Presented by Charter Communications: Liberal Bigotry; Fear and Bias; Joltin' Joe
Good morning, it’s Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Seventy-eight years ago today, Joe DiMaggio came back down to Earth -- in Cleveland, of all places. Unlike the astronauts I wrote about yesterday, the son of a San Francisco fisherman had never really left terra firma.
He’d defied the laws of nature another way, with a famous hitting streak that captured the American imagination. The incredible streak -- getting at least one hit in 56 straight games -- began on May 15, 1941, when Joltin’ Joe went one-for-four against the Chicago White Sox. As spring turned to summer, Americans looking for a distraction from the ominous news in Europe turned to the sports pages as DiMaggio kept collecting hits. Day after day after day.
I’ll have more on the streak -- and how it provided a snapshot of prewar America -- in a moment. First, I’d steer you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:
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The Left’s Broad, Bigoted Politics of Vilification. Steve Cortes responds to liberals’ criticism of him -- and other people of color -- for supporting the president.
Democracy at Risk: How to Overcome Fear, Bias and Modern Media. Robert M. Smith and Les Francis offer this prescription for the polarization that afflicts American society.
Online Freedom of Speech Threatened by Silicon Valley Elites. Kelly Sadler writes that conservative viewpoints are being muffled by Facebook, Google, Twitter and other social media giants.
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Congress Must Increase Transparency for Credit Unions. In RealClearMarkets, Thomas Aiello raises concerns about regulators turning a blind eye toward credit unions’ expansion outside of their narrowly defined banking role.
Costly Electric Vehicles Won't Save the Planet. In RealClearEnergy, Gerard Scimeca argues against car subsidies that mostly benefit the rich.
A Combat Pilot’s Perspective on F-15 vs. F-35. In RealClearDefense, Mark J. Ariolla asserts that there is no need to shelve the versatile fighter jet for the more costly newer model.
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In 1941, most Americans sensed that the United States would eventually get dragged into the horrific war enveloping the rest of the world. Millions of baseball fans figured they should go see their favorite baseball players while they still could. This instinct was right: By 1942, most of the gods of the diamond had traded their baseball uniforms for the military togs handed out at Uncle Sam’s boot camps.
And if you felt drawn to baseball, 1941 was a helluva year to be at the ballpark. Quite simply, wrote sportswriter Robert W. Creamer, it was “the best baseball season ever.” In the National League, the Brooklyn Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals waged a spirited pennant race all year long. In the American League, the Indians swept a July 4 double-header to pull within two games of the Yankees. That wouldn’t last: New York would pull away and win the pennant easily, with the Boston Red Sox a distant second. But what we remember, or what captivated Americans at the time, was the hitting streak. That summer, the most exhilarating competition was between frenemies Joe DiMaggio and Red Sox slugger Ted Williams. Could the Splendid Splinter attain the mythical mark of .400? Would the Yankee Clipper ever play another game without getting a hit?
DiMaggio broke George Sisler’s American League record of 41 consecutive games with a hit on June 29 at Washington’s Griffith Stadium. On July 2, “Wee” Willie Keeler’s major league record of 44 games fell. Now, even Americans who were not baseball fans were following the improbable progress of The Streak.
The news was everywhere. Even those who opted for music over baseball on their radios would hear popular band leader Les Brown’s hit tune “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio.”
It was good for attendance, too. On July 17, 1941, Cleveland’s cavernous Municipal Stadium was packed with 67,463 fans, the largest crowd of the year. Yes, the Indians and the Yanks were still in a pennant race then, but many fans were there to see whether DiMaggio could keep it going. The Streak stood at 56 games.
Always entrepreneurial, DiMaggio himself was hoping to get to 57. The suits at Heinz had promised him a $10,000 bonus if he could reach the number on their ketchup bottles. Indians’ star pitcher Bob Feller was quietly hoping for the same thing: He was pitching the following night and Rapid Robert wanted to stop DiMaggio himself.
The record book shows that the pitchers who did it were Indians’ starter Al Smith and reliever Jim Bagby Jr. The box score also shows that Smith induced DiMaggio to ground out to third in the first inning and again in the third, and that he then walked DiMaggio before Bagby induced an inning-ending double play from Joe in the 8th, the last time he would come to bat. It was finally over.
The player who really ended the streak, though, was slick-fielding Cleveland third baseman Ken Keltner. In those first two ground outs, he twice robbed DiMaggio of doubles with nifty back-handed stops, and then nailed the Yankee Clipper at first with strong throws. It had rained the night before, leaving Joe’s fans to wonder if the soggy footing had prevented him from beating out one of the balls hit to Keltner.
As was his style, DiMaggio showed no emotion as he trotted back to centerfield knowing it had come to an end. “I’m glad it’s over,” he told reporters after the game. “I’ve been under a strain.” But as baseball writer Kostya Kennedy noted in an excellent book on The Streak, DiMaggio later told friends that when he lost the streak it was like losing his best friend.
Years later, long after Keltner and DiMaggio had both hung up their spikes for good, they ran into each other at a charity event. DiMaggio signed a ball for his nemesis: “To the culprit,” he wrote.
But another culprit was DiMaggio’s fierce pride. Often overlooked when Keltner’s defense is described is where he was positioned that night. The first two times DiMaggio came to bat the Cleveland third baseman stationed himself at the edge of the outfield grass. “Joe could have dropped down a bunt and made it to first base at a trot,” Kennedy noted.
But that wasn’t something the proud DiMaggio would deign to do.
“Is DiMaggio a good bunter?” Yankees skipper Joe McCarthy was once asked.
“We’ll never know,” he replied.
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics