During the 1941 baseball season, the New York Yankees won the 1941 pennant by 17 games over Boston, but the pennant race was overshadowed by the personal heroics of two superstars. New York's American League MVP Joe DiMaggio put together a record 56-game hitting streak, and Boston's Ted Williams batted .406.
In the summer of 1941,
Joe DiMaggio hit safely in
a record 56 consecutive
DiMaggio, who had shown a predilection for hitting streaks since his minor league days, started his 1941 streak with a hit against the White Sox on May 15. This was ironic because DiMaggio struggled against Chicago pitching throughout the season. Twice he prolonged the streak with bad-hop singles off Sox shortstop Luke Appling, and once with an infield dribbler in front of Sox third baseman Bob Kennedy.
DiMaggio faced White Sox righty Johnny Rigney four times during the streak and
went 1-for-3, 1-for-5, 1-for-4, and 1-for-3. DiMaggio hit half of his 30 homers and
drove in 55 runs during the streak to lift the Yankees out of a team slump and into the driver's seat in the 1941 race. On July 2, a DiMaggio homer broke Wee Willie Keeler's 44-year-old major league hitting-streak record of 44. And on July 17, his streak was ended at 56 by two terrific back-handed stops by Indians third baseman Ken Keltner.
DiMaggio finished the season third in the American League in batting at .357, first in RBI with 125, second in doubles with 43, and fourth in home runs. But his season was dwarfed -- statistically, at least -- by that of Williams, who led him in runs 135 to 122, homers 37 to 30, on-base average .551 to .440, and slugging average .735 to .643. Williams also batted .406, the highest batting average in either league since Rogers Hornsby's .424 in 1924.
To put Williams's feat in perspective, consider that DiMaggio hit .409 during his hitting streak -- just three points higher than Williams's season mark. At one point in June, Williams was hitting .436 but then began to fade. On the final day of the season, he found himself at .3995 -- technically .400 by baseball scoring rules. Nevertheless, Williams refused to play it safe and played both ends of a doubleheader. He went 6-for-8.
In another historical moment, 41-year-old Red Sox pitcher Lefty Grove won his 300th game and promptly retired with a 300-141 lifetime record. Grove had a 3.06 career ERA compiled exclusively in hitters' parks and in a hitter's era. He won an unapproachable nine ERA titles and led the league in strikeouts seven times in a row.
In the National League, Brooklyn won by 2-1/2 games over St. Louis in a tight race that was decided by the Dodgers' two hitting heroes. MVP Dolph Camilli led the league with 34 homers and 120 RBI, and rookie Pete Reiser hit a National League-high .343, scored 117 runs, and cracked 39 doubles. Dodgers Whitlow Wyatt and Kirby Higbe tied for the National League lead in wins with 22, and Wyatt was second in ERA to the Reds' Elmer Riddle at 2.34.
The 1941 Dodgers-Yankees World Series looked like it was headed for at least six games. New York was leading two games to one, and Brooklyn's Hugh Casey took a 4-3 lead into the ninth inning of game four. With two outs and nobody on, he struck out Tommy Henrich, seemingly ending the game. However, Owen let the ball get by him, and Henrich reached first safely.
The Dodgers had cracked the door open and the Yankees proceeded to kick it in. DiMaggio singled, Charlie Keller doubled, Bill Dickey walked, and Joe Gordon doubled to win the game 7-4. The next day, the Yankees clinched the Series 3-1 on Tiny Bonham's four-hitter.
Check out the next page for some of the headlines from the 1941 baseball season.
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