Which is Greater? A Monumental Achievement or an Inconceivable Record?
People always say records are meant to be broken. In baseball there are plenty of records set over careers like most home runs, most saves, or most stolen bases. Those are all great accolades and took decades in order to achieve but in time those records will be broken. Some one new will just keep setting career milestones especially with modern medicine and technology, athletes will just continue to get better. But single season records on the other hand those are less likely to be broken due to the shorter time frame, its simple statistics. Two records/milestones that come to mind that I do not think will be surpassed in my lifetime are Ted Williams .406 season and Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hit streak. But which is more impressive?
When people are asked to name the greatest hitter to ever live some will say Ted Williams and others will say Joe DiMaggio. I guess it all depends on where their loyalties lie. Myself, being a Red Sox fan, I tend to sway towards the Teddy Ballgame side of the debate but residing in Connecticut for 20 years of my life I was forced to entertain the Joe DiMaggio side of the debate. But I don't want to argue who was better but rather which is more impressive, so lets take a look at both improbable achievements that occurred during the 1941 season.
The year is 1941, America is fresh out of the Great Depression and about to enter the Second World War. Ted Williams is set to begin just his third year in the majors. Little did anyone know that 1941 would be the year that a 22 year old kid would be launched into legend status. Ted Williams' played in 143 games that year and would have 456 at bats. He would finish the year with a .406 average, 37 home runs, and 120 RBI's. Williams entering the final weekend of the season hitting .401. He could've sat out and backed into hitting over .400 for an entire season. But he wanted to earn it. Williams said "If i'm going to be a .400 hitter, I want more than my toenails on the line." In the weeks heading up to the final weekend, Teddy Ballgame batted .268 which would plummet his average from .413 to a abysmal .3995. The final day of the year was a double header for the Red Sox facing the Philadelphia Athletics. In game 1 Williams went 4-5 with a homer skyrocketing his average to .404. Many thought Williams would sit out the second game but again that was not the case. In game two of the double header Williams 2-3 which again was good enough to raise his average to .406. To this day no one has hit over .400 since Williams did it in 41. The closest was Tony Gwynn in 1994 who hit .394.
In 1941 Joe DiMaggio was entering his six season. He was now the face of the New York Yankees after Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with the terrible disease ALS, which be later become known as Lou Gehrig's disease. DiMaggio would take home the batting titles in both 1939 and 1940, where he finished with .381 and .352 averages respectively. DiMaggio's streak of hitting in 56 consecutive games began on May 15th and would run up until July 17th. DiMaggio went 91-223 with 15 home runs and 55 runs batted in. He would finish the year with a .352 average, 30 home runs, and 125 RBIs. He would also take home the American League MVP award and a World Series ring where the Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in five games. The 56 game hit streak is the longest hit streak ever recorded and not by a small margin either. The next closest streak is 45 games by Willie Keeler over two seasons in 1896-1897. The closest since 1941 was Pete Rose who recorded a hit in 44 straight games in 1978.
So which one is more impressive?
My answer, as much as it pains me to say, is the 56 game hit streak. Before Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, 27 other players hit above the 400 hundred mark. On the other hand no one has come close to Joe DiMaggio's 56 games. By close I mean no player has come within 10 games of the streak. Unlike Mr. Padre who came a few at bats away from .400. Some may say that "well 15 people who hit above .400 happened to do it in the 1800's." But to that I say, it doesn't really matter, all 28 hitters who hit .400 over a season have a career average over .300, meaning that those guys weren't flashes in the pan. But once again both feats are very impressive, and if the trend continues neither batting in 57 straight games or batting .400 will happen in my lifetime and to that I tip my cap to both Teddy Ballgame and the Yankee Clipper for an unfathomable 1941 season.