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THE STREAK
KOSTYA KENNEDY
March 14, 2011
Seventy summers ago Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 straight games, setting the most hallowed record in sports. Along the way, though, a sweltering weekend in Washington, D.C., almost halted his march to history
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March 14, 2011

The Streak

Seventy summers ago Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 straight games, setting the most hallowed record in sports. Along the way, though, a sweltering weekend in Washington, D.C., almost halted his march to history

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JOE DIMAGGIO sat reading Superman and smoking in his room at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. He adored Superman comics, although he did not want many people to know this. If the newspapers picked up on it, who knew what people might think? What if they made fun of him? His roommate, Lefty Gomez, had the assignment of discreetly buying the weekly comic book for DiMaggio; whenever Joe himself carried a copy he tucked it out of sight. He read the daily Superman strips in the newspaper too.

Superman was a story of unambiguous heroism in which the seemingly impossible was routinely achieved. Something important was always at stake. Everybody loved Superman, and unfailingly he saved the day. There was also the ever-present element of secrecy, of Clark Kent's disguising a completely other identity that no one, not even Lois Lane, could know.

"Why, Joe, you're just like him," Gomez would kid. "He puts on his uniform, and all of a sudden no one can stop him! He's everyone's hero." Sometimes when Gomez bought the comic—and DiMaggio always had him get it the very day it came out—he would goof around by calling out to DiMaggio, who hovered off to the side, "You mean this comic book, Joe? Or this one, the Superman?" DiMaggio would scowl and turn his back and walk off a few paces. Only Gomez could get away with tweaking him like this.

That night, June 28, 1941, with a chance for DiMaggio to pass George Sisler's American League record during a doubleheader at Griffith Stadium the next day, he and Gomez would stay in the room. DiMaggio's hitting streak was at 40 games, one short of Sisler's mark from 1922, and as the 26-year-old DiMaggio had realized over the last few days in New York City and Philadelphia, being out in public now meant being subjected to almost relentless pestering.

Even in ordinary times, when DiMaggio went out, someone invariably wanted to speak to him—and get his autograph. Fans interrupted his meals at restaurants and surrounded him when he left Yankee Stadium. At the movies DiMaggio found it best to sit near the back, to limit the number of people who might see him and come over to greet him even as the picture rolled. But the fawning was far greater now; even an attempt to sit quietly in the hotel lobby was a sure invitation to be bothered.

That was too bad. DiMaggio liked hotel lobbies, saw them as comfortable places to relax. He liked to sit in the plush armchairs beneath the fancy chandeliers and, with one or two other ballplayers in the chairs beside him, watch the hotel guests come and go. They'd sit without speaking. A few years back in St. Louis a reporter had seen DiMaggio and fellow Yankees Frankie Crosetti and Tony Lazzeri together in the lobby of the Chase Hotel. They sat for nearly an hour and a half without exchanging a word. Then DiMaggio cleared his throat. "What did you say?" Crosetti asked.

"Shut up," Lazzeri said. "He didn't say anything."

Then the three men fell back into silence. They sat and watched and were left in peace.

That would not be possible in this time of the hitting streak, so DiMaggio would stay in the room, and he and Gomez would put on the radio and order up steak. Even on a night like this, some enterprising fans would knock on the door, claiming to be bellhops or maids. Gomez would tell them to bug off and say DiMaggio wasn't even there. At times, though, a pretty woman would arrive at the room, and if DiMaggio had invited her or if he wanted her to stay (he had a fondness for redheads), Gomez would leave the two of them alone for a while. Rarely did Joe ever see these women again. He did not offer to take them out for a meal, nor did he suggest that they spend any additional time together. To none of the women did he play the cavalier.

The dalliances may have briefly pleased DiMaggio, but they did not lessen the loneliness he felt without his wife, the former actress Dorothy Arnold. When he was apart from her she seemed in every aspect ideal. The things about her that annoyed him seemed small and unimportant; she became in his mind the missing ingredient he needed to feel at ease. No other woman changed that. DiMaggio still looked forward to returning home to Dorothy's arms; he still wanted her to be at the ballpark for every game and by his side when the photographers came. Out in the nightlife, DiMaggio's gallantry was reserved for his wife. There may have been other women, but really there were none. Joe was always true to Dorothy, in his fashion.

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