Joltin’ Joe hits and Thumper crosses the threshold

On this day in 1941, a sunny Sunday in the Bronx, the legendary Lefty Grove scattered seven Yankee hits as Boston topped New York, 10-3. It was big league victory No. 296 for Grove and it was Boston’s first win of the season at Yankee Stadium after three losses and a tie, but the game’s true historical significance was buried a bit deeper in the box score.

Five hits mattered most, one from Joe DiMaggio and four from Ted Williams.

DiMaggio’s hit, a single, extended his modest hitting streak to 11 games. The streak was no longer modest by July, and as history attests, he carried it to a record 56 games.

Williams, who entered the day with a sizzling .383 batting average, rapped three singles and a double to push him over .400 for the first time since accumulating enough plate appearances to make it meaningful. His torrid pace spanned that magical summer, culminating with his fabled 6-for-8 on the season’s final day and coronation as the last man to eclipse .400.

Rattling the Yankees’ pitching was a common refrain for Williams in 1941. While they mostly managed to keep him in the ballpark (only two home runs allowed), they couldn’t keep him off the bases, and in the teams’ 22 meetings, Williams hit .471, or nearly 30 points higher than against any other team. Yankee Stadium was particularly welcoming. Williams posted a .485 batting average in the house the Ruth built, with three extra-base hits, but somewhat surprisingly, no home runs.

Digging still deeper into Williams’ penultimate pre-war campaign, it’s worth noting that his path to .406 was forged by an increase in walks (24.3% of his plate appearances, the second-highest rate of his career) and a major decrease in strikeouts (4.3%, the lowest rate of his career and approximately half the pace of his first two MLB seasons). Translating his performance at the plate into Boston victories, Williams’ 11.9 WAR (wins above replacement) ranked as the big league’s best in 1941, slightly outpacing DiMaggio’s 10.6 WAR. No one else was in their stratosphere.

– Jayson Hron


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