30 baseball books in 30 days of ’11: Day 14 — Still trying to get our heads around 56, some 70 years later

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The book: “56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports”

The author:Kostya Kennedy

The vital stats: Sports Illustrated Publishing, 386 pages, $26.95.

Find it: At Powell’s (linked here), Amazon.com (linked here) and Barnes & Noble (linked here).

The pitch: On this day, Pete Rose hits 70 — that’s years old, not a consective game streak, or years denied a Hall of Fame induction.

So if we’re looking backon a record that “The Hit King” fell eight games short of tying back in the late ’80s — he’s been the closest to come to even getting a sniff of it — this latest tale of DiMaggio hits the spot.

It’s really a two-sided tale, recounting DiMaggio’s days as he accomplished the feat, but also tackling the questions: How does “56″ endure? And what does it say about DiMaggio’s legacy?

Kennedy’s research produced what is perhaps the most market-friendly book of the season, which included a cover story excerpt in Sports Illustrated back on March 14 when you’d think there’d be plenty of college basketball to hold our interests. That’s the magic of DiMaggio, and of the streak, all this time later.

There are very interesting aspects to spotlight, such as on page 131, when a scoring decision gave DiMaggio a hit rather than charge Luke Appling with an error in game 30, which may have tainted the career of scorekeeper Dan Daniel. Would DiMaggio have been as heralded if he had a 29-game streak, followed by one of 43? Doubtful.

Others have gone into greater detail about how the streak came about, how it could have ended, and how another streak followed. But what sets this apart are Kennedy’s sidebars, called “The View from Here,” that keep it fresh and relevant. Interviews with current major-leaguers, hitting coaches, even psychologists analyze their imput as to why this may never be reached again.

We can apprecate in particular the research done (page 187) about the theory that the reason a streak like this hasn’t happened since is because today’s players have a tougher time facing more different pitchers on a regular basis. “There’s no evidence to support it,” Kennedy writes. And we believe it as well.

Finally, there’s a chapter about the math involved in all of it — the odds. One study said the streak like that could happen only once in 746 years. Another says it’s 1-in-18,519.

Concludes Kennedy: “If there is life on Earth but none yet observed on any of the other planets in our solar system, can we make a guess as to the probability that alien life is thriving somewhere out there in the cosmos? Who could possibly say? … Where it comes to baseball and hitting streaks, there is at least one thing we can say for sure: Through the end of the 2010 season, 17,290 players we know have appeared in the major leagues. Only one of them ever hit in 56 straight games.”

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How it goes down in the scorebook: There could be 56 books written about this record, but we’d be inclined to hang onto this one.

Sorry, did we overlook the other stories Kennedy weaved in there, references to DiMaggio’s relationship with his wife, Dorothy Arnold, or how the death of Lou Gehrig on June 2 during the early stages of the streak impacted things? The relationship Joe had with his brother, Dom, who was a teammate of Ted Williams as the Boston Red Sox star hit .406 that same year but didn’t win the AL MVP award? Or DiMaggio’s ex-Yankee teammate who tried to sabotage the streak by giving him nothing to hit?

Or even that DiMaggio was a big fan of Superman comics?

Hopefully not. Because it’s all there, too.

Coming up: Another book, “Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil” by Jerome Charyn is set for release later this summer (linked here).

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