Dark, ominous storm clouds rolled off Lake Erie and barreled toward League Park. Black sky
loomed over the ballyard, and rain, which had been falling lightly since the fourth inning,
threatened to become heavier.
The baseball game stirring underneath the clouds on this Sunday afternoon in downtown
Cleveland was nearly complete. The Indians led the visiting Philadelphia Athletics 2-1 in the top
of the ninth inning.
Ray Caldwell stood on the mound on this warm August day, pitching in his first game with the
Indians. The right hander retired the first two A’s batters as the storm above intensified.
Caldwell readied to pitch to the next to Athletics’ shortstop Joe Dugan when…
A fearsome lightning bolt zipped from the overhanging clouds. Frightened spectators scurried for
“The bolts flashed here and there, causing much excitement,” Harry P. Edwards wrote in the
Sporting News days later. “There was a blinding flash that seemed to set the diamond on fire and
Caldwell was knocked flat from the shock of it.”
His teammates rushed in to check on the hurler, who, “lay stretched out in the pitcher’s box.”
Caldwell was down but not out. He did a quick inventory of his arms and legs. What a relief.
Everything was still attached.
The pitcher dusted off his pinstriped uniform, and readied to finish off Dugan and the A’s.
After the game, Caldwell told the Cleveland Press that the lightning strike “felt just like
somebody came up with a board and hit me on top of the head and knocked me down.”
Trailing the Chicago White Sox by eight games, Indians’ player-manager Tris Speaker refused
“to admit they were out of the pennant race.” The day before this matinee with last-place
Philadelphia, the Tribe had rolled off five wins in their last six games.
“They are fighting hard for every game and have been fairly successful despite the decidedly
erratic pitching the team has had,” The Sporting News claimed.
To boost the rotation, Cleveland picked up Caldwell, a fun-loving spitballer, whom the Red Sox
had released in early July.
Now weeks after the signing, Caldwell, on a day in which the Cleveland Plain Dealer had
forecasted “showers and cooler” temperatures, was pitching a masterful game in the debut for his
The Indians picked up their only two runs in the bottom of the fourth on a walk, a sacrifice, a
couple of ground outs and a throwing error by Dugan – but no hits.
The A’s scored a run in the fifth when George Burns crossed the plate on a Cy Perkins grounder.
Burns had reached base after being hit by a pitch.
Caldwell cruised through eight innings against the A’s, who had lost 13 of 14 games.
Into the ninth they went. The Athletics’ first two batters failed to reach base safely.
Then came the ruckus.
As Dugan stood at the plate, “Thousands of spectators were thrown into a momentary panic by
the bolt which came without warning and made as much noise as the back firing of a thousand
autos or the explosion of a dozen shells from a battery of big berthas,” the Cleveland Plain
Dealer reported the following day.
Caldwell’s teammates feared “he may have been killed,” Edwards wrote in the Sporting News,
“but he struggled to his feet, and after frisking himself to see if he was all there, pitched what
was left of the game, which was finished before the rain became a downpour.”
The lightning, the Cleveland Press reported, had knocked off Indians’ catcher Steve O’Neill’s
mask and hat, as well as Harry Davis’ navy blue A’s cap. Davis was coaching third base for
“We all could feel the tingle of the electric shock running through our systems, particularly in
our legs,” umpire Billy Evans said after the game.
Davis, the Press reported, “got a second shock, for Cy Perkins came up to feel Harry’s head and
see if he was hurt. The lightning had charged Davis’ hair with electricity and his whole frame
tingled when Cy touched him.”
Teammates also claimed to have felt an “electrical current” from lightning hitting the metal
spikes on their shoes.
“One of the players touched Caldwell on the head and leaped into the air. He said the pitcher
seemed to be crackling with electricity,” a reporter wrote in a wire story.
Is this possible?
“When lightning strikes the ground, the current flows across the surface creating a step voltage.
Someone standing with their feet apart can have current go up one leg and down the other,” said
Joseph Dwyer, a lightning researcher and professor of physics at the University of New
Hampshire. “I would think such a large current through the legs could explain the numbness
One Cleveland player who complained of numbness was Ray Chapman, who nearly a year later
was killed after being hit by a pitch thrown from Yankees’ hurler Carl Mays. Running to
Caldwell, Chapman nearly fell from the numb feeling in his leg.
The lightning event was quiet frightful for the spectators.
Newspaper reports say lighting danced along the ballpark rails near where some fans were sitting
and jumped toward the pitcher’s mound.
“Lightning certainly can travel along metal railing,” Dwyer said, a phenomenon he called side
“When lightning strikes, there is often tens of thousands of amps of current and very large
voltages,” the professor said. “If some of this current goes into a metal conductor such as fences
or railings, the current can travel long distances, causing sparks to other objects along the way.”
There still was one more out to go.
Still shocked, figuratively and possibly literally, from the turn of events, players took their
positions. Caldwell pitched to Dugan and “forced him to hit a grounder to Gardner just as the
clouds broke and the rain came down heavily,” wrote the Plain Dealer.
Game over. Indians 2, Athletics 1.
Caldwell pitched a complete game and allowed Philadelphia only one run and four hits. He
struck out three and walked two.
Afterward, Caldwell assessed the damage and found he had slight burns on his chest. Speculation
at the time concluded lightning had hit the metal button on his cap, “surged through his body,
and exited through his metal spikes.”
This, like a direct strike on a person, is unlikely, said Dr. Mary Ann Cooper, founding director of
the African Centres for Lightning and Electromagnetics and professor emerita at the University
of Illinois at Chicago.
“Lightning only goes through the body for perhaps three-to- four microseconds before it flashes
over the outside, and that’s not long enough to cause internal burns,” Dr. Cooper said. “It would
be nice to know what the chest burns looked like. Was there a linear burn down the middle or
sides of the chest where there would be sweat lines that lightning turned into steam causing
burns? Was it where metal was? Did he have a necklace with a cross on it, so that there was a
cross shape burned in?”
Dr. Cooper also wondered if the burns could have been fern-like, or Lichtenberg figures.
Caldwell recovered and Cleveland’s win meant the Indians kept pace and remained eight games
behind the American League-leading Chicago White Sox, who had also won that day, 4-1, over
the New York Yankees.
The Indians put together a run through the season’s remaining weeks, including a mid-September
streak of 12 wins in 13 games that began with Caldwell pitching a 3-0 no-hitter against the
Yankees, one of his former teams. However, Cleveland finished three and a half games behind
the White Sox, who went on to infamously represent the American League in the 1919 World
Caldwell’s electrifying performance helped spark the Indians’ late-season run. In six games with
his new club, the big righty pitched to a 5-1 record with a 1.71 ERA, proving the Indians had
made the right move in giving the pitcher, who was 31 years old at the time, another chance to
“When Speaker announced he was going to give Ray Caldwell a trial in the box, lots of persons
thought he was crazy,” wrote the Sporting News on Sept. 4, 1919. “But Speaker now has the last
laugh on the doubters, for Caldwell turned in and beat the Athletics easily and then all but beat
the White Sox, finally being trounced by them in the ninth inning, 3 to 2, not bad pitching for a
pitcher thought to be through as a big leaguer.”
Joe DiMaggio was just getting started on “this streak business” and was one of the hottest hitters in baseball when his New York Yankees were slugging their way toward a three-game sweep of the first place Cleveland Indians in mid-July, 1941.
Joltin’ Joe had hit safely in 28 consecutive games, one shy of the Yankees’ club record, held jointly by Roger Peckinpaugh and Earle Combs. Both former Pinstripers – Peckingpaugh was in his second stint as skipper of his hometown Indians, and Combs was the Yanks’ first base coach – were among the 12,522 who paid for seats at Yankee Stadium on this warm Monday afternoon in the Bronx.
Standing in the way of DiMaggio and his streak were Indians’ lefthander Al Milnar and eventually a rain storm that threatened cut the game short in the fifth inning.
DiMaggio’s first try at extending his string of hits came in the bottom of the first inning with two outs and Red Rolfe on first via a free pass handed to him by Milnar. With his team already trailing the Tribe 1-0, DiMaggio lined out sharply to center field to end a mild Yankees threat.
Joltin’ Joe’s next turn at the plate came in the fourth, this time, with his club behind, 3-1. Leading off the inning, he again he hit the ball hard, but again right at an Indians’ player. Cleveland second base man Ray Mack recorded the out this time.
Despite DiMaggio’s lead-off line out, the Yankees put together a productive inning. Buddy Rosar followed DiMaggio to the plate and promptly walked. That set up Joe Gordon who drove a 400-foot home run into the left field pavilion. Gordon’s blast tied the game at 3-3 and was his 10th of the season. He would go on to hit 24 for the year.
The home run continued the Yankees’ display of prolific power. The Bronx club hit 23 home runs in 12 games, eclipsing a mark set by the 1922 St. Louis Browns. (George Sisler played for the ’22 Browns and set a record that season by hitting safely in 41 straight games.)
Still there was the matter of another Yankees record to be hashed out. Peckinpaugh had set the team’s consecutive hitting streak at 29 games in 1919. Combs came along in 1931 and tied, but could not overtake the mark.
Giving his best try at the record, in addition to helping his team to victory, was DiMaggio’s mission for the day.
Going into the series finale, DiMaggio had a .341/.430/.622 slash line. He began collecting hits along the way of every game on May 15 in a 13-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
That day at Yankee Stadium, DiMaggio strolled to the plate in the bottom half of the first with his team already down 2-0. White Sox lefty Eddie Smith delivered a pitch that DiMaggio slapped into left field for a single that scored Phil Rizzuto from second.
For the next 27 games, DiMaggio kept hitting. He collected 41 hits during that span, including eight home runs, five of which he had hit in the past six games. And his slugging sparked the Yankees. When the streak began, the Yankees, led by manager Joe McCarthy, were 14-14 and in fourth place, five and a half games behind Cleveland.
Joltin’ Joe’s hot bat had sparked his teammates, who on this day were looking to improve upon their 32-22 record and move to within a game of the pacesetting Indians. Cleveland had won six in a row before losing their last two games to the surging Bronx Bombers.
DiMaggio hit his stride against some tough pitchers in those first 28 games. He had already faced future Hall of Famers Lefty Grove, Hal Newhouse and knocked three hits in two appearances against Bob Feller.
On June 3, a day after his last meeting with Feller, the New York Times wrote: “DiMaggio, incidentally, has hit safely in nineteen straight games.” That line is believed to be the first time the slugger’s streak was mentioned in print.
On this increasingly cloudy day in New York, DiMaggio was facing Milnar for the second time in a little more than two weeks. On June 1, in Game 1 of a double header at Cleveland Stadium, DiMaggio got to Milnar only once, a single to left in the top of third. He scored when the next batter, Buddy Rosar, doubled to left. DiMaggio’s run gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead, which held up as the final score.
On this day, the Yankees, tied 3-3 with the Cleveland club, were itching to build upon the two runs they had scored a frame earlier.
However, the weather refused to cooperate with the Yankees’ plans. Rain began falling at the stadium and the game was halted. Puddles gathered on the infield dirt and footing became slippery in the outfield, where DiMaggio patrolled with his glove and quick stride.
Home plate umpire Bill McGowan and his crew sent both teams back to their respective clubhouses.
There, as a steady rain fell outside, DiMaggio, inside the Yankees’ locker room, took off his cap, loosened his shoe laces and sat at a stool near his locker smoking cigarettes and drinking black coffee, a half a cup at a time so it would stay warm.
In 56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports, Kostya Kennedy wrote that “Tying the Yankee record, if the game ever started up again, would mean something. DiMaggio figured he had two more times at bat, three if the Yankees opened things up.”
After a little more than an hour of downtime, the rain let up and the field was again ready for baseball. To the bottom of the fifth they went with Rolfe leading off, followed by Henrich and DiMaggio.
Despite the delay, Milnar remained on the mound for the Indians. He recorded two quick outs – Rolfe flied to right and Henrich struck out looking – before getting to DiMaggio. Milnar fell behind in the count, 3-1, to the Yankees’ clean-up hitter.
Having hit in 28 consecutive games and the Yankees team record hanging over him, DiMaggio quickly ended any doubt about the streak’s continuation as he lined a double to left field.
“The crowd exulted and DiMaggio stood impassive at second base,” Kostya wrote in 56. Joltin’ Joe’s name, for a day, would be written next to Peckinpaugh and Combs in the Yankees record book.
DiMaggio had equaled the record, but the Yankees remained tied as Rosar flied to right, failing to bring DiMaggio home.
In the top of the seventh, Yankees’ starter Lefty Gomez pitched his way into some trouble, giving up a Gee Walker single to deep short and a walk to right fielder Jeff Heath. Soup Campbell then lined a single to center, scoring Walker and giving the first-place Indians a 4-3 lead and strong belief of avoiding a sweep in the Bronx.
Gomez got the batter, first baseman Hal Trosky, to pop up to second for the third out. That ended the day for the Yankees’ starting pitcher, who left with a less-than-impressive outing that included giving up 10 hits, four runs – three of those were earned – and four walks.
The Yankees roused some thunder in the eighth with a couple of two-out singles by Rolfe and Henrich, but DiMaggio, who entered the game hitting .341, flied to center.
Milnar had survived another frame for the Indians. His eighth inning, however, was a different chapter in the story of his game. It began innocently enough with Rosar flying to deep center, Gordon singling to left and Charlie Keller reaching on a fielder’s choice. Rosar was forced out at second.
Phil Rizzuto came to plate. The young short stop, who had played well over the first two months of the season, entered the game in the second inning when veteran Frankie Crosetti had the middle finger on his right had cut by the spikes to Hal Troskey, who was sliding into and tagged out at second.
“Dr. Robert Emmet Walsh put two stitches in Crosetti’s finger,” wrote Louis Effrat in the June 17, 1941 edition of the New York Times. “The short stop, who had been playing regularly for the past month, will be idle for five days.”
Rizzuto took advantage of his opportunity and Crosetti’s misfortune. He had singled and scored in the third inning and singled again in the fourth.
Now in the eighth, with his team needing baserunners, Rizutto exhibited timely patience at the plate and took four balls and a free pass to first base from Milnar.
Mistakes doomed the Indians in the eighth. With two outs and two runners aboard, pinch hitter Red Ruffing grounded to short. It could have been a rally killer, but Lou Bourdreau, the normally reliable Tribe short stop, “kicked it around,” as Effrat wrote in the Times, and the Yankees and their fans had a glimmer of hope.
Bill Dickey, pinch hitting for rookie first baseman Johnny Sturm, came to the plate with the bases full of pinstripe-clad runners. Dickey singled to right, plating Rizzuto and Keller. The Yankees had a 5-4 lead. They added one more when second baseman Ray Mack bobbled a grounder, allowing pinch runner Jerry Priddy to score.
Yanks’ pitcher Marius Russo shut down the Indians in the ninth, securing the 6-4 win for his club. Johnny Murphy had pitched the eighth and picked up the win, his fourth of the year.
As for DiMaggio’s streak, he would break the Yankees record by hitting in his 30th consecutive game the next day, a single in the bottom of the seventh in an 8-7 loss to the White Sox at Yankee Stadium. A reported crowd of only 10,442 where at the park to witness the hit. However, plenty more opportunities remained to see Joe smack the ball around the ballpark as he continued the streak for another month, reaching a total of 56 straight games with a hit.
Along the way, DiMaggio shattered the mark set by Sisler in 1922 and “Wee” Willie Keeler’s 44-game streak in 1897.
“And the DiMaggio feat, of course, tops them all,” The Sporting News wrote on July 10, 1941, shortly after DiMaggio’s streak had reached 45 games. “When Keeler hit in 44 straight games, the lads of the press hollered, ‘There is only one Keeler, and his feat will stand as along as baseball itself will endure.’ But along came Joe DiMaggio, and now the great Keeler record is only a memory. So is Sisler’s 41. So is Ty Cobb’s 40. And throw in Bad Bill Dahlen’s 42. Bill started this streak business with Chicago in 1894. He was in the Stadium the day DiMaggio made it 45 – and Jolting Joe made it with a tremendous home run, too.”