The Anatomy of a Rivalry, the Fifth Stanza, The Kid, The Clipper and 1941….REVISITED

Despite what you may have heard or read about in curse ridden terms, the Red Sox Yankee rivalry actually began as a rivalry between their two best players; a guy named Ted Williams and another named Joe DiMaggio. It began in the summer of 1941……Just before everything changed….Forever. Enjoy!

The Anatomy of a Rivalry, the Fifth Stanza, The Kid, The Clipper and 1941…..

It has often been said that 1941 was the last year of innocence. The war in Europe was raging, the debate in America about whether we should enter it or not, was raging. And the debate in the baseball world, DiMaggio or Williams was raging.

Japan ended the debate about the war on December 7th,

but not before Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio captivated the country throughout the 1941 baseball season.

Joe DiMaggio arrived in New York in 1936 and he was an instant star, hitting .323 with 29 homers and 125 RBI! He was a veritable RBI machine as in his first five seasons his totals were, 125, 167, 140, 126 and 133 an average of 138 a season. He averaged 34 homers a year, including a league leading 46 in 1937 and his batting average was .345 including back to back American League batting titles in 1939 and 1940. The Yankees had won the World Series an unprecedented four straight times from ’36’ through ’39’ and Joe D. was the 1939 MVP!

Ted and Joe at the 1941 All Star Game.

Ted Williams arrived in Boston in 1939 and was an instant star, hitting .327 with 31 home runs and a league leading 145 RBI. He was a veritable on base machine, reaching 44% of the time his first two seasons; he would lead the league in that category for 12 of his 19 seasons. The Red Sox were emerging from their two decade doldrums and appeared ready to challenge the Yankees as the class of the league. But before that would occur, these two men would take the baseball world on a ride for the ages!

Teddy Ballgame, 1941 (by Chris Kfoury)

The year did not begin well for Ted as he broke a bone in his ankle in spring training which  limited him to pinch-hitting duties for the first two weeks of the season. His first start came on April 22 in Washington and he went 2-4. He would not start again until April 29th, in Detroit and his first start without a hit came on May 2nd, in Cleveland against the Indians. When that game ended, he was hitting, .308 the lowest he would hit all year!

On May 15th 1941 in Yankee Stadium, a White Sox pitcher named Eddie Smith spun a complete game nine hitter as his mates pounded three Yankee pitchers in a 13-1 rout. The only Yankee run was a result of a Joe DiMaggio RBI single in the first inning. It was a rather nondescript box score a mere 1-4 with an RBI, yet it was the first step on a historic quest that is heretofore unmatched in baseball annals. It would be two months, two days and 56 games before Joe DiMaggio’s name would appear in another box score that read, zero hits.

Eddie Smith pitched 10 seasons and was 73-113 lifetime. He is engraved in history as the pitcher who surrendered the first hit of Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak.

On May 15th, the Red Sox were at Fenway Park versus the Indians and Ted Williams also had a rather nondescript box score, going 1-3, a single for his 20th hit of the year. He was now hitting, .339.

During DiMaggio’s streak, he had 22 multi-hit games; 14 with two hits, five with three  hits and three with four hits. Nine of those 22 came in the last 16 games of the streak. He broke Wee Willie Keeler’s modern-day record when he hit in game number 45 of the streak. It came July 2nd at Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox and it was a fifth inning two run homer.

Red Sox pitcher Dick Newsome, surrendered the hit that broke Willie Keeler’s record.

In seven of the last 10 games of the steak, DiMaggio had multi-hit games and in  game number 57, where it came to an end, Indians third baseman Ken Keltner robbed him of two hits down the left field line.

Ken Keltner twice made back-handed stabs to his right down the third base line and threw Joe D out by a half step each time, stopping the streak at 56 games.

During the 56 game streak from May 15th through July 16th, DiMaggio had 91 hits in 223 at bats for a .408 clip. Thirty five of the hits were for extra bases and he hit 15 homers and had 55 RBI. He walked 21 times thus reaching base 122 times during his 56 game stretch.

While Joe D was making his history, Ted Williams was on a march creating his own. It is interesting to note that on May 15th, Williams began what would become a 23 game hitting streak, ending on June 8th in Chicago. Ted entered that doubleheader hitting .431.

During DiMaggio’s streak, Williams had a hit in 45 of the 52 games he played. In those 52 games, he had 21 multi-hit games, 12 with two, seven with three and two with four. He hit .412 with 12 homers and 50 RBI.

It was during that stretch that Ted was at his highest average for the season. He was hitting; .436 on June 6th, .434 on June 5th, and .431 on June 7th. He was hitting .405 at the All Star break and went 0-4 the first game following it. That lowered his average to .398 and it would take him until July 25th to get back to .400.

Ted Williams fifth inning homer off Mel Harder on July 25, 1941 put him back at .400 and he did not dip below that mark for the rest of the season.

Contemplate that for a minute. He was over .400 from July 25th until the end of the season! In fact from May 25th on, he was at .400 or better for all but two weeks of the rest of the season.

The Red Sox season ended with a doubleheader at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. That morning Williams was hitting .400 (.3996 to be exact.) Manager Joe Cronin suggested he sit it out, he had his .400, the season was over. Ted would have none of it and he played both games of the doubleheader, going 4-5 in the first game and 2-3 in the second finishing at what has become the magical mark of .406.

Ted Williams September 28, 1941 in Philadelphia.

The Red Sox remained the bridesmaid of the Yankees again in 1941, however, the Williams/DiMaggio rivalry would blossom into the Red Sox/Yankee rivalry. But first there was a war to fight.

to be continued…..

And so it was at this time in Fenway Park history, Ted and Joe’s time, 1941

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About fenwaypark100

Hello and welcome, my name is Raymond Sinibaldi. An educator for more than two decades, a baseball fan for nearly 60 years, I have authored four books about baseball and her glorious history; with a fifth on the way in late spring of 2015; the first, The Babe in Red Stockings which was co-authored with Kerry Keene and David Hickey. It is a chronicle of Babe's days with the Red Sox. We also penned a screenplay about Babe's Red Sox days so if any of you are Hollywood inclined or would like to represent us in forwarding that effort feel free to contact me through my email. In 2012 we three amigos published Images of Fenway Park in honor of the 100th birthday of Fenway Park. That led to the creation of this blog. The following year, 2013 came my first solo venture, Spring Training in Bradenton and Sarasota. This is a pictorial history of spring training in those two Florida cities. The spring of 2014 brought forth the 1967 Red Sox, The Impossible Dream Season. The title speaks for itself and it also is a pictorial history. Many of the photos in this book were never published before. The spring of 2015 will bring 1975 Red Sox, American League Champions. Another pictorial effort, this will be about the Red Sox championship season of 1975 and the World Series that restored baseball in America. I was fortunate enough to consult with sculptor Franc Talarico on the “Jimmy Fund” statue of Ted Williams which stands outside both Fenway Park and Jet Blue Park Fenway South, in Fort Myers Florida. That story is contained in the near 300 posts which are contained herein. This blog has been dormant for awhile but 2015 will bring it back to life so jump on board, pass the word and feel free to contact me about anything you read or ideas you may have for a topic. Thanks for stopping by, poke around and enjoy. Autographed copies of all my books are available here, simply click on Raymond Sinibaldi and email me.
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