Streakers

Oakland Athletics v Boston Red Sox

Jackie Bradley Jr. is one of 12 Red Sox players to have hit in 24 or more consecutive games (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

When the Red Sox resume play here Friday night against the Cleveland Indians, Jackie Bradley Jr. will be taking a 24-game hitting streak into the game, the longest such streak in the majors in 2016 and the longest by a Sox player since Dustin Pedroia hit in 25 straight in 2011. (David Ortiz had a 27-game hitting streak, but that carried over from the 2012 season to 2013).

There have been 16 single-season hitting streaks of 24 games or more by Sox players. Dom DiMaggio holds the club record with 34 games, and Nomar Garciaparra and Tris Speaker are the only other Sox players to have hit in 30 or more, Garciaparra as a rookie in 1997, Speaker as a future Hall of Famer in 1912.

DiMaggio, Garciaparra and Boggs all had multiple streaks of 24 or more games, with Garciaparra having three (24 in 1998, 26 in 2003), so Bradley becomes the 12th player to accomplish the feat.

DiMaggio’s club-record streak attracted relatively little fanfare in 1949, perhaps because only eight years earlier, his brother Joe set the major-league record by hitting in an astonishing 56 straight, shattering Wee Willie Keeler’s record of 44 set in 1897. Keeler, by the way, stood only 5’4, but that didn’t keep him from using a bat that was only 30 inches long but weighed as much as 46 ounces, according to the Hall of Fame.

During the course of the Little Professor’s streak, however, the Boston Globe noted the impact his diet was having on his performance in an interview with his wife, Emily, described by the Globe reporter (a woman) as “beautiful, but intelligent.’’ As if those attributes are mutually exclusive.

“He really likes what’s good for him,’’ Emily DiMaggio was quoted as saying. “Custard, bread pudding, rice pudding—even liver and onions.’’
Also on the menu for Dom was a bigger breakfast than he’d previously had, one that included cereal, fruit, juice, scrambled eggs, and “sometimes chicken liver.” For dinner, chicken or lamb were featured, “never beefsteak.’’

On the eve of an August series between the Red Sox and Yankees, Joe DiMaggio talked to Cliff Keane of the Boston Globe about Dom’s streak.

“It’ll get tough for him to keep that streak going,’’ Joe D. said. “I hope he breaks the record, really I do. But I don’t think that I’m going to let any balls fall in front of me for him.

“You know, I talked to him on the phone before I came here tonight, and we never even mentioned it. Guess it just passed my mind.’’

Before a packed house of 35,091, the Sox won the first game of that series, 6-3, but Dominic went 0 for 5 against Yankees right-hander Vic Raschi, ending his streak. In his final at-bat, in the bottom of the eighth, DiMaggio lined out to center field—where brother Joe was waiting.

Years later, in an interview with author Alan Schwarz, DiMaggio talked about his streak. A portion of that interview:

“A lot of people make a big deal about my 34-game hitting streak in the summer of 1949, and how it was snapped on a great play in center field by my brother, Joe. I’d like to set the record straight.

“First of all, when I hit in 34 games in a row, I was only doing my job. I played every game pretty much as I played any other game. I got my fair share of walks during the streak — I don’t think I chased bad pitches. I was a line-drive hitter. My job was to get on base and let the sluggers like Ted Williams drive me home. I wasn’t even aware of my streak until it was at 22 or 23 games, and I didn’t make a big deal of it.

“On the day it ended, Aug. 9, we were playing the Yankees at Fenway Park. Our rivalry with the Yankees was great — every bit as emotional as it is now. The atmosphere was very thick whether we played at Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium. That afternoon we were in third place, six games behind the first-place Yankees, but playing great. We were just entering the pennant race. These were big games.

Dom DiMaggio batting

Dom DiMaggio in 1949 hit in 34 straight games, a Red Sox record  (Photo purchased from Brearley Collection, 2013)

“But when you feel pressure, you do not perform. The first thing you’ve got to do is be completely relaxed. And that’s the way I was. On that day against the Yankees, I felt good. I hit one solid shot to the third baseman (actually, shortstop) that was turned into an out. I got out another couple of times. I was 0-for-4 when I got to the plate in the eighth inning against Vic Raschi, who was a darn good pitcher.

“I smacked a line drive right up the middle so hard that it passed Raschi’s ear! He ducked to get out of the way of it! As soon as I hit it, I said, “O.K., that’s 35.” But that ball wouldn’t drop. The ball refused to drop. Joe is standing out there in center field, and he didn’t have to move. He said it himself later — if he hadn’t caught the ball, it would have hit him right between the eyes. So there was no effort on his part. It wasn’t a great play by him, like they’re still saying today. I just hit the ball too damn hard!’’

Garciaparra’s streak in 1997 received considerably more attention, especially as he drew closer to the rookie record of 34 straight set by Padres catcher Benito Santiago in 1987. The Sox were a mediocre club in 1997, but Nomar was a sensation. He broke Fred Lynn’s record for a rookie (20 games in 1975) and the AL rookie record (26), set by Guy Curtright of the White Sox in 1943.

There was no bigger Nomar fan than Sox great Johnny Pesky.

“The best-looking shortstop we’ve ever had around here,” Pesky said. “{Joe} Cronin couldn’t field or throw with this guy. The closest is probably {Luis} Aparicio, but this kid’s a better hitter. He can run. He has good baseball instincts. I’m telling you, if he’d come along in my era, I’d be sitting on the pine.

“You could almost classify him as the perfect player.”

But on Aug. 30 in Fenway Park, against the Atlanta Braves in what was the first season of interleague play, Garciaparra’s came to an end. He flied out, popped out and hit a sacrifice fly off Braves’ rookie Kevin Millwood in his first three plate appearances, then came to bat for a final time in the eighth inning against another Atlanta rookie, Mike Cather, as a Fenway crowd of 32,085 implored him to keep the streak going.

“I knew there was no way I could walk him,’’ Cather said afterward, “and get out of this town alive.’’

The first pitch was a ball outside. At the next offering, which ran inside, Garciaparra swung.

“It was like the whole park kind of stopped,” said Red Sox first base coach Dave Jauss. “Nobody from the dugout wanted to leave. The crowd really makes it happen here. The crowd did it from his first at-bat.

“He had a good swing, and when he swings like that, it’s usually a hit. Off the bat, it looked like a hit.”

Instead, as with Dominic DiMaggio’s last at-bat in the Yankees game, it was a line drive right at an outfielder, in this case Braves left-fielder Danny Bautista.

“I had some good swings,” Garciaparra said, “but some days they just don’t fall.”

So far, they’ve kept falling for Bradley, who has 37 hits in 91 at-bats during his streak, including 7 doubles, 3 triples, and 7 home runs.

Here is how JBJ’s slash line compares:

Tris Speaker, 1912: (unavailable)

Dominic DiMaggio, 34 games, 1949: .352/.430/.503/.934

Nomar Garciaparra, 30 games, 1997: .383/.407/.652/1.059

Dustin Pedroia, 25 games, 2011: .404/.459/.752/1.211

JACKIE BRADLEY JR., 2016: .407/.460/.780/1.240

The chase of history resumes Friday night.

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