September 2001 | Volume 52, Issue 6
Joe DiMaggio’s fame rests on a hitting streak that never happened. It is as full of holes as an archery target—for example, two gift hits by friendly New York official scorers on easy bouncing balls in games 30 and 31. If either of them had been called honestly, DiMag would have had two streaks of between 25 and 30 games, not one streak of 56, and would rank somewhere near his close statistical twin, Hank Greenberg, in the pantheon.
Joe gets some stiff competition from Satchel Paige. Satch, too, was very good, but his fame rests on his classic wit. On the mound, Paige is credited with 1,000 wins against all opponents, though this figure has never been verified and probably never will be. Exhaustive research shows that he actually won 155 Negro League games (the teams usually played somewhere between a third and a half as many league games as white major league teams). Satch finished in second place. Big Bill Foster won 161; Ray Brown 153, and Bullet Joe Rogan 151, even though Joe didn’t pitch his first game until age 30. And all of them lost considerably fewer than Satch’s 92 defeats.
Bob Feller was the Nolan Ryan of his day. He was left off the All-Century Team elected by the fans in 1999, his 266 victories ignored in favor of Bob Gibson (251), Roger Clemens (then about 240), and Sandy Koufax (165).
What the fans—and writers—had forgotten is that Feller volunteered for four years in the Navy immediately after Pearl Harbor. He was 23 years old, entering the four most productive years of his life. During their equivalent four years, Walter Johnson won 121, Christy Mathewson 110, Clemens 79, Ryan 57, Koufax 48, and Feller 5 (after VE day). Bobby won 98 games in the four years on each side of the war and probably would have won at least 100 in the missing seasons.
At an age when other players were fattening their totals, Feller was shooting down kamikaze planes in the Pacific. Did he regret his wartime service? “No,” he says. “I’ve made many mistakes in my life. That wasn’t one of them.”