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 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.
utive
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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July 15th in baseball history: Bench takes catcher homerun lead

A Bench mark

CINCINNATI, OHIO | JULY 15, 1980Cincinnati Reds' catcher Johnny Bench hit his 314th home run as a catcher on this date in 1980, passing Yogi Berra for the most home runs by a backstop. Bench hit a two-run homer in the 5th inning, one batter after George Foster hit a three-run homer for the Reds as they beat the Montreal Expos 11-7.

Carlton Fisk of the Chicago White Sox broke Bench's record for the most home runs by a catcher in 1990. Mike Piazza broke Fisk's record in 2004.

Here are the career home run leaders by position (they don't necessarily match the player's career home runs because some were hit while playing other positions):

1B Mark McGuire (566)
2B Jeff Kent (351)
3B Mike Schmidt (509)
SS Cal Ripken, Jr. (345)
C   Mike Piazza (396)
OF Barry Bonds (748)
OF Babe Ruth (686)
OF Willie Mays (640*)
P   Wes Farrell (37)
DH David Ortiz (333-still active)


Surprising as it is, Henry Aaron, the home run king until 2007 is not one of the outfield leaders because he hit a lot of his home runs playing 2nd and 3rd early in his career, and 1st base late in his career.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:

Baseball Almanac

*Mays' home runs as an outfielder is an estimate. Baseball-Almanac only lists the top two career home runs by outfielders. A review of the statistics indicates Mays was third because he hit 660 career home runs. About 20 were hit while he was playing positions other than outfield.

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July 11th in baseball history: Ruth's first game

The Babe's debut

Babe RuthBOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS | JULY 11, 1914 - A 19-year old kid by the name of George Herman Ruth made his major league debut on this date in 1914. Babe Ruth was the starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox against the Cleveland Naps (current Indians). He won the game 4-3.

The Red Sox purchased the Babe from the Baltimore Orioles of the International League two days before.

Ruth didn't astonish the fans that first season. He made 4 appearances as a pitcher, three as a starter, finishing with a record of 2-1 and ERA of 5.67. He came to bat ten times, had two hits for a .200 batting average, 2 RBI, 1 run scored and struck out 4 times.

It didn't take long for Ruth to show star quality, though. He won 78 games as a pitcher the next four seasons. His hitting was even more impressive, forcing the Red Sox to put him in the outfield just about every game in 1919 and Ruth didn't disappoint, hitting 29 home runs and driving in 114 runs in 130 games.

Unfortunately for Red Sox fans, its owner needed money to finance a Broadway play. Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees after the 1919 season. And the rest is history.

Babe Ruth Stats 

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July 8th in baseball history: an unassisted triple play

Don't blink, you'll miss it

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS | JULY 8, 1994 - One of the most spectacular, and rare, events in baseball occurs so quickly that if you're not paying attention you'll miss it - the unassisted triple play. Boston Red Sox shortstop John Valentin turned one on this date in 1994. It was just the 10th unassisted triple in major league baseball history (there have since been 5 more).

Here's how it happened... in the top of the sixth inning at Fenway Park, Seattle Mariner Mike Blowers singles. Keith Mitchell walks. It looks like the start of a big inning for the Mariners. Mark Newfield is at bat. Red Sox pitcher Dave Fleming fires, the runners go. Newfield hits a line shot right to shortstop Valentin, who steps on second to double off Blowers who was almost to third, and tags Mitchell who's almost at second.

Three outs, just like that with the ball never leaving Valentin's hands. Guess who leads off the bottom of the 6th, hero John Valentin. He homers, and the Red Sox come from behind to win 4-3.

Unassisted triple plays almost always unfold the same way; all fifteen started with runners on first and second, and the batter hitting a line drive with the runners going.

  • Eight were hit to the shortstop
  • Five were hit to the second baseman
  • Two were hit to the first baseman

When it's hit to the shortstop or 2nd baseman he usually grabs the line drive, steps on second and tags the runner coming from first. Once, the 2nd baseman first tagged the runner coming from 1st before stepping on second.

When it's hit to the first baseman - they're probably playing well off the line - they tag the runner leaving first, then step on second.

Twice triple plays ended games.

If you want to see an unassisted triple play, wait for there to be runners on first and second, no outs and if the batter hits a line drive, don't blink.

CONTRIBUTING SOURCES:
July 8, 1994 box score/play-by-play
Unassisted triple plays

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July 4th in baseball history: The "Luckiest man" says goodbye

The Luckiest Man

NEW YORK, NEW YORK
- A tired, frail, shadow of his former self told 61,808 people in Yankee stadium on the Fourth of July in 1939, "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." Always humble, Lou Gehrig was known as ‘The Iron Horse,' but he was getting weaker by the day and would be gone in less than two years.

The suddenness of Gehrig's decline was shocking. He went from playing every single game for 14 years to never playing again. When Gehrig took himself out of the lineup on May 2nd 1939 he never got back in. Gehrig had 29 home runs, 114 runs batted in and 115 runs scored in his last full season - 1938, not his best year, but still quite good. The only stat that appeared to show decline was batting average. He hit .295. He hadn't hit under .300 in twelve seasons and hit .351 in 1937, .354 the year before that.

Clearly, Gehrig had lost a step, but he was 35 years old, so not unexpected. Gehrig's decline was clear in spring training 1939. His power had faded. He was hitting just .143 with no extra base hits when he took himself out of the lineup after eight games of the regular season.

A few weeks after asking out of the lineup Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with a rare, crippling, fatal disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The sickness would become known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

  • When Babe Ruth set the single season home run record in 1927 with 60 home runs, Gehrig hit 47, more than anyone, other than Ruth, had ever hit up to that time.

Contributing sources:
Lou Gehrig web site
Baseball-Almanac (Gehrig)

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