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Who had the more impressive streak: Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams?

Jul 14, 2011, 10:00 AM EDT

Ted Williams

Oh, you didn’t know that Teddy Ballgame had a big streak of his own?  He did: he reached base in 84 straight games in 1949.  Cam Martin has the story over at The Post Game, and makes the case that we should really be thinking about Williams’ streak like we think about DiMaggio’s.

Of course we won’t, because hits are a lot more fun than walks. I totally understand that and don’t blame anyone who thinks more of DiMaggio’s 56 than Williams’ 84, both because of all of the history and lore and because getting hits is pretty darn hard (and because DiMaggio himself had a 74-game on-base streak in the midst of his hitting streak).

But we never hear anything about Williams’ streak. We probably should. If you’re unaware, you can start by reading Martin’s story.

  1. halladaysbiceps - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak is the most impressive streak not only in baseball, but all of sports. Some statistician from MIT years ago did some complex calculations and basically said this to be the case. I read this over 20 years ago, so I don’t have a reference from the MIT guy.

    • StottsEra - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:26 AM

      did the MIT statistician use the word “impressive”
      seems more about luck to me – obviously you have to be good but pretty much every major league player gets a hit in 56 games a season, this was just a time it so happened to happen consecutively

      • halladaysbiceps - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:31 AM

        Perhaps he used the phrase “improbable” or something to that effect. I don’t recall the actual verbage. It was a long time ago when I read it.

      • kinggeorge96 - Jul 14, 2011 at 12:17 PM

        I had a statistics teacher who tried to figure out the probability of a batter getting a base hit in 56 straight games as part of a lesson…. lets just say it started with a decimal point and was followed by a shitload (mathematical term) of zeros…

        I believe I kept that one notebook just because that lesson was so cool… I’ll have to see if I can dig that up later…

      • Andrew - Jul 14, 2011 at 1:32 PM

        +1 for acknowledging that “shitload” is a mathematical term, although my friend prefers the similar but equally appealing “shit ton.”

      • umrguy42 - Jul 14, 2011 at 2:50 PM

        I for one have always preferred to go metric, as in “metric ass ton”. (Should that be “tonne”?)

      • danberman4 - Jul 14, 2011 at 5:04 PM

        Remember, DiMaggio also had the longest streak in the minors. So there must be a little more than luck involved. Could one hitter be so lucky twice?

    • 1historian - Jul 14, 2011 at 3:06 PM

      The longer a record lasts the more impressive it is. 70 years and counting – incredible.

      I also like Secretariat’s Derby in 1973 – 1:59 2/5 seconds. He ran every quarter mile faster than the preceding and that was NEVER done before that and has not been done since.

      Not to mention the Belmont Stakes – no horse has come close to that since – 38 years and counting.

      • ta192 - Jul 14, 2011 at 8:50 PM

        ‘roids or EGH, I suspect…

  2. aceshigh11 - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:12 AM

    Am I the only one who thinks that Ted Williams was robbed of the MVP in ’41?

    I am not taking ANYTHING away from DiMaggio’s amazing accomplishment, but Williams batted .406 and had a .553 OBP.

    I mean…c’mon. He led the league in runs, home runs, walks, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

    I guess both guys had once-in-a-lifetime seasons, but I find Ted’s numbers slightly more amazing.

    • halladaysbiceps - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:15 AM

      Ted Williams was robbed of many MVPs. He has a very bad relationship with the sportswriters of the day. Because there was a mutual disdain, they chose to not vote for him. When he played, he may have won 5 or 6 MVPs had Williams had a better relationship with the writers.

      • 1historian - Jul 14, 2011 at 3:10 PM

        How many seasons did he lose – in his prime – because he was off fighting in
        WWII and Korea?

        They don’t make them like those guys any more and IMO we are the poorer for it.

    • ta192 - Jul 14, 2011 at 8:52 PM

      I always thought so…hell, Teddy’s seasonal average was higher than Joe D’s average during the streak…

  3. Jonny 5 - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:13 AM

    I think Vince Coleman’s streak beats them both. But I’m more for scrappy players and plays myself.

    • halladaysbiceps - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:16 AM

      I still think Juan Samuel was faster than Coleman.

      • b7p19 - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:24 AM

        They could have had a very even jerry curl battle if I remember correctly, but I’m not putting Samuel above Coleman. Maybe a touch of Phillies homerism there.

      • halladaysbiceps - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:28 AM

        Actually, b7p19, there was a local commercial on here in Philly during the 80′s in which Samuel was sitting around a table with some other players arguing about who the fastest man in the NL was. Someone says Coleman and Samuel gets offended and says he is.

        Obviously, Coleman was the 2nd best base stealer in that era (behind Henderson) and one of the best of all times. Samuel couldn’t tie his shoes.

      • Richard In Big D - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:40 AM

        Speed is only one component of base stealing. It’s more about awareness and timing. Player A may rank a 9 on the speed scale, while player B may rank a 10, but player A may be a better base stealer because of his superior observation skills and sense of timing.

      • Jonny 5 - Jul 14, 2011 at 11:25 AM

        Bicepts, but he can sure throw down signs smoother than Santana can throw down guitar licks. The man has style……

    • nategearhart - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:40 AM

      Hey, Coleman was black, which means he was “athletic”, not “scrappy”.

      • Jonny 5 - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:55 AM

        I stand by my original statement, although it has taken on a strange face. One of a player who can only try hard without the good results expected, and is primarily white it seems. But in my strange little world it describes the effort of a player that can have much success as well. like Coleman. He was just awesome with over 100 stolen bases 3 years in a row, and the most stolen bases 6 years straight. Along with his streak of 50 in a row without making an out. Dude scored a lot of runs by stealing all those bases, Even though he wasn’t a Williams or Dimaggio at the plate by any means. Sure those guys deserve their credit, but like I said, I like “scrappiness”, my view of it anyway.

      • nategearhart - Jul 14, 2011 at 11:00 AM

        You should stand by it. Coleman was very fast, and very scrappy. I was just funnin’ on those writers etc who feel you have to be white to be scrappy.

      • Jonny 5 - Jul 14, 2011 at 11:27 AM

        Indeed. I love using the term liberally myself. Anywhere I see fit….

      • cur68 - Jul 14, 2011 at 11:43 AM

        …and another blow for paradigm change is struck. We’ll be finally there when we’re all talking about Sabbathia’s ‘grit’.

      • Jonny 5 - Jul 14, 2011 at 12:49 PM

        I don’t know about the “grit” thing. I tend to think of sand in my shorts when I hear it. How about we all just agree how totally awesome the man is? Ace? damn right. Are pitchers gritty? You rarely see them empty dirt from their waistbands.

      • Utley's Hair - Jul 14, 2011 at 2:27 PM

        It is CC, so are we talking about his breakfast grits?

      • spudchukar - Jul 14, 2011 at 3:08 PM

        If CC removed grit from his waistband, wouldn’t he be in effect raising the mound to its original height.

      • Jonny 5 - Jul 14, 2011 at 3:52 PM

        lol!

  4. evanhartford - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:18 AM

    DiMaggio’s streak is definitely more romantic, but I think both are in the same “HOLY COW” category.

    I’ve given up on the “Top anything” debates. Instead, I opt for the Bill Simmons approach. Basically construct a pyramid and attach players/things to different levels of the pyramid. DiMaggio and Williams are both at the top level. Debating their accomplishments and abilities is like comparing Apollo to Ares. At the end of the day, they’re both freaking Gods!

  5. yankeesfanlen - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:18 AM

    Walks, intentional or not, are usually a pitchers’ or managers’ strategy. Not going to go through the Red Sox lineups at the time, but were they careful with Williams to get to a lesser batter? How about runners on base? Seems like variables and reputation factored in, just like Di Maggio.
    This is a parlor game, a subjective call. Both were great playes.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:25 AM

      Except even if the walks were a strategy, more often than not it hurts your team. Here’s a chart by Tom Tango about how to pitch to Bonds in the height of his [steroid fueled] absurd 4 MVP stretch. Notice how many more times DO NOT WALK shows up than WALK.

      http://www.tangotiger.net/walkbondschart.html

      • yankeesfanlen - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:33 AM

        Thanks. Shows that a walk is guaranteed to have a man on base whereas there’s only a 40% chance if you pitch him.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:46 AM

        The problem is confirmation bias. Even during that incredible streak of ’01 to ’04, people only seemed to remember the HRs he hit and not all the times he made outs.

    • b7p19 - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:27 AM

      Agree with your parlor game/subjective call comment and at the end of the day someone named “yankeesfanlen” WILL and probably SHOULD go with DiMaggio. Personally I’ll take Williams, but again why choose?

    • Glenn - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:47 AM

      Aren’t we way past believing that a walk has nothing to do with the hitter? I thought that primitive thinking went away at the dawn of sabermetrics. Even intentional walks are influenced by who is batting.

      I always thought it was impressive that Williams had a higher batting average than DiMaggio during his streak – plus he had all those walks. Williams’ 84 game streak seems as improbable to be broken as DiMaggio’s – and more valuable to his team. That said, DiMaggio was robbed by some great defense in game 57 and put together another 16 game streak following that, plus he had a ridiculous 61 game streak in the minors. That is pretty darn amazing.

      • Ari Collins - Jul 14, 2011 at 11:21 AM

        Is that true? I’m not saying it isn’t, but I’m surprised. There are definitely guys it’s a poor strategy to walk (Ichiro, Brett Gardner) who nonetheless excel at taking walks. Is having a batting eye not a skill?

      • Chris Fiorentino - Jul 14, 2011 at 11:47 AM

        Ari, you will surely be as surprised as I was a while back to lean that Ichiro absolutely does not walk. At all. His career BB/k ratio is like 480/780. I had always assumed as a leadoff hitter that he was a great obp guy, but at .328/.373 his OBP is only 45 points higher. Which means he just doesn’t walk. Least no as much as the prototypical leadoff hitter.

      • natstowngreg - Jul 14, 2011 at 12:56 PM

        Excellent point re: Ichiro. One thing I look at in a hitter’s slash line is the difference between AVG and OBP, and Ichiro’s high OBP is an exception, because his AVG has tended to be so high.

        Ichiro Suzuki is one of those rare hitters who can hack at most any pitch and get a hit. Roberto Clemente and Vlad Guerrero also come to mind.

      • solidzac - Jul 14, 2011 at 1:37 PM

        Aren’t we way past believing that a walk has nothing to do with the hitter? I thought that primitive thinking went away at the dawn of sabermetrics.

        Of course walks have plenty to do with hitters, but keep in mind that walks are considered one of the few things a pitcher can control to a certain extent. Ted Williams is going to get his walks no matter who he faces, but he’s going to walk a lot less against good pitching.

  6. uyf1950 - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:37 AM

    Certainly both streaks are exceptional. But I have to go with Joltin Joe’s. If you consider DiMaggio starting on May 15, 1941 a 56 game hitting streak, in the following game he reached base via a walk and then he started a new 16 game hitting streak. So taking everything into account Joltin Joe reached base in 73 consecutive games (72 games with hits and only 1 via a walk. If you consider what could have been a 72 game hit streak was only interrupted by a walk in the 57th game. That’s pretty impressive in my book.

    • cur68 - Jul 14, 2011 at 11:47 AM

      That’s my view right there, uyf. DiMaggio accomplished the harder way of getting on base. Both are still impressive but its probably Joe with the edge.

  7. targeese - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:38 AM

    How dare we compare anyone to DiMaggio! Blasphemy! (BTW, DiMaggio batted .408 during his incredible streak. Williams batted .406 for the fricking SEASON).

    A computer program simulated 10,000 baseball histories, and determined that 42% of simulated baseball histories had a longest hitting streak of 56 games or longer. In other words, it’s somewhat ordinary in the baseball universe (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/30/opinion/30strogatz.html). One big reason it’s romanticized is that it happened to the right person, a beloved Yankee. If it happened to say, Mark Belanger, it would be amazing, but we wouldn’t care. We’ve already witnessed what happens if even the wrong Yankee gets a hallowed mark – Roger Maris eclipsed Babe Ruth’s HR record instead of the beloved Mickey Mantle, was ostracized by Yankee fans and had the record marginalized by an asterisk.

    In 1941, Williams outdid DiMaggio in every category, except number of consecutive games getting a hit, and yes, should have won the MVP award. But baseball is seldom subjective, when in doubt, prop up the beloved Yankee.

    • solidzac - Jul 14, 2011 at 1:44 PM

      How dare we compare anyone to DiMaggio! Blasphemy! (BTW, DiMaggio batted .408 during his incredible streak. Williams batted .406 for the fricking SEASON).

      I don’t think anyone here is saying that, are they? Both streaks are incredible, and both players were all time greats. As has been pointed out elsewhere, it’s not even necessarily fair to compare them, as they weren’t terribly similar hitters, but hey, what else are we gonna talk about?

    • ILoveBaseball - Jul 14, 2011 at 2:14 PM

      Maybe it’s just me but why is it more impressive to have one
      hit in each game rather than bunching the hits?

      During Joe’s amazing streak he hit .408 (as has been pointed
      out elsewhere in these comments) but in the same 56 games Williams hit .425.
      Joe had 91 hits while Williams had a measly 76 (in 44 fewer AB). Joe was on
      base 112 times and Williams 128 times. Joe hit 15 HR and Williams 16. Heck Ted
      even stole one more base (1 to zero).

      Joe made 132 outs in that streak while
      Williams made 103.

      Was there more pressure on Joe D. because of the streak?

      • yankeesfanlen - Jul 14, 2011 at 2:28 PM

        Joe D. was emotionally exhausted after the streak. Oh, wait, he played the next game.

  8. all4tookie - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:40 AM

    Both are amazing, but neither is as impressive as George Brett’s streak at the Bellagio.

    • nategearhart - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:43 AM

      This.

    • Jonny 5 - Jul 14, 2011 at 11:29 AM

      No one will even get near it. Or him at that time.

  9. phukyouk - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    nothing will ever beat the Cubs streak… in fact… its still going.. 103yrs strong.

  10. uyf1950 - Jul 14, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    If I may be allowed to digress just a bit off topic. For those of you that may not realize it Joltin Joe’s little brother Dom DiMaggio played for and on the 1941 Red Sox team. And in his own right had a very good major league career. In 1951 he had a mini DiMaggio hitting streak. Hitting in 27 consecutive games. Just thought everyone would like to know.

    • Ace - Jul 14, 2011 at 11:34 AM

      He played before my time, but I always loved Dom DiMaggio. He actually still holds the record for longest Red Sox hitting streak (34 games in ’49).

  11. sjhaack - Jul 14, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    How about Williams’ streak of 17 straight seasons he played with an OPS above 1.000?

  12. solidzac - Jul 14, 2011 at 11:04 AM

    Seems to me Joe’s streak is slightly more impressive – length of each notwithstanding – because a number of outcomes could have increased Ted’s streak. He could get a walk, a hit, HBP, error, et cetera, whereas Joe had exactly one option: get a hit.

    • Ari Collins - Jul 14, 2011 at 11:23 AM

      Yes, length notwithstanding. But Ted’s was 50% longer.

      • FC - Jul 14, 2011 at 12:05 PM

        There’s a joke in there somewhere…

      • solidzac - Jul 14, 2011 at 1:39 PM

        Very true, which is why I said “slightly,” but which would you rather go into a game needing – one outcome of seven, or one of one?

      • otistaylor89 - Jul 21, 2011 at 11:32 AM

        That’s what she said….

    • JBerardi - Jul 14, 2011 at 1:39 PM

      “a number of outcomes could have increased Ted’s streak. He could get a walk, a hit, HBP, error, et cetera, whereas Joe had exactly one option: get a hit.”

      True, but is that really a point in DiMaggio’s favor? A hit streak to me is always something of a random, flukey thing, because you’re isolating just the one outcome. With an on-base streak, you’re counting every way of getting on base, so it’s more of a measure of a player’s overall game.

      DiMaggio’s streak may have been more improbable (although I actually kinda doubt it), but Williams’ reflects his skill as probably the best on-base guy who ever lived.

      • solidzac - Jul 14, 2011 at 1:41 PM

        For me, impressive contains “improbable” in this instance. The fact that it’s more unlikely is more impressive.

  13. uyf1950 - Jul 14, 2011 at 11:06 AM

    I would like to suggest that instead of some of the condescending comments about either one of these great players and the teams they played for that we just appreciate the accomplishments of The Splended Splinter and Joltin Joe. They were each one of a kind. May they both RIP.

    • ryanmallettsbluntwrap - Jul 14, 2011 at 3:58 PM

      Well said uyf . RIP to two of the greatest to ever play the game.

  14. Utley's Hair - Jul 14, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    Okay. I know what kind of reaction I’ll get for this observation, and I’ll take the inevitable intense thumbs-downpour. But I need to say it. Stuff like this is a pet peeve of mine.

    Craig, it’s impossible to have a 74-game on-base streak IN THE MIDST OF a 56-game hitting streak. You can not have a longer streak in the midst of a shorter one. That’s it.

    Okay. Commence the downpour.

    (By the way, I vote Joltin’ Joe, though both are incredibly impressive. There’s one way to get a hit, while there are numerous ways to get on base. Jus’ sayin’ is all.)

    • cur68 - Jul 14, 2011 at 11:59 AM

      Hair, you went to school way too long. Semantically, of course you are correct. However, thumb-iclly, you are going to get caned for being pedantic. As something of a pedant myself I sympathize but as a wannabe conformist I will join in on the ridicule in an attempt to fit in.

      BTW, who had the best ‘instincts’; DiMaggio or Williams? Neither, of course were as scrappy as Sabbathia is.

      • Jonny 5 - Jul 14, 2011 at 12:58 PM

        You have to bat to be scrappy I think. That’s the rule right? I forget what it was now…..

      • Utley's Hair - Jul 14, 2011 at 6:35 PM

        Seisenta y ocho, pet peeves are generally pedantic, aren’t they? Don’t we all have pet peeves?

  15. natstowngreg - Jul 14, 2011 at 1:13 PM

    On which streak is more impressive — DiMaggio’s. For someone with Williams’ exceptional batting eye, getting on base once every 4-5 plate appearances wasn’t that big a deal. But to get a base hit in every game for about 2 months remains mind-boggling.

    On who should have been 1941 AL MVP — Williams, though it’s an extremely close call. I base this on his achievement across the entire season. In DiMaggio’s favor was his defensive contribution and the fact that he played on the best team. So while writer dissing of Williams probably played a part, they had an excellent alternative in DiMaggio.

    I also suspect that at the time, writers expected someone to hit .400 in the future. After all, it had been done a number of times before. I doubt they could have predicted that it would not happen again (at least in the next 70 years).

    On streaks in general — How about a mention of a streak that only lasted 2 (non-consecutive) games — Johnny Vander Meer’s no-hitter streak? Or Orel Hershiser’s shutout innings streak? Not saying they’re better than DiMaggio’s streak, but noteworthy nonetheless.

  16. youngyankee - Jul 14, 2011 at 2:48 PM

    going with Dimaggio’s streak (SHOCKING considering my username right?) for the following:

    (and we can take the Yankee/RedSox out the equation because as a Yankee fan, even i’d admit Ted Williams was the greatest hitter to ever play.)

    Both at game 56 have their respective streaks intact.
    It’s the last AB, they’re both 0-3.

    If the pitcher is struggling with his command, Williams can leave the bat on his shoulder or get hit by a pitch and walk to first. Dimaggio needs to try and hit a bad pitch to keep his streak intact.

    If the pitcher isn’t, Williams has the option of drawing a walk, getting hit by a pitch, or getting a hit.

    Dimaggio still needs to get a hit.

    Both streaks are impressive and require an enormous amount of luck, but the hit-streak, there’s only 1 way to do it.

    • yankeesfanlen - Jul 14, 2011 at 3:00 PM

      You work your lessons well, my fine young protege.

      • youngyankee - Jul 14, 2011 at 3:02 PM

        YoungYankee: Revenge of the FanLen

      • Utley's Hair - Jul 14, 2011 at 3:28 PM

        Is there going to be some sort of Yoda Berra quote-a-thon coming? Hmm?

      • youngyankee - Jul 14, 2011 at 3:39 PM

        It’s like deja-vu, all over again!

      • Utley's Hair - Jul 14, 2011 at 4:22 PM

        Mmm…all over again, like deja-vu, it is.

      • youngyankee - Jul 14, 2011 at 6:48 PM

        lol did i mess up that Yogi-ism too?!

      • Utley's Hair - Jul 14, 2011 at 7:27 PM

        No…I translated it into Yoda-speak.

      • yankeesfanlen - Jul 14, 2011 at 9:06 PM

        See you’re studying Yogi-isms now. You’re correct, Ut’s just here as a friend of the Cake Court.

      • Utley's Hair - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:06 PM

        Mmmm…caaaaaaake….

    • Kevin S. - Jul 14, 2011 at 5:08 PM

      In other words, Williams can still do something positive to help his team, but DiMaggio, in chasing an arbitrarily-specific method of reaching base, becomes more likely to make an out, hurting his team. Got it.

      • youngyankee - Jul 14, 2011 at 8:19 PM

        no Kevin S. you didn’t get it.

        the scenario of mine was the different methods of keeping each player’s streak alive and my point was that it was harder, and therefore a bit more impressive, for Joe D.

        It had nothing to do with winning ball games because i’m pretty sure BOTH these guys during their streaks helped their team win.

        I didn’t think I had to add: Both the RedSox and Yankees are winning the game when both these guys 0-3 come to bat as the topic was about the individual streaks.

    • youngyankee - Jul 14, 2011 at 8:12 PM

      so this thread had:

      -a poor attempt at a transformers movie title joke.
      -a Yogi-ism
      -a Yoda-ism

      …..we’re so cool.

      +1 for that Yoda-ism though.

      =D

      • Utley's Hair - Jul 14, 2011 at 10:07 PM

        I thought you were going with a Star Wars title there.

  17. 1historian - Jul 14, 2011 at 3:00 PM

    This summer DiMaggio’s streak is 70 years old. In the years before or since, no one has come close to it.

    Williams was the last hitter to hit .400 or better, but he was not the first.

    My personal favorite is Johnny Unitas’s 47 consecutive games with at least one TD pass. The streak went from December 9, 1956 in Los Angeles and ran until December 11, 1960 in Los Angeles. 105 TD passes.

    No one has come close to it.

  18. dirtyharry1971 - Jul 18, 2011 at 11:18 PM

    only silly redsuk fans would ask such a question

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