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Sports Authority

Zuba: DiMaggio’s legacy lives on

| Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Joe DiMaggio’s 13 MLB seasons encompassed much more than a stretch of 56 games played in 1941, but 56 iconic games remain the most-talked-about of the Yankee Clipper’s career.

DiMaggio hit safely in every one of those 56, and that is a record that will never be broken.

Other “out-of-reach” baseball records have fallen, such as Babe Ruth’s career home run total. Career totals depend in large part upon a player’s longevity and ability to sustain production, so if the right iron man comes along, such records could fall again. If a player falls a bit off the pace of a career record, he can make it up in the next several games with a few extra strikeouts or hits or home runs, whatever the case may be.

There is no room for error for a player chasing the Clipper. With DiMaggio’s streak, one game ends the run at history. No one cares about anything less than the pinnacle. Only impossible 56 matters.

DiMaggio’s record depends on consistency. To match DiMaggio, a player would have to lock in and record a hit every game for about two months. His timing must be impeccable. He must outwit opposing pitchers on a daily basis. Bounces on the infield dirt must go his way.

Have just one off night, be fooled by a few pitches, and his streak is over.

At the highest level of baseball competition, hitless games are inescapable for even MLB’s best. Minor injuries interfere with players’ swings and timing. Players get thrown off psychologically or make bad adjustments.

So much can go wrong on any given day for a baseball player. DiMaggio avoided all such stumbling blocks for two months and 40 percent of the games he played in that season 73 years ago.

If a player even wants to think about DiMaggio’s record, he must be a complete hitter — able to hit for some power, leg out weaker hits and hit to pretty much anywhere to avoid falling victim to defensive shifts.

These hitters are rare, and even those who fall in this category haven’t been able to match DiMaggio.

Mike Trout is arguably becoming the most complete hitter in the league today. He hasn’t come anywhere close to DiMaggio’s streak in his young career, but history says the outlook for him — or anyone else — to break it in the future doesn’t look hopeful.

The lineup of hall-of-famers who have fallen short illustrates how untouchable DiMaggio’s streak has been.

Only five players other than DiMaggio have reached the 40 mark: Willie Keeler (45), Pete Rose (44), Bill Dahlen (42), George Sisler (41) and Ty Cobb (40). Keeler’s second-place mark leaves him 11 games — a week-and-a-half of elite baseball — shy of DiMaggio’s record. With the exception of Rose, these players accomplished their feats before DiMaggio.

Rose was one the most consistent hitters in MLB history. Over the course of his career, he hit .303 and became baseball’s all-time hits leader with 4,256 hits, but he couldn’t match DiMaggio’s stretch of unbelievable reliability. Rose needed two more weeks of near-flawless baseball to break DiMaggio’s record.

Several, including Paul Molitor with 39 in 1987, have reached the 30s, but many of those streaks fall in the low 30s, only about halfway to legendary 56.

Baseball laughs in the face of streaks. Baseball humbles its players every day as they strive for elusive production. Baseball lauds players for hitting 30 percent of the time, a low bar for success almost anywhere else.

In that environment, DiMaggio’s streak should have been unthinkable, impossible.

What DiMaggio accomplished was once-in-a-lifetime sustained genius. At the highest echelon of his sport, he succeeded every day for the longest stretch ever. That level of brilliance cannot be recreated.

The next time someone streaks to 30 or even 40, pay attention but don’t get too excited. DiMaggio’s record will never be topped.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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