By extending his hitting streak to 28 games, Ethier became only the 46th player to reach that point since DiMaggio established the record at 56 games. Since 1919, only 69 players have had hitting streaks of at least 28 games, so even if the Dodgers’ right fielder comes up empty tonight, he’ll still have placed himself in select company.
Despite being at the halfway point, Ethier is still miles away from approaching DiMaggio’s record. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other significant milestones well within his reach. The first one on the horizon is the Dodgers’ franchise record of 31, which was set by Willie Davis in 1969. Then, there’s George Sisler’s modern day record* of 41 straight games with a hit by a left handed batter. Finally, once that hurdle has been cleared, Ethier can set his sites on Pete Rose’s modern day National League record* of 44 games, which is the closest anyone has come to reaching DiMaggio’s lofty plateau.
* Wee Willie Keeler established the National League (as well as the left handed) record by “hitting ‘em where they ain’t” in 44 straight games for the Baltimore Orioles (no relation to the modern day American League team, nor the one that moved to New York to become the Yankees) to start the 1897 season. Keeler also had a hit in the last game of the 1896 season, giving him a career mark of 45 straight games with a hit.
Now that Ethier has reached a symbolic point on his journey, the outfielder’s at bats will come under increased scrutiny, and, as a result, so too will the official scorers presiding over his games. In last night’s contest, for example, Ethier’s lone hit was aided by Castro’s inability to backhand a groundball in the shortstop hole. Had the strong armed defender fielded the ball cleanly, he might have had a chance to record the out, but the difficulty of the play made the official scorer’s decision well within reason.
If Ethier is going to make a serious run at DiMaggio, he’ll likely need a few more instances in which good fortune accompanies good hitting. After all, even Joltin’ Joe needed a break or two along the way, especially when you consider he recorded one hit in 34 of the 56 games in his streak.
Not every one-hit game was the result of luck, but during a series against the White Sox in June, good fortune smiled upon DiMaggio not once, but twice. The Yankee Clipper entered the series riding a 29-game hitting streak, but was held hitless up until what looked like his last at bat in the seventh inning. So, when DiMaggio rolled what the New York Times called “a ground ball that was labeled an easy out” to Luke Appling, it looked like the streak was over…at least until the ball took a bad hop and bounced off the shortstop’s shoulder.
The fortuitous bounce helped DiMaggio establish a new Yankees’ record, which had previously been held by both Earle Combs and Roger Peckinpaugh (interestingly, no Yankee has since surpassed a 29-game hitting streak, although Joe Gordon did match the mark in 1942). As things turned out, a Yankees’ rally allowed DiMaggio to come to the plate again in the eight inning. This time, he hit a “screaming liner” that was headed for the right field stands until Taffy Wright’s outstretched glove brought the ball back from over the wall. So much for luck.
Longest Hitting Streaks by a Yankee
After setting the new team record, DiMaggio once again relied on some good fortune when his lone single in the next day’s game resulted from a groundball in the shortstop hole that Appling could only knock down. According to the New York Times, the play, which was similar to the one that extended Ethier’s streak, “was of the scratch variety, but there could be no denying that it was a legitimate safety”.
Lest one come away thinking that DiMaggio’s record was built on dinks and dunks, it’s worth noting that of the 69 streaks of 28 or more since 1919, Joltin’ Joe’s OPS of 1.181 was 10th highest, an impressive ranking considering his stretch was just about twice as long as the rest of the top-10 (the lowest OPS was established by Jerome Walton over 30 games in 1989).
Most Productive Hitting Streaks, 1919-2011
Note: Based on streaks of at least 28 games.
Although not as impressive, Ethier’s streak has also been very productive. During the 28-game stretch, he has posted an OPS of 1.033, so clearly the right fielder has had a lot more than just good fortune on his side. In order to make it all the way to DiMaggio, however, he’ll need all the help he can get.