‘That’s impossible. No one could be that good.’ Joe DiMaggio was that good

You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 1936, rookie Joe DiMaggio tied a then-major league record with four extra-base hits in a game.

DiMaggio would finish that season with 88 extra-base hits; Albert Pujols (88) and Hal Trosky (89) are the only others with that many in a rookie season. DiMaggio finished that year with 29 home runs, 125 RBIs and a .323 average. He finished his career with a .325 average, three MVPs, two second-place finishes and nine world championship rings. He had 13 All-Star appearances in 13 years and the longest hitting streak in baseball history at 56 games.

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There has never been a power/contact hitter quite like him in the history of the game. DiMaggio hit 361 home runs and struck out 369 times. In seven different seasons, he hit at least 25 homers and had more homers than strikeouts. In 1941, the year in which he hit in 56 consecutive games, he hit 30 homers and struck out 13 times. He never struck out 40 times in a season: Over the past three seasons, 2017-19, 29 times has a player struck out at least 40 times in a calendar month. DiMaggio had one three-strikeout game and 205 games of at least three hits.

The day DiMaggio died in 1999, I gave some of these numbers to the Yankees’ Darryl Strawberry.

“No, that’s impossible,” he said. “No one could be that good.”

DiMaggio was. He was so regal, so elegant, so graceful as a player. He refused to play in any Old Timers’ Games because he didn’t want anyone to remember him as a broken-down player; he wanted to be remembered for gliding through the outfield or hitting a vicious line drive. And he was a cultural icon. He was married to Marilyn Monroe. Ernest Hemingway wrote about him in “The Old Man And The Sea.” Simon and Garfunkel included him in the song “Mrs. Robinson.” And, in retirement, he became Mr. Coffee.

DiMaggio was distant and aloof. I met him once, in 1986, and I was scared to death. We arrived at the men’s room in the press box at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium at the same time. One urinal was open. He took it.

“I have to go worse than you do,” he said.

Here’s to you, Joe DiMaggio.

DiMaggio was revered in the game, especially by opponents. In the All-Star Game in Detroit, in 1941, the American League won on a walk-off home run by Ted Williams, who told me this: “The best part of that day is Joe DiMaggio was at home plate to congratulate me.”

The 1941 season was magical. DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak will never be matched; it captivated the country. He hit .408 with 15 homers and 55 RBIs during the streak. He struck out five times, none in the last 32 games of the streak. In 1978, Pete Rose hit in 44 straight games, a magnificent feat indeed, but still a hit a week for two weeks short of DiMaggio. After it was stopped, DiMaggio hit in 16 straight games, meaning a hit in 72 out of 73 games.

He won the MVP that year, the year in which Williams hit .406. That year (and others), Williams played left field while Joe’s brother, Dom, played center field for the Red Sox. Williams had the scoreboard operator inside the Green Monster provide updates on the hitting streak, as in “Joe just got a hit; 38 in a row.” Ted relayed that info to Dom.

The Great DiMaggio, indeed.

Other baseball notes for June 24

  • In 1955, Harmon Killebrew hit his first major league home run. He hit the most home runs (573) ever by someone with a last name that starts with K.

  • In 1979, Rickey Henderson made his major league debut. He is a top-15 player ever. If he played today, in the analytics era, he would be even better with how much we value the walk.

  • In 1986, Phil Hughes was born. He was a good major league pitcher with impeccable control. In 2014 with the Twins, he had 16 wins and 16 walks. Every spring with the Twins, he would invite the team over for dinner. He did all the cooking. He is a great cook.