Baseball Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio and the Cleveland Indians share one important trait.
That is, 76 years apart, they cared enough to bring their best every time they performed, especially during The Streak.
And on both occasions, it was truly a sight to behold.
DiMaggio had a major league-record 56-game hitting streak for the New York Yankees in 1941.
The Indians just finished putting together a major league-record 22-game winning streak. There is some talk that the 1916 New York Giants still hold that mark by going 27 games without a loss. But that is faulty reasoning. That was an unbeaten streak, for it included a tie sandwiched between stretches of 12 and 14 straight victories. What the Indians had was a winning streak. They did nothing but win over a 22-game span. They were perfect in that regard. A tie is not perfect. It is not a win – not a loss, certainly, but also not a win. It’s a hiccup in a winning streak, turning it into an unbeaten streak. The Indians, who were 22-for-22, had no hiccups, so hats off to them.
DiMaggio didn’t have any hiccups, either. He played – and had a hit – in 56 consecutive games. He was 56-for-56, as it were, his streak finally ending July 17 when, against the Indians at Cleveland Stadium before 67,468, the largest crowd in the majors during the 1941 season and the largest crowd ever to see a night game to that point in history, he was victimized by three good defensive plays on grounders, two by third baseman Ken Keltner and one by shortstop Lou Boudreau.
The 2017 Indians’ winning streak was halted in a 4-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Sept. 15 at Progressive Field, located about 22 or so long, towering fly balls away from old Cleveland Stadium.
The pressure of playing at a high level over an extended period – the pressure of being consistently good – is what sets DiMaggio and the Indians apart. They both had to be on their game, every single game, no exceptions.
There was no room for error in either case. DiMaggio couldn’t go hitless one day and say, "That’s OK, I’ll get back on track tomorrow." Similarly, the Indians couldn’t lose one day and say, "Tough game, but we’ll get ’em tomorrow.
That wasn’t good enough. Tomorrow was too late. The Indians and DiMaggio would have no tomorrow if they didn’t succeed today. Indeed, every day was a "now" moment.
To just show up and play didn’t cut it. They had to play well. They had to get the job done.
I have a friend who, every time I try to talk sports to her, including about the Indians’ winning streak, their trip to the seventh game of the World Series last year or the Cavaliers’ NBA championship in 2016, has a pat answer for her ambivalence – her disinterest.
"I’m not a sports person," she’ll say with a big smile.
OK, I get that. Sports aren’t for everybody. They’re popular with many people, but there are those – and I respect them greatly – who wouldn’t know a baseball, basketball or football if it hit them in the head. They are fiercely proud of that fact.
But what if sports is the thing that almost everybody – even the most casual sports fans, and not just those in that team’s city but also nationally – is talking about, as was the case with the Indians’ seemingly endless string of victories and DiMaggio’s seemingly endless string of hits? These two streaks went far beyond the realm of sports.
The Indians were featured on the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. They had their mainstream street cred.
And in 1941, songs were written about DiMaggio and the streak. Every afternoon at a time when baseball was played almost exclusively during the day, the nation waited breathlessly to see if DiMaggio got a hit and kept the streak going.
In both cases, it was something fun to focus on while all kinds of real serious stuff – like historic storms rolling their way through Texas, Florida and the Caribbean, and the threat of a military conflict with North Korea, or in 1941 with the dark clouds of involvement in World War II looming on the horizon – was going on.
But let’s take it beyond sports.
Theatrical productions aren’t really my thing. They are to me what sports are to my friend.
But I am nonetheless interested – very much so – that "Phantom of the Opera" is the longest-running Broadway show in history with 12,334 performances dating all the way back to Jan. 26, 1988, when current Indians manager Terry Francona was getting ready to play his lone season with the team. That was nearly 30 years ago.
Talk about consistency, especially in a society where valuing longevity has seemed to go the way of dial-up internet connections! Wow!
And it’s still going strong.
That puts a lot of pressure on the cast members. If they don’t continue to give excellent performances, then the show will close and the streak will end.
The fact that hasn’t happened yet – and shows no sign of happening – is off-the-charts incredible and a tribute to the cast.
Those actors take pride in their work, just like DiMaggio did and the Indians still do. It means something – a lot, really – that their names are attached to their work. They don’t want to cheat their fans, for in doing so they would be cheating, and embarrassing, themselves.
"I played my best every day. You never know when someone may be seeing you play for the first time," DiMaggio said after retiring.
This year’s Indians bent over backwards to say that merely playing well – and not their winning streak – was their focus.
Concerning that, there’s this from a writer on sportsillustrated.com: "Don’t believe them for a second. Cleveland’s win steak, which was laid to rest Friday at 22 games (in 24 days) old, mattered to the team. Why else would Francona run nearly all of his playoff lineup out there for a Wednesday afternoon game in September against the woeful Tigers, holding a 13-game division lead? Why else did they all tear the jersey off right fielder Jay Bruce — a Met 37 days ago — after he hit a walk-off double to beat the Royals, who haven’t been a threat in weeks? They cared."
And caring is what drives us all, whether it be the players, teams or fans – or perhaps even those who don’t appear to care at all.