1941 holds a unique spot in the history of baseball. In addition to being the last season before World War II, it also contained two of the most famous records in the annals of the game. From May 16th to July 15th, the Yankees Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 straight games. During the streak, “Joltin’ Joe” had 91 hits in 223 AB’s for a .409 batting average. While the streak got top billing for two months, Ted Williams of the Red Sox was destroying AL pitchers and his batting average sat at .3995 going into the last day of the campaign. Rather than sitting out and letting the stat be rounded up to .400, “The Kid” went 6-for-8 in a doubleheader to finish at .406.
Since 1941, no player has had a streak of more than 44 games (Pete Rose in 1978) and no hitter has finished with a batting average over .394 (Tony Gwynn in 1994). Think of it, two records established over 75 years ago that have stood the test of time. There were also numerous great performances during 1941 that get overlooked…Dolph Camilli hit 34 HR’s with 120 RBI’s for the Dodgers and won the NL MVP and Bob Feller of the Indians winning 25 games are just two examples.
Everything changed for baseball players and fans on that “date which will live in infamy” in December of 1941. Major League baseball was played for the next four years but DiMaggio, Williams, Feller and many others were away defending our country and life changed for all Americans.
Another casualty of the war was baseball cards. In 1939, Gum Inc. debuted a new baseball product called Play Ball. The 162 set had cards that were larger and better quality than the old-time tobacco and gum cards produced earlier in the century. It also included the rookie card of Williams as well as a card of DiMaggio. In 1940, the Play Ball set increased to 240 cards and in addition to modern players, also included a “Shoeless Joe” Jackson card.
The 1941 version was limited to 72 players but introduced color to the card fronts. As a recent collection that came across my desk included some of these historic pieces of cardboard, let’s take a look at some of the Hall of Fame names you might recognize…values are based on cards in “EX 5” condition.
> #6 Carl Hubbell $140 – The master of the screwball, “King Carl” spent his entire career (1928-1943) with the Giants.
> #8 Mel Ott $140 – Hit 511 HR’s in 22 seasons (1926-1947) with the Giants.
> #13 Jimmie Foxx $210 – One of the great sluggers of the era, he won three MVP awards and hit 534 HR’s.
> #14 Ted Williams $775 – The greatest hitter that ever lived.
> #18 Hank Greenburg $200 – Helped the Tigers win two World Series and overcame significant prejudice on his way to Cooperstown.
> # 54 Pee Wee Reese $375 – This is the rookie card of the famous Dodger SS…it is the top RC in the set.
> #’s 61, 63 & 71 Vince, Dom & Joe DiMaggio $150 / $150 / $1,800 – The only time these brothers ever appeared in the same baseball card set.
> #70 Bill Dickey $215 – The legendary Yankee Catcher who played with Babe Ruth & Lou Gehrig.
> #72 Lefty Gomez $250 – Won five World Series as the ace of the Yankee’s staff.
Fans had to wait until 1948 for the next set of baseball cards.