July 17th in baseball history: Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak ends at 56

56 it is

CLEVELAND, OHIO | JULY 17, 1941 - The Cleveland Indians put an end to Joe DiMaggio's consecutive games hitting streak on this date in 1941, making 56 an iconic number in the world of sports. Joltin Joe got at least one hit in 56 straight games.

The streak captivated the nation for weeks, and drew a record-breaking 67,468 fans to Cleveland Municipal Stadium on a Thursday night to watch the New York Yankee slugger try to extend his streak.

It was stopped at the hands of two relatively unknown Cleveland pitchers, left-hander Al Smith and right-hander Jim Bagby, and all-star third baseman Ken Keltner who made two dazzling plays to rob DiMaggio of hits. Had Keltner not made those plays we could very well be talking about a 73 game hitting streak. After going hitless on July 17th, DiMaggio went on hitting in 16 more consecutive games.

The streak started quietly in Chicago on May 15th. Interest intensified as "Joltin Joe" reached 30 consecutive games and grew into an obsession for many fans when he passed Wee Willie Keeler's 44 games hit streak on July 2nd and just kept on going. Remarkably, DiMaggio didn't just break Keeler's record he smashed it by 12 games.

How remarkable is DiMaggio's record? To this day no one has surpassed Wee Willie Keeler's mark of 44 consecutive games... except DiMaggio.
Consecutive game hit leaders:
Joe DiMaggio 56
Wee Willie Keeler 44
Pete Rose 44
Bill Dahlen 42
George Sisler 41
Ty Cobb 40
Paul Molitor 39
Jimmy Rollins 38
Tommy Holmes 37
Fred Clarke 35
Luis Castillo 35
Chase Utley 35

Contributing sources:
The Associated Press, July 18, 1941

Consecutive games with at least one hit

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June 25th in baseball history: Bonds' dramatic MLB debut

In with a Bang 

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA | JUNE 25, 1968 - San Francisco Giants rookie Bobby Bonds hit a grand slam home run in his first major league game on this date in 1968. At the time, he was just the second major leaguer to debut with a slam. William Duggelby of the Philadelphia Nationals did it in 1898. Duggelby did it in first at bat! Bobby Bonds hit his four-bagger in his third at bat against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Yes, Bobby Bonds was Barry Bonds' father. Barry's stats outshine his father's, but Bobby was no slouch himself. He was a 5-tool player - run, catch, throw, hit and hit for power. Five times he hit 30 home runs and stole 30 bases. Five times he had 90 or more RBI. His best all-around year was probably 1970 when he hit .302, 26 home runs, 78 runs batted in, which is not phenomenal, but he also had 134 runs scored and a .375 on base percentage.

Despite some excellent numbers, Bobby just didn't seem to quite meet expectations - which were high. His longest stint was with the same team his son finished his career with - the Giants, but he bounced around; having also spent time with the Yankees, Angels, White Sox, Rangers, Cardinals, Indians and Cubs.

Since 1968, four more players have hit grand slams in their first major league games. Jeremy Hermida did it for the Florida Marlins in his first at bat in 2005. Even more remarkably Kevin Kouzmanoff did it for the Cleveland Indians on the first pitch he saw in September 2006 (Hear it), Daniel Nava did the same for the Boston Red Sox on his first major league pitch June 12, 2010, and Brandon Crawford hit a slam in his first game, 3rd at bat, for the Giants May 27, 2011. 

Grand slam, Baseball-Reference   
Grand slam in first MLB game

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June 24th in baseball history: Hero's welcome for traded Brewer

'Stormin' Gorman Returns

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN | JUNE 24, 1983 - More than 46,000 fans squeezed into Milwaukee County Stadium on this date in 1983, most of them there to see the other team's centerfielder. In an outpouring of affection rarely shown pampered, high-salaried pro athletes - especially from the opposing team - Milwaukee Brewers' fans showed their appreciation for one of their most beloved players, Gorman Thomas. He had been traded to the Cleveland Indians 18 days earlier. Fans were furious that he was no longer a Brewer.

Early in his career fans were often furious that Thomas was a Brewer. He had a low batting average and struck out a lot. During the 5-season span from 1974 - '78, Thomas was up and down from the big team to the minors, spending the entire '77 season at Spokane. His break out year was 1978 when he hit 32 home runs and drove in 86 runs. During the 5 seasons from ‘78 to ‘82, Thomas averaged 35 home runs and 98 runs batted in, and was a key part of the Brewers' 1982, and only, World Series team. Thomas also turned out to be an excellent centerfielder.

It was as much Thomas' persona and early failures as his slugging that endeared him to Brewer fans. He was the epitome of Milwaukee - a tough looking, but easy-going, lunch pail carrying, mutton chopped throwback who could have been any one of thousands of working stiffs in this blue collar town if he wasn't a major league baseball player.

Thomas was as devastated by the 1983 trade from the Brewers as the fans were infuriated. It brought him to tears, but he got a chance to finish his career as a Brewer in 1986. ‘Stormin' Gorman Thomas was inducted into the Brewer Walk of Fame in 2004.

The Milwaukee Journal, June 25, 1983, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The Baseball Cube: Gorman Thomas

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June 02, 1941: Gehrig's battle ends

The Iron Horse surrenders

RIVERDALE, NEW YORK | JUNE 2, 1941 - Lou Gehrig died on this date in 1941. It seemed like only yesterday that the Iron Horse first baseman for the New York Yankees began his streak. In fact, it was yesterday, 16 years earlier, that the 21-year old Gehrig was told to grab a bat and pinch hit for shortstop Paul Wanninger.

Gehrig would play in every game from that date in 1925 until 1939 when a mysterious illness forced him out of the lineup and killed him two years later. It's sadly ironic that the anniversary of Lou Gehrig's death is the day after the anniversary
of him beginning his record-breaking string of consecutive games played.

Gehrig died of a rare disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In a matter of months, this solid, rock of a man became a helpless weakling who had difficulty walking. Gehrig finally took himself out of the lineup on May 2nd, 1939. Who knows how long the streak would have been had his strength, agility and drive not been zapped by what's become known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease."

At the time, and for more than a half century after, Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak was thought to be unreachable. It was broken by Cal Ripken of the Baltimore Orioles in 1995.

The New York Times, Riverdale, NY, June 3, 1941
For more information on ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease)

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March 18th in baseball history: 1st franchise move in 50 years

Braves' move signals major shift

CansecoST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA | MARCH 18, 1953 - The Boston Braves got official permission from the other MLB owners on this date in 1953 to relocate to Milwaukee. It was the first franchise move in major league baseball since 1903 when the Baltimore Orioles moved to New York City to eventually become the Yankees. It opened the flood gates.

Expansion and relocation were in the air. As Braves owner Lou Pernini put it, "The country has changed in the last 75 years. You can't deny Los Angeles and San Francisco are major league in every respect, and so are Montreal, Baltimore and some other cities."

The next season the St. Louis Browns packed up and moved to Baltimore to become a reincarnation of the Orioles. By 1958 the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants had moved to Los Angeles and San Francisco respectively. The Milwaukee Braves moved again in 1966 to Atanta, where they remain. Montreal and several other cities, such as Seattle, Anaheim and San Diego eventually got new teams. By 1972 there were 30 major league teams in two leagues, more than double the number the two leagues started with.

Pernini also thought back in 1953, "A third major league is the only answer for the future." That has not come about. In fact, in 2001 there was discussion among the owners about contraction - eliminating teams. That has not occurred either.

Contributing sources:
The Associated Press, St. Petersburg, FL, March 19, 1953, by Jack Hand
MLB team histories 

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