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Jackie Bradley Jr. and the pursuit of “56”

May 25, 2016

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The hitting streak has become a mythical benchmark statistic in baseball. Not only has no player broken Joe DiMaggio’s record of a 56-game streak, no one has even come close.

The second-place hitter in the record books is “Wee” Willie Keeler, who hit safely in 45 straight for the Baltimore Orioles from 1896-97. DiMaggio even claims a lead on all-time hits leader Pete Rose (44 games in 1978) and Ty Cobb (40 games in 1911).

That Jackie Bradley Jr. is even halfway to DiMaaggio’s mark is a statistic that would’ve been considered unthinkable to many baseball fans. In his only real full season in the majors, Bradley hit at a .249 clip, a number that doesn’t exactly jump off the page.

This season, though, he is part of a torrid Red Sox juggernaut that leads baseball in several offensive categories. Bradley is raking, hitting .346.

The Red Sox are in first place (a half-game up on Baltimore as this is written) and enjoying the spoils of featuring one of the game’s hottest hitters. But let us remind ourselves that Bradley is still only halfway there. 

The fact that Bradley hasn’t even really carved into the record is astonishing; “56” is the one number in sports that fans and historians alike can’t seem to wrap their head around.

However, such a legendary streak, as is always the case, had humble beginnings.

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When DiMaggio got a hit off Eddie Smith of the White Sox on May 15, 1941, he began his mythical run. No one knew it, but by the end of that season, he would be a legend.

At the time, DiMaggio was still trying to measure up to the ghosts of Yankee Stadium. He wasn’t a particularly popular player, as he’d held out for more money before the 1938 season. Ironically, Yankees fans would someday hold DiMaggio up as the standard for greatness when Mickey Mantle came to New York.

DiMaggio completed the 56-game streak with the media bearing down on him. He had a shy personality, and the stress led to ulcers for the star. He beat out Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams, who hit .406 for the American League MVP Award.

DiMaggio overcame the media and the ghosts of baseball’s past to shatter the previous record by 11 games. Even if Bradley doesn’t outhit Joltin’ Joe, this could still be the season in which he quiets critics from the difficult sports city of Boston.

**Photo credits to USA Today and JoeDiMaggio.com

**Statistics from baseballreference.com and baseball-almanac.com

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