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On This Date in Sports July 17, 1941: The End of the Streak

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Joe DiMaggio is held hitless in three at-bats, as his New York Yankees edged the Cleveland Indians 4-3 at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. This is the end of DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. A streak that began on May 15th in a game against the Chicago White Sox in the Bronx. The streak shattered the 44-game hitting streak set by Wee Willie Keeler of the Baltimore Orioles in 1897. In the 80 years since only one player has had a streak longer than 40 games, and that was Pete Rose in 1978 with the Cincinnati Reds. 

Joseph Paul DiMaggio was born on November 25, 1914, in San Francisco. The son of an Italian immigrant who worked as a fisherman, DiMaggio excelled at baseball, along with his brothers Vince and Dom, who also played in the majors. Growing up in Martinez, California, Joe dropped out of school and worked a variety of odd jobs, as his brother Vince, playing with the San Francisco Seals, convinced the team to give a tryout. DiMaggio quickly became one of the biggest stars in the Pacific Coast League, setting a minor league record with a 61-game hitting steak in 1933. After two more seasons in the PCL with the Seals, Joe DiMaggio was sold to the New York Yankees for $50,000. 

Joe DiMaggio made his debut with the Yankees in 1936 and became an immediate star, taking over the void left behind by Babe Ruth when he was released after the 1934 season. DiMaggio was an All-Star in his rookie season and became an instant fan favorite to the large Italian community in New York. The Yankees won the World Series in each of Joe DiMaggio's first four seasons, starting a stretch of excellence that would define the Yankees in the DiMaggio era. In 1939, Joe DiMaggio won the first of three MVP awards. 

After failing to reach the World Series in 1940, the Yankees were looking for a rebound for manager Joe McCarthy. A week after the All-Star Game, the Yankees were in first place at 55-27, but that was not the story, as Joe DiMaggio had set the sports world on fire with his hitting streak. The streak began on May 15th against the White Sox with a 1-for-4 performance. Most nights during the streak, we multi-hit games as DiMaggio batted .408 during the streak. The longest streak in baseball history had been a 44-game streak by Wee Willie Keeler to start the 1897 season for the Baltimore Orioles. 

Joe DiMaggio topped Keeler's record on July 2nd with a home run in an 8-4 win against the Boston Red Sox. He reached the record a day earlier by getting hits in both ends of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. At the All-Star break, the streak paused at 48 games. DiMaggio would record a hit in the midsummer classic, though it would not count toward the streak. The streak continued through games in St. Louis and Chicago, as he reached 56 games with three hits on July 16th. 

Al Smith got Joe DiMaggio to ground to third in the first inning, as the Yankees took an early 1-0 lead. In the fourth inning, DiMaggio reached base with a walk against Smith. Joe DiMaggio grounded to third again in the seventh inning, as Joe Gordan homered to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. In the eighth inning, the Yankees added two more runs, with DiMaggio getting one more chance to add to the streak against reliever Jim Bagby. However, he hit into a double play and would go 0-for-3. 

The 56-game streak remains the stalwart, a record that has not been approached as Pete Rose's streak of 44 games with the Cincinnati Reds was the best in the last 80 years. The second-longest in that time was Paul Molitor of the Milwaukee Brewers, who had a 39-game streak in 1987.