WAS JOE DIMAGGIO'S 56- GAME HITTING
STREAK THE GREATEST SPORTS
RECORD OF ALL TIME?
n a beautifully written article, the late paleontologist and lifelong baseball
fan Stephen Jay Gould argues that Joe DiMaggio's 56- game consecutive hitting streak is the greatest sports record of all time.1
In this chapter we will
use basic probability and statistics to determine how likely it is that a 56game hitting streak would ever occur.In June 1938 Johnny Vander Meer pitched consecutive no-hitters. This has
never been done by anyone else. Is this the greatest sports record of all time?
After making some reasonable assumptions, basic probability and statistics
can help us determine that the occurrence of a 56- game hitting streak was
less likely than the occurrence of consecutive no- hitters.Furthermore, can basic probability and statistics help explain why there
have been only seventeen regular season perfect games since 1900? To address these issues we need to study the basic mathematics of rare events.
Calculating the Probabilities of Rare Events:
The Poisson Random Variable
Let's consider random variables that always assume a value of 0, 1, 2, and
so forth, and the value of the random variable results from the occurrence
of rare events. Some examples follow.
|• ||number of accidents a driver has in a year|
|• ||number of perfect games during a baseball season|
|• ||number of defects in a cell phone|
1 Stephen Jay Gould, “The Streak of Streaks,” review of Streak: Joe DiMaggio and the Sum-
mer of '41 by Michael Seidel, August 18, 1988, New York Review of Books, available at http://