Sunday, May 15, 2011

Who Did You Play Against, Joe Dimaggio?

With this season being the 60th anniversary of Joe Dimaggio's seemingly untouchable record of getting a hit in 56 consecutive games, there has been a great deal of chatter about why no one had come close to matching his record since 1941. Statisticians might call this a "Black Swan", an outlier so far outside the standard deviation as to be nearly impossible. In the years since, the closest anyone has come to Mr. Coffee's record is Pete Rose with 44, which is the same number that the previous record owner, Wee Willie Keeler (did that nickname keep him from getting dates?) in 1897.

Kostya Kennedy has a small piece in Sport Illustrated about what an enigma this record is, including some explanations about why no one has come close. The standard explanations are that pitchers are so much more specialized today, and have so much more information on hitters. But don't hitters also have more info, as well as modern technology as a teaching tool to groove their swings?

I have another explanation. Joltin Joe was not playing against the best players in the world when he set that record, only the best white players. I have long believed that any record set before baseball fully integrated should have an asterisk for this reason. As I write this I am watching the Bosox try to hang on for a sweep of the Evil Empire. Andruw Jones is playing for the Yankees tonight, which reminded me of all the hits he took away from hitters when he was younger and a brilliant fielder. Take all the minority players in the game today who would not have been invited to play in the Majors in 1941, and replace them with inferior White players, and tell me there wouldn't be a lot more hits falling. I bet some clever Sabremetrician could even estimate this effect.

The real question is why no one on TV ever has the guts to point this out!

1 comment:

Budd Bailey said...

That's always tough to judge. In 1941, there were 16 teams -- all white. In 2010 there are 30 teams (almost twice as many), with many African American, Hispanic, and other groups represented (Japanese, for one). Then, throw in the population growth in the country since 1941, and it's obviously gotten hard to make the majors in that sense. But more people are playing football, basketball, etc., now too. So it's tough to quantify.