Seventy baseball seasons ago, on a May afternoon at Yankee Stadium, Joe DiMaggio lined a hard single to leftfield. It was the quiet beginning to the most resonant baseball achievement of all time. Starting that day, the vaunted Yankee centerfielder kept on hitting-at least one hit in game after game after game.
In the summer of 1941, as Nazi forces moved relentlessly across Europe and young American men were drafted by the millions, it seemed only a matter of time before the U.S. went to war. The nation was apprehensive. Yet for two months in that tense summer, America was captivated by DiMaggio's astonishing hitting streak. In 56, Kostya Kennedy tells the remarkable story of how the streak found its way into countless lives, from the Italian kitchens of Newark to the playgrounds of Queens to the San Francisco streets of North Beach; from the Oval Office of FDR to the Upper West Side apartment where Joe's first wife, Dorothy, the movie starlet, was expecting a child. In this crisp, evocative narrative Joe DiMaggio emerges in a previously unseen light, a 26-year-old on the cusp of becoming an icon. He comes alive-a driven ballplayer, a mercurial star and a conflicted husband-as the tension and the scrutiny upon him build with each passing day.
DiMaggio's achievement lives on as the greatest of sports records. Alongside the story of DiMaggio's dramatic quest, Kennedy deftly examines the peculiar nature of hitting streaks and with an incisive, modern-day perspective gets inside the number itself, as its sheer improbability heightens both the math and the magic of 56 games in a row.
Winner of the 2011 CASEY Award from Spitball Magazine
Sports Illustrated senior editor Kennedy recreates the triumph of Joe DiMaggio's improbable 56-game hitting streak during the anxious summer of 1941. With the United States marching toward war, and young men (including professional ball players) being drafted by the millions, the country needed something to cheer about. The New York Yankees centerfielder, then in his fifth season, delivered by setting a record that many experts say will stand forever. As Kennedy writes in one of five compelling sidebars that provide a modern-day perspective on the feat, only nine players in Major League history have run off hitting streaks of more than 35 games in a season. DiMaggio seemed an unlikely candidate as the 1941 season opened. In fact, 56 begins with the slugger in a slump. But then came the hits, and as the streak extended into the twenties, most Americans became enthralled. Kennedy recaps those 56 games and brilliantly depicts an era free of 24-hour-news cycles and social networks, a time when newspapers and the radio delivered information first. Through meticulous research and interviews, he takes readers beyond the field. From the private world inhabited only by DiMaggio and his new bride to Newark barbershops, the playgrounds of Queens, and the streets of DiMaggio's hometown, San Francisco, Kennedy humanizes an immortal accomplishment.