Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports
By Kostya Kennedy
(Sports Illustrated, Hardcover, 9781603201773, 368pp.)
Publication Date: March 2011
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
Categories: Baseball - History
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Winner of the 2011 CASEY Award from Spitball Magazine Seventy baseball seasons ago, on a May afternoon at Yankee Stadium, Joe DiMaggio lined a hard single to leftfield. It was the quiet beginning to the most resonant baseball achievement of all time. Starting that day, the vaunted Yankee centerfielder kept on hitting-at least one hit in game after game after game.
In the summer of 1941, as Nazi forces moved relentlessly across Europe and young American men were drafted by the millions, it seemed only a matter of time before the U.S. went to war. The nation was apprehensive. Yet for two months in that tense summer, America was captivated by DiMaggio's astonishing hitting streak. In 56, Kostya Kennedy tells the remarkable story of how the streak found its way into countless lives, from the Italian kitchens of Newark to the playgrounds of Queens to the San Francisco streets of North Beach; from the Oval Office of FDR to the Upper West Side apartment where Joe's first wife, Dorothy, the movie starlet, was expecting a child. In this crisp, evocative narrative Joe DiMaggio emerges in a previously unseen light, a 26-year-old on the cusp of becoming an icon. He comes alive-a driven ballplayer, a mercurial star and a conflicted husband-as the tension and the scrutiny upon him build with each passing day.
DiMaggio's achievement lives on as the greatest of sports records. Alongside the story of DiMaggio's dramatic quest, Kennedy deftly examines the peculiar nature of hitting streaks and with an incisive, modern-day perspective gets inside the number itself, as its sheer improbability heightens both the math and the magic of 56 games in a row.
Kostya Kennedy, a senior editor at Sports Illustrated, writes on a wide range of subjects. Before joining SI, he was a staff writer at Newsday and contributed to The New York Times and The New Yorker. He earned an M.S. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, from which he received a Pulitzer Fellowship. He lives with his wife and children in Westchester County, N.Y.
"A wonderful book. And what may be the last word on a record that may last forever."
"Kostya Kennedy rescues The Streak from the numberish precinct of the record book and brings it back to the realm of drama which it dominated in 1941. He follows the ripples of DiMaggio's doings to the wide world beyond baseball and delivers to us a tale that's a delight."
"56-the number alone still has meaning, but there is a compelling and textured story behind it, a story that pre- and postdates the summer of 1941. Kostya Kennedy tells that story beautifully."
Kostya Kennedy's "56" is one fine book. It gracefully brings us back to that sunbright, terrifying year, 1941, just before the United States was plunged into World War II. And it does a splendid job of humanizing a gifted, headstrong and difficult man. Mr. Kennedy gives us DiMaggio through that great hitting streak until we can all but feel The Jolter's pride and passion for perfection. (Mr. Kennedy also throws in a gentle mini-portrait of that most ungentle character Pete Rose.)
Is the 56-game streak the most remarkable of baseball records? You can debate the matter at any sports bar. Beyond debate is that "56" is the best baseball book to appear in many a season.
Kennedy combines the sweep of a historian, the narrative power of a novelist and the passion of a fan.