the final game of Joe DiMaggio’s record hitting streak, but at the time it was just another game in a string that might go on forever. Newspapers and radio stations still carried news bulletins on DiMaggio’s at bats, but there was no longer a record to shoot for; the only question was how long he could continue the streak. On this day, the answer was the same as it had been for the previous fifty-five games: one more day.

As the Yankees were hammering Cleveland 10-3 and pushing the Indians five games back of first place, DiMaggio collected the final three hits of his streak. He singled to center in the first inning, reached again on a blooper that fell in front of the center fielder in the third, and stroked a hard double to left in his final at bat of the day.

In an interview after the game, DiMaggio spoke of how the pressure had changed. While chasing Keeler’s record he had felt the importance of each at bat, knowing that any missed opportunity might spell the end of the streak. At this point, however, he still felt pressure to get a hit, but not with every at bat. DiMaggio also had two goals that kept him focused this deep into the streak. First, he spoke of wanting to match the sixty-one game streak he authored while playing for the minor league San Francisco Seals, and second, he wanted to catch Ted Williams for the league batting title. His 3 for 4 afternoon pushed his season average up to .375, twenty points short of Williams at .395.

July 15, 1941: Game 55

The Yankees bounced back against the Sox, winning 5-4 while DiMaggio collected two more hits to reach fifty-five straight. He reached on an error in the first, then shot a ground ball over second base for a single in the third. He would double later in the game as well.

July 14, 1941: Game 54

The Yankees lost for the first time in two weeks,7-1 to the White Sox, but DiMaggio kept his streak alive for another day, banging out an infield single in the sixth. There would be drama in the coming days, but for now this was just another game in the string.

July 13, 1941: Games 52 & 53

The Yankees swept a doubleheader from the Chicago White Sox, stretching their winning streak to fourteen in a row, and DiMaggio kept his streak going as well. In the opener, DiMaggio collected a dubious hit when his grounder to short was bobbled by Luke Appling. The official scoring of the play was questionable, but when DiMaggio came to bat in the fourth, he lined a clean single into center field, ending any potential controversy before it could get started. Both hits came at the expense of White Sox starter Ted Lyons, who became the second pitcher to claim the distinction of having surrended a homerun to Babe Ruth during his historic sixty-homer season in 1927 and giving up a hit to DiMaggio during his streak. The first was Hall of Famer Lefty Grove. After winning that opener 8-1, DiMaggio only managed a single in the second game, an eleven-inning 1-0 Yankee victory, but the streak would live for another day.

July 12, 1941: Game 51

Another day, another win for the Yanks over the Browns. This time, it was a 7-5 win, the team’s twelfth in a row. It took DiMaggio until the fourth inning to get his hit, a solid double to center field. He would add a single later on. The Indians were busy losing to the A’s, so the Yankee lead was now a healthy five games.

[Featured Image via The Pintar Rag]

July 11, 1941: Game 50

At this point, it must have seemed like DiMaggio’s streak would keep going forever. Forever comes just one day at a time, and on this day DiMaggio kept the streak going. The Yankees opened up a four-game lead as they beat the Browns, 6-2, for their eleventh straight win. Once again, DiMaggio singled in the first inning to reach fifty in a row, but he was far from done. He would single twice more and then finish his day by smashing his league-leading twentieth home run in the ninth inning. He was 4 for 5 on the day, which brought his average up to .365, still far short of Ted Williams. The Boston slugger had been slumping of late, and his average had dipped all the way down to .398. As history tells us, he’d recover.

July 10, 1941: Game 49

Following the all-star break, the Yankees travelled to St. Louis for a matchup with the lowly Browns. For the fourth game in a row, DiMaggio secured his needed hit in the first inning, this time singling on a grounder to the hole at shortstop for one of just three Yankee hits on the day. It was lucky for him that he was able to take care of business so early, as the game was called for rain after just five innings, giving the Yankees a 1-0 victory.

July 8, 1941: The All-Star Game

All-Star game statistics obviously have no bearing on regular season totals or records, so DiMaggio’s at bats would certainly have no effect on his hitting streak one way or the other, but there was still pressure. There was a feeling amongst fans and reporters that if DiMaggio didn’t get a hit in the All-Star Game, the streak would somehow be tainted. No one knew how long it might extend beyond the All-Star game, but if DiMaggio were to go hitless against the National Leaguers, there would be an asterisk applied, if not in the record books, certainly in the minds of many.

DiMaggio popped up to third for the final out of the first inning, flied out to center with a runner on second in the fourth, then walked and scored in the sixth. The way the game is played and managed today, he would’ve been showered, dressed, and back at the hotel by mid way through the game, but instead DiMaggio came to the plate in the eighth and rocked a double, eliminating the need for any mental asterisks. His brother Dom singled him home to cut the National League lead to 5-3, setting up the drama of the bottom of the ninth.

With one out in the final frame, Cleveland’s Ken Keltner singled with one out, then advanced to second on a Joe Gordon single. After Washington’s Cecil Travis walked, the stage was set for DiMaggio. He walked to the plate as the unquestioned star of stars, the most famous athlete in America in the middle of a streak that had captured the attention of the entire nation. And now, with his American League squad trailing by two, DiMaggio came to bat with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. America’s Hero would be the hero. It almost seemed scripted.

Not quite. DiMaggio hit a ground ball to shortstop, and suddenly the game appeared to be over. The Boston Braves’ Eddie Miller fielded the ball cleanly at short and flipped to Chicago’s Herman Franks at second for the first out. Franks’s relay to first, however, was wide. DiMaggio was safe, Keltner scored, and Boston’s Ted Williams came up.

Williams, of course, was even hotter than DiMaggio, so maybe the outcome shouldn’t be so surprising. Williams found a fastball that he liked from Chicago’s Claude Passeau and roped it into the upper deck in right field for the game-winning three-run homer. The normally placid Williams literally skipped his way around the bases in celebration. American League 7, National League 5.

July 6, 1941: Games 47 & 48

The Yankees had planned a huge doubleheader on July 4th and were set to honor the recently deceased Lou Gehrig by unveiling a monument in center field on the two-year anniversary of Lou Gehrig Day, but rain had pushed the celebration to the sixth. With more than 60,000 on hand to pay their respects to the fallen Yankee captain, DiMaggio and the Yanks rose to the occasion. The Yankees beat the A’s 8-4 in the opener before closing out the twin bill with a 3-1 victory in the night cap for their ninth win a row; they now led the league by a comfortable three and a half games. DiMaggio, meanwhile, had a big day. He had three singles and a double in the first game and added another double and a triple in the second game. His 6 for 9 day pushed his average to a robust .357 for the season, but he still trailed Ted Williams (.405) by a considerable margin.

July 5, 1941: Game 46

Now that DiMaggio had eclipsed all existing records, his streak began to be viewed differently. Instead of debating whether or not he could catch Sisler or Keeler, baseball fans were now watching him intently, wondering how long the streak would last. It would last at least another day. The Philadelphia A’s were in New York for the start of a three-game series, and the Yankees took the opener easily by a 10-5 score. DiMaggio homered in the first inning (one of five Yankee home runs on the day) to extend his streak, but it would be his only hit of the afternoon. Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em.

July 2, 1941: Game 45

The Yankees beat the Red Sox 8-4 for their sixth straight win, increasing their American Leauge lead to three games over Cleveland. With DiMaggio having already tied Keeler’s mark, the crowd was much smaller, but those 8,662 in the Stadium that day watched as he took the record and stood alone at forty-five games in a row. DiMaggio’s lone hit was a screaming liner that rocketed over Ted Williams’s head and found the left field seats for his eighteenth home run of the season. After the game, a young Williams admitted admiration for DiMaggio. “I really wish I could hit like that guy Joe DiMaggio. I’m being honest.” Williams could hit pretty well himself. He was hitting .401 at the time.

[Drawing by Margie Lawrence]

July 1, 1941: Games 43 & 44

More than 50,000 fans packed Yankee Stadium to watch DiMaggio as he took aim at the all-time hitting streak record. Wee Willie Keeler had hit in forty-four straight games in 1897. The crowd was anticipating a record, and they were also no doubt excited to watch the Yanks battle Ted Williams and the Red Sox. In the opening game, DiMaggio came up empty in his first two at bats, fouling out to first in the first inning and grounding out to third in the third. In the fifth, he hit another grounder to third, but third baseman Jim Tabor bobbled it momentarily before firing wildly to first, allowing DiMaggio to reach second.

The official scorer gave him a hit, although many disputed the call. The crowd, incidentally, was left in the dark, as the scoreboard at that time did not flash the H or E that modern fans are accustomed to seeing. Most people in the park didn’t know whether or not the streak had been extended. With his next at bat, however, DiMaggio erased all doubt with a clean line drive into left field. The crowd erupted with an ovation that lasted a full five minutes. The Yankees won the game, 7-2, but for the first time in nearly a month they didn’t hit any balls over the wall. Their record of hitting home runs in twenty-five straight games still stands today. (I think it’s been tied recently, if I remember correctly; it’s a difficult record to track down.)

It should also be noted that there were two DiMaggios playing center field on this day; Joe’s younger brother Dom was in the other dugout with the Red Sox, and he hit his fourth home run of the season in the opener of the double header.

DiMaggio took care of business much earlier in the second game. He lined a single over shortstop for a single in the first inning to tie Keeler’s record. The Yankees won easily in an abbreviated five-inning game, 9-2, and stretched their lead in the American League to 2 1/2 games over the Cleveland Indians.

June 29, 1941: Games 41 & 42

The Yankees arrived in the nation’s capital to play a doubleheader against the Washington Senators, and 31,000 fans showed up to watch DiMaggio’s attempt to tie and pass George Sisler’s record. Pitching for the Senators in the opening game was knuckleballer Dutch Leonard, probably the last type of pitcher a hitter on a hot streak wanted to face. DiMaggio had trouble in his first two at bats, lining out to center in the second and popping up to third in the fourth. In the sixth inning, Leonard made the mistake of trying to sneak a fastball past our hero, and DiMaggio roped a double to left center, tying the record at forty-one straight. In the ninth inning, Tommy Henrich knocked a two-run blast into the seats, capping the scoring in the 9-4 Yankee victory and stretching the team’s homer streak to twenty-four games in a row.

But back to DiMaggio. As he prepared for his opportunity to pass Sisler in the second game, he discovered that his bat had been stolen. In these days before star players had boxes of signature bats at their disposal, DiMaggio suddenly found himself without a sword to enter the afternoon’s battle. Some weeks earlier, however, Tommy Henrich had borrowed a bat from DiMaggio, looking to change his luck. It had certainly worked for Henrich, and now, in this desparate hour, he offered it back to DiMaggio.

With his new old bat in hand, DiMaggio looked uneasily towards the second game. He usually prepared his bats by sanding the handles to the desired thickness, but there was no time for that now. Also, in what was typical of ballplayers then and now, he was quite superstitious, and didn’t like the idea of changing anything in the middle of the streak, especially not his bat, but there was no choice.

For much of the game, it looked as if the bat thief had saved Sisler’s spot in the record book. DiMaggio flew out to right in the first inning, lined out to short in the third, then flied out to center in the fifth. As he came to bat in the seventh inning, it was possibly his last shot at the record. With the crowd buzzing, he lined a 1-0 fastball into left field for a clean single. The Washington crowd, unconcerned about their team’s 7-5 loss to the Yanks, roared in appreciation of DiMaggio’s feat — forty-two straight games. DiMaggio’s response? “Sure, I’m tickled. It’s the most excitement I guess I’ve known since I came into the majors.”

Joe Gordon’s second inning home run pushed that streak to twenty-five straight, and helped the Yankees move a game and a half ahead of second place Cleveland.

June 28, 1941: Game 40

The Yankees rebounded from the previous day’s loss by beating the A’s 7-4. In addition to the win, which put the Bombers back into first place, both streaks were also extended. Charlie Keller’s seventh-inning homerun marked the twenty-third straight game the Yankees had homered.

The pressure on DiMaggio, who entered the game just two games shy of George Sisler’s modern-day record (by now Wee Willie Keeler’s 1897 streak of 44 straight had been re-discovered), was increasing daily. Most pitchers who faced DiMaggio during the streak took the match-up as a challenge, and tried desparately to get him out with their best stuff, but Philadelphia’s starting pitcher, Johnny Babich, approached this game with a different game plan. He had made no secret of his intention to give DiMaggio nothing to hit, no matter what the count or game situation.

True to his word, Babich pitched himself into a 3-0 hole with DiMaggio at the plate in the fourth inning. He then delivered what should’ve been ball four, a pitch several inches off the plate. Instead of accepting his walk, however, DiMaggio reached out and slashed a crotch-high line drive that narrowly missed Babich and then somehow sliced into the gap in right center for a double. The nation now looked forward to the next day’s action, when DiMaggio would have an opportunity to match and pass Sisler’s record in a doubleheader in Washington against the Senators.

[Photo Credit: Alfred Eisenstaedt]

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver