Ever since Ted Williams hit .406 and Joe DiMaggio set a 56 game hitting streak, fans discuss what is the biggest accomplishment. Is it the .406 BA of the Splendid Splinter or is it the 56 game hitting streak of Joltin’ Joe? Here is my take on it.
In that magical season of 1941, both players were in the race for becoming the MVP of the American League. Joe DiMaggio rode a 56 game hitting streak from May 15 to July 17 in which he batted .408. Ted Williams hit even better in that time span: .412.
Williams ended the season with a .406 batting average while DiMaggio “just” hit .357. Williams ended his 19-year career with an average of .344 while DiMaggio had a 13-year career with a lifetime batting average of .325. Both were destined for greatness but who would expect that both would accomplish two of the greatest feats in one season?
But what is the bigger accomplishment? Various players have different opinions it this. Carlos Beltran for example: “That’s amazing. I would guess we might see 56. You see a lot of streaks, but hitting .400 from the get-go to the last game of the season? You’ve got to be a beast. It’s not that hitting 56 in a row, you’re not a beast, but I would say you get more chances of getting on a good streak than hitting .400.”
Ryan Zimmerman: “Hitting .400, I mean, it’s a joke,” Zimmerman said. “Neither of them will ever get touched, I don’t think. Not taking anything away from [DiMaggio], but we face so many different pitchers, it’s just a different game now. Hitting .400, you have to do that every single day. I would say that’s more impressive if I had to choose one, but getting a hit for 56 straight games? I had a year where I had 30 and still got a month to go.”
Brett Gardner: “Not that hitting .400 is easy — I’ve never hit .300 or even close to it — but I think that somebody may be able to hit .400,” Gardner said. “Fifty-six is a lot of games, and I think that with defensive shifts and the way that pitchers have gotten better, I don’t think that either one will ever happen again. But the streak is pretty special.”
Sure hitting .406 is very impressive but with a record like that, you can afford to go 0 for 3 once in a while. But with a hitting streak of 56 games, you have to collect at least one hit in every game you play. Had DiMaggio not gone 0 for 4 vs Cleveland on that July 17, 1941, he likely would have continued to a 73 game streak as he started a 16-game hitting streak in the game after July 17. People seem to forget that DiMaggio had a longer hitting streak in 1933 when he played for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. DiMaggio hit safely in 61 games despite having a bruised thumb.
Williams, on the other hand, deserves a lot of credit. With a batting average of .400 on the final day of the 1941 season, he could have sat out the doubleheader in Philadelphia but instead to sit the season out, he opted to play. He went 6 for 8 in the doubleheader and thus raised his average to .406. I think Jose Reyes should have taken this as an example when he sat out the final game to win the NL batting title in 2011. To accomplish a batting average of .400+ you have to show a lot of consistency, but then again, you can afford going 0 for 3 at times.
When I go back to my own experience as a batter, I must say that hitting .400+ is easier. For most of my amateur “career”, I hardly topped the Mendoza line. But in my final season I adapted my stance and from that moment on I started to hit. Sure I had a game or two in which I did not collect a hit, but in general, I hit rather well that season. Halfway the season, I hit .482 before disaster struck and my season ended prematurely due to a “career” ending shoulder injury. During that season, I had a lot of self-confidence which grew every time I got a base hit. And of course you cannot compare my .482 with Williams’ feat, as I played in a fifth level amateur league. But still, it is all about confidence.
Of course, confidence helps with a hitting streak of 56 games, but again, you have to get a hit in every game.
So even though hitting .406 is a tremendous achievement, I tend to say that the 56 game hitting streak of Joe DiMaggio was harder to accomplish.