2 comments March 31st, 2008at 11:21am Posted by Eli

So, apparently, if you simulate the whole of baseball history 10,000 times over, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak isn’t that big a deal:

WITH the baseball season under way and the memory of scandal in the sport so fresh, many fans yearn for an earlier era, a time when mythology mingled with baseball. The sport’s most mythic achievement is Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, a feat that has never come even close to being matched. Fans and scientists alike, including Edward M. Purcell, a Nobel laureate in physics, and Stephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary biologist, have described the streak as well-nigh impossible.

In a fit of scientific skepticism, we decided to calculate how unlikely Joltin’ Joe’s achievement really was. Using a comprehensive collection of baseball statistics from 1871 to 2005, we simulated the entire history of baseball 10,000 times in a computer. In essence, we programmed the computer to construct an enormous set of parallel baseball universes, all with the same players but subject to the vagaries of chance in each one.


To tease out the meaningful lessons from random effects (fluky streaks that happen by luck), we redid the whole thing 10,000 times. In each of these simulated histories, somebody holds the record for the longest hitting streak. We tabulated who that player was, when he did it, and how long his streak was.

And suddenly the unlikely becomes likely: we get a very long streak each time we run baseball history. These results are shown in Figure 1. The streaks ranged from 39 games at the shortest, to a freakish baseball universe where the record was a remarkable (and remarkably rare) 109 games.

More than half the time, or in 5,295 baseball universes, the record for the longest hitting streak exceeded 53 games. Two-thirds of the time, the best streak was between 50 and 64 games.

In other words, streaks of 56 games or longer are not at all an unusual occurrence. Forty-two percent of the simulated baseball histories have a streak of DiMaggio’s length or longer. You shouldn’t be too surprised that someone, at some time in the history of the game, accomplished what DiMaggio did.

The real surprise is when the record was set. Our analysis reveals that 1941 was one of the least likely seasons for such an epic streak to occur.

Figure 2 shows the number of times, out of 10,000 simulations, that the longest streak occurred in a particular year. The likeliest time for the longest streak to have occurred was in the 19th century, back in the misty beginnings of baseball. Or maybe in the 1920s or ’30s.

But not in 1941, or afterward. That season was the miracle year in only 19 of our alternate major-league histories. By comparison, in 1,290 of our baseball universes, or more than a tenth, the record was set in a single year: 1894.

And Joe DiMaggio is nowhere near the likeliest player to hold the record for longest hitting streak in baseball history. He is No. 56 on the list. (Fifty-six? Cue “The Twilight Zone” music.) Two old-timers, Hugh Duffy and Willie Keeler, are the most probable record holders. Between them, they set the record in more than a thousand of the parallel baseball universes. Ty Cobb did it nearly 300 times.

DiMaggio held the record 28 times. Plus once more, when it counted.

Questions left unanswered:

o Who had the 109-game hitting streak???

o Were there any parallel universes with multiple hitting streaks of 56 games or more?

o Did the simulation take into account opposing teams and pitchers making a concerted effort to stop the streak?

o Were there more perfect games and no-hitters than reality or less? Did the Mets pitch any?

o Where can I get a copy of the simulation program?

Entry Filed under: Sports,Weirdness


  • 1. Spear and Magic  |  March 31st, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    No. The Mets do not get a no-hitter in this or any alternative universe. A Met’s no-hitter, as it turns out, is a metaphysical impossibility rather than a mere nomological impossibility or freak coincidence in the actual universe. You could look it up.

  • 2. Spear and Magic  |  April 1st, 2008 at 12:06 am

    > Where can I get a copy of the simulation program?

    Shouldn’t you be about at your 10,000th pass through the 1989 season in Earl Weaver by now? Does anyone other than the (ugh) A’s ever win that one?

Contact Eli



Most Recent Posts




March 2008
« Feb   Apr »

Thinking Blogger

Pittsburgh Webloggers

Site Meter

View My Stats *