Sports Illustrated senior editor Kennedy recreates the triumph of Joe DiMaggio's improbable 56-game hitting streak during the anxious summer of 1941. With the United States marching toward war, and young men (including professional ball players) being drafted by the millions, the country needed something to cheer about. The New York Yankees centerfielder, then in his fifth season, delivered by setting a record that many experts say will stand forever. As Kennedy writes in one of five compelling sidebars that provide a modern-day perspective on the feat, only nine players in Major League history have run off hitting streaks of more than 35 games in a season. DiMaggio seemed an unlikely candidate as the 1941 season opened. In fact, 56 begins with the slugger in a slump. But then came the hits, and as the streak extended into the twenties, most Americans became enthralled. Kennedy recaps those 56 games and brilliantly depicts an era free of 24-hour-news cycles and social networks, a time when newspapers and the radio delivered information first. Through meticulous research and interviews, he takes readers beyond the field. From the private world inhabited only by DiMaggio and his new bride to Newark barbershops, the playgrounds of Queens, and the streets of DiMaggio's hometown, San Francisco, Kennedy humanizes an immortal accomplishment. (Mar.)
Winner, CASEY Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year, Spitball Magazine
Runner-Up, PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing
Best Biography/Autobiography, San Francisco Book Festival
"The best baseball book to appear in many a season." --Roger Kahn
"The era, the ballplayer and the record are all laid out beautifully.... The tension of the times is matched by the pressure of the streak." --San Francisco Chronicle
"Kennedy combines the sweep of a historian, the narrative power of a novelist and the passion of a fan." --Allen Barra, Newsday
"Kennedy has produced a book that, like its subject, is destined to hold up over time." --Tom Verducci
"A wonderful book. And what may be the last word on a record that may last forever." --Gay Talese
"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." --Richard Ben Cramer
"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." --Bob Costas
Kennedy combines the sweep of a historian, the narrative power of a novelist and the passion of a fan.
Sports Illustratedsenior editor Kennedy follows the days of Joe DiMaggio's immortal hitting streak, evoking the mood of a long-gone America to which DiMaggio was a central figure.
"Baseball's most resonant numbers keep falling," he writes. "But Joe DiMaggio's is still there: 56 consecutive games with a hit." The streak began on May 15, 1941, and ended 57 games later when DiMaggio went hitless in Cleveland. A "biting strangeness" seemed to envelop America during these spring and summer months, as the country inched ever closer to war, and young men, including professional baseball players, entered the military in increasing numbers via the draft. As the streak unwound, DiMaggio offered not only escape from harsh reality but certainty in uncertain times. However, it was not easy being Italian in America at the time, and more than a few newspapers referred to DiMaggio as "the Wallopin' Wop." Always a hero to kids in Queens, once the streak seemed to stretch on forever, DiMaggio truly became "America's Joe," gaining uncommon celebrity and adulation. Kennedy creates a dynamic portrait of the young star as he tried to keep the streak alive. Elegant both on and off the field, DiMaggio remained somehow distanced and detached, and the author draws precise character sketches of those closest to him at that time: his wife Dorothy, pregnant with their first child, and his brother, and Red Sox rival, Dom. Kennedy also brings to life such characters as diminutive rookie Phil Rizzuto and DiMaggio's closest friend, Lefty Gomez. DiMaggio emerges in these pages as a flawed hero, but a hero nonetheless. How unique was the streak? "Through the end of the 2010 season," writes the author, "17,290 players were known to have appeared in the major leagues. Only one of them had ever hit in 56 straight games."
A fine baseball book and an expert social history.
…the best parts of Kennedy's book are the series of interludes in which he goes meta, exploring the psychology required to maintain a streak, for example, and recounting challenges to the record.
The New York Times
"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.