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DiMaggio’s 61-Game Hitting Streak, Pacific Coast League

When people think of Joe DiMaggio’s defining record, it’s his 56-game hitting streak in 1941 that usually comes to mind. Far less known is that DiMaggio actually out-did his own record while just a teen-ager playing semi-pro ball for the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League.

The year was 1933, and DiMaggio was a 19-year-old player in his first season with the Seals. In only his second month, DiMaggio found a groove that kept on going. With hits in 61 games in a row he didn’t just break the minor league record of 49 set by Jack Ness in 1914, he shattered it (as his 56-game hitting streak would shatter Wee Willie Keeler’s 1897 record of 44-games).

Like so many athletes, DiMaggio believed luck fed his talent. The first day of the streak, he had his right thumb taped to protect a bone bruise. DiMaggio repeated the ritual every day of the streak. "Even after the bruise had disappeared, I still had Bobby tape my thumb every day so as not to break the charm," DiMaggio wrote in his autobiography.

The first streak, like his later one for the Yankees, was full of drama. In his forty-ninth game, the young DiMaggio was hitless coming into the ninth inning. Six batters were up before him, and each reached base, giving DiMaggio another crack at the streak. DiMaggio delivered, hitting a double that won the game and kept the streak alive.

The stunning performance made DiMaggio a local hero. The press (although they sometimes spelled his name "De Maggio") began to cover his exploits, giving him the distinction of a nickname: "Dead Pan Joe." The name wouldn’t stick, but it would describe the unemotional poker face that DiMaggio carried with him the rest of his career. As the streak progressed, ticket receipts to games that DiMaggio played in soared. Angelo Rossi, the mayor of San Francisco, handed DiMaggio a gold watch to celebrate DiMaggio’s tying of Ness’ record.

Unlike the later streak, the daily pressure to perform every day never bothered him. "I never really felt any pressure," DiMaggio later said. "I was just a kid. I didn’t know what pressure was, and I was having too much fun."

The streak and its attention also turned around DiMaggio’s immigrant father. "The publicity attendant on my batting streak converted Pop to baseball," DiMaggio remembered in his autobiography. "First off, he thought it was silly for people to dress up in short pants, with spikes and gloves. Then he couldn’t see me, a kid, making good against ‘all those men.’ He forgot all about this and even forgot about bocci. ‘Bocci ball?’ Pop would say. ‘No money in bocci ball. Baseball, that’s the game!’"

The streak transformed the young DiMaggio’s future. When it started he was just another minor league player on a minor league team. During the streak, he became a familiar name to anyone who read a West Coast sports page. The publicity attracted major league scouts "like flies to a molasses barrel," remembers DiMaggio. By the time it ended, DiMaggio was a major league prospect..

written by Dennis Gaffney

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