Category Archives: Baseball
This book is about Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak that encompassed games played between May 15th and July 16th, 1941. Between those dates Joe DiMaggio got at least one hit in every game, a record no one has even come close to breaking since.
Everything in this work uses “the streak” as its anchor point. If you keep that in mind you won’t be disappointed at not getting a fuller biography of Joe DiMaggio, or salacious details of his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, or a wider discussion of baseball in the 1940s, or of the Yankees 1941 season, or of issues surrounding the impending WWII. You will get some of all of that, but only as it relates to “the streak.”
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Kennedy’s goal is to place “the streak” in the context of what was happening in the country at this time, how it affected the mood of the country, how it affected Joe DiMaggio himself, and how it influenced baseball and the wider culture in later years. In this he does a good job.
Kennedy sprinkles his book with a number of vignettes that he uses to illustrate the feeling around the country as DiMaggio approached George Sisler’s hit streak of 41 straight games. He makes very good use of writings by well known personalities such as Mario Cuomo and Gay Talese, newspaper accounts, newsreel footage, and later interviews to paint an overall portrait of the country as it grew increasingly obsessed with DiMaggio’s streak. My only complaint here is that sometimes he would place these vignettes in such a way as to ruin the momentum of a previous narrative. A couple of times I was really getting into his description of a particular game for example, and just as he was getting to the climax of the narrative, he would divert to another related story. I have to admit it kind of ticked me off a bit. 🙂
While the book is not meant to be a definitive biography of Joe DiMaggio, he does go into those details that impact his reaction to “the streak,” and which help explain his reactions as it grew longer. These were fascinating and left me wanting more. There are a couple of excellent DiMaggio biographies that I will probably add to my “bucket list” now that I have read this book.
Kennedy also does a good job recounting DiMaggio’s relationship with his first wife, actress Dorothy Arnold, and how “the streak” affected their relationship and may have helped hasten their eventual divorce. Sections describing how DiMaggio lived his day to day life in New York – where he ate, where he got his hair cut, and who he befriended – were also very engaging. DiMaggio found comfort and familiarity among New York’s Italian population which made it easier for him to withstand the pressure of being a New York Yankee.
My favorite parts of the book were Kennedy’s description of the games themselves, and the biographical details of other players that affected, or were affected by, “the streak.” As a sports writer he has a particular talent for placing you in that place and time. But again, the interrupting vignettes tended to stop the momentum of these passages. I wish there had either been less of these, or they had been placed differently. I also liked the ancillary biographies of some of the other players that played a role in “the streak” including George Sisler who held the modern day record before DiMaggio, “Wee Willy” Keeler who held the all time record, Lou Gehrig who mentored DiMaggio and whose death during the season had a big impact on him, DiMaggio’s brother Dom DiMaggio, a very good player himself, and Ted Williams who was the other big story of that season as he strived to bat over .400. He was successful and is still the last player to do so. All of this was deftly handled. I found myself on numerous occasions interrupting my reading to look these folks up on Wikipedia and then noting if any biographies were available on their lives.
Kennedy also devoted a whole chapter on Pete Rose, who in 1978 came closer to DiMaggio’s streak than any player since 1941. In that year Rose hit in 44 straight games, breaking or tying every record previous to DiMaggio’s. It is very clear from the narrative that Kennedy is a fan of Rose, and I have to confess it convinced me to change my opinion on Rose’s banning from baseball. I now think it should be lifted. A topic for another time…perhaps after reading Kennedy’s biography of Rose 🙂
Kennedy also does a nice job of placing “the streak” in the context of the buildup for war that was taking place. It was only two months after the end of the 1941 season that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Players were being drafted and several, including the great Hank Greenberg had already started their tours of duty. For those two months, DiMaggio’s streak and Hitler’s march through Europe competed for the headlines. Implied in this narrative is that “the streak” helped keep the country sane by sometimes diverting its attention from the ominous developments overseas to an event everyone could participate in.
He also does an effective job looking at how “the streak” is viewed in modern culture. It has become a commonly used analogy whenever some impressive record is about to be broken. He also talks a lot about how modern baseball players view “the streak”, and how it helps connect them to baseball’s history. And, Kennedy is right in that the DiMaggio’s streak is really the last pure record to be broken in baseball. Ruth and Aaron’s home run records were revered, as was Roger Maris’ single season home run record. All of those are now tainted because they were broken by players pumped up on steroids and human growth hormone. Gehrig’s consecutive game streak was at that level as well until it was broken by Cal Ripken. Ripken’s streak may eventually be viewed in that light as well given the type of man he was. But none of these approaches the reverence that DiMaggio’s streak is accorded. Most think it will never be broken. I agree.
Kennedy sometimes went overboard with his narrative. Often, his descriptions of events ventured into the maudlin, particularly those related to a “gang” of boys – the Hornets and the Dukes – in Jackson Heights New York, who played street ball and whose obsession was baseball. While I understand including them in the narrative, the prose surrounding them often became too maudlin even for a book about baseball. It read like a Frank Capra script…only more sentimental if that is possible. With this and some other vignettes he really distracted from the overall flow of the book.
Other times he would spend a lot of ink on seemingly trivial events like the songs sung before a game early in the season which included two pages of the songs lyrics. Sometimes the analogies he used made it appear he had just done a Google search and found something he had to include in the book. One in particular that made my eyes roll the most was in a section where he was describing how “the streak” is now viewed with reverence in modern day locker rooms; that “it was a bit like saying ‘Harding’s ascent’ to a group of rock climbers at Yosemite, or ‘Escoffier’s soufflé’ among young chefs at a culinary institute.”
Now, I suppose it is conceivable as a sportswriter that Kennedy may know who first climbed El Capitan at Yosemite park (I had to Google it), but it is simply not believable to think he had any idea who Escoffier was or what role he played in the history of the soufflé. Even if he did, it sounds pretentious…and ridiculous.
Anyway, as an ardent baseball fan I really enjoyed this book. It succeeded in making me want more information about the people and events he describes…the hallmark of a good work of non-fiction. Non-baseball fans may enjoy it too as it touches on events outside the confines of baseball as they related to or were affected by, “the streak.”
Bucket Source (Personal Addition)
Purchase at Amazon.com Here
I enjoyed this quite a bit. I haven’t read any other biographies on Babe Ruth, and haven’t read a ton of sports biographies so I have little to compare it to. But, it does compare favorably with biographies I have read on other public figures. It’s an easy read and flows well! Helps if you are already a baseball fan, but non-fans may enjoy it too.
Bucket Source (Personal Addition)
Purchase at Amazon.com Here