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The Streak.
Posted Wednesday, June 30, 2004

by Bill Hogan


 
 

When people referred to "the streak" in the 1970's, they were talking about taking their clothes off and running nude through a populated area. Streaking was very popular in the '70's. Modesty wouldn't allow me to participate, but my friend Fitzie needed little prodding to drop his trousers and skip through the halls of our high school.

The fad was such a hit back then that the very act of appearing in public in the buff was immortalized in a song performed by Ray Stevens. The song also became a hit. In May, 1974, "The Streak" topped the Billboard charts for 3 weeks. "He's just in the mood to run in the nude. Oh yes, they call him the Streak."

 
 


Thirty years later, people are again talking about "the streak." This time, the term doesn't involve sprinting across the infield during the seventh inning stretch wearing nothing but a pair of Nikes and a Timex.

This time the streaker is a buttoned-down computer programmer from Utah named Ken Jennings. The temperate Mormon is the reigning "Jeopardy!" champion and, boy, is he on a roll. A record twenty straight wins and over $662 thousand in prize money – that's a heck of a streak.

Jennings nonchalantly gives the correct question to just about every answer Alex Trebec can throw at him. The other two contestants are usually relegated to mere spectators as he rifles through category after category displaying an adept knowledge of a wide variety of subjects. This guy can make a Ph.D. look like a Boo.B.

"Jeopardy!" is not a game of chance – you aren't going to go bankrupt on one spin of the wheel. And, certainly, you don't have to count on Whoopi Goldberg coming up with the correct answer for the block. To have the smarts to overwhelm your opponents time and again is an amazing streak of good fortune.

In the summer of 1941, baseball fans needed no explanation when the topic of conversation turned to "the streak." People weren't talking about running naked through the streets or the successful run of a game show contestant. They were talking about Joltin' Joe DiMaggio.

On June 29, 1941, DiMaggio tied and then broke George Sisler's American League consecutive game hitting streak in a double header against the Washington Senators. DiMaggio ended the day having hit safely in 42 straight games. Three days later, July 2, the Yankee Clipper set the new major league consecutive game hitting streak record at 45. The old record of 44, set by Hall of Fame outfielder Wee Willie Keeler, had stood for 44 years.

DiMaggio would hit safely in 11 more games. When the Cleveland Indians held him hitless on July 17 – thanks in no small part to two great fielding plays by Indians' third baseman Ken Keltner - the streak finally came to an end after two months and 56 games. But not before Joltin' Joe had put the record out of reach; probably for good.

During the streak, DiMaggio collected 91 hits, batted .408, hit 15 home runs and drove in 55 runs. The streak was so impressive that he beat out Ted Williams for the AL Most Valuable Player award after Williams finished the 1941 season with a whopping .406 batting average.

The Chicago White Sox' Carlos Lee hit safely in 28 consecutive games earlier this season. That streak ended on June 16, but there is every indication that it likely will stand as the longest hitting streak in the major leagues this year.

Stringing together 28 games with at least one hit is quite an accomplishment. Any hitting streak that reaches the twenties generally attracts some attention from the baseball media and fans. But to put DiMaggio's feat into perspective, 28 is only half way to his unbelievable mark of 56. Half way.

In 63 years, nobody has even come close. Pete Rose tied Wee Willie's National League record when he hit in his 44th consecutive game for the Cincinnati Reds on July 31, 1978. There was a lot of excited anticipation as he inched closer to DiMaggio's record. Rose went hitless the next night. As it turned out, Joe's streak was never in "Jeopardy!" after all.

The one baseball record that never will be broken: "What is Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak?" Ironically, a "Final Jeopardy" question of this nature could bring an end to Ken Jennings' winning streak. Sports, it seems, isn't his strongest subject.

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