|Birth||November 25, 1914|
|Death:||March 8, 1999|
|Debut||May 3, 1936, New York Yankees|
|Team(s)||New York Yankees (1936–1942), (1946–1951)|
Joseph Paul DiMaggio, born Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, Jr. (November 25, 1914 – March 8, 1999), nicknamed Joltin' Joe and The Yankee Clipper, was a Major League Baseball center fielder who played his entire Major League baseball career (1936–1951) for the New York Yankees. He was the brother of Vince DiMaggio and Dom DiMaggio, also baseball players.
A three-time MVP winner and 13-time All-Star, DiMaggio was widely hailed for his accomplishments on both offense and defense, as well as for the grace with which he played the game. At the time of his retirement at age 36, he had the fifth-most career home runs (361) and sixth-highest slugging percentage (.579) in history. A "picture-perfect" player, many rate his 56-game hitting streak (May 15–July 17, 1941) as the top baseball feat of all time. A 1969 poll conducted to coincide with the centennial of professional baseball voted him the sport's greatest living player.
DiMaggio's marriage to actress Marilyn Monroe raised his stature from baseball star to national celebrity. But the union ended in divorce and he lived an increasingly reclusive life out of the public eye. Following his death, a monument was established in his honor at Yankee Stadium. On it is inscribed, "A baseball legend and an American icon."
DiMaggio was the eighth of nine children born to Sicilian immigrants. His mother, Rosalia, named him "Giuseppe" for his father; "Paolo" was in honor of Saint Paul, his father's favorite saint. The family moved to San Francisco when Joe was a year old.
Giuseppe Sr. was a fisherman, as were generations of DiMaggios before him, and wanted his five sons to do the same. Joe would do anything to get out of cleaning his father's boat, as the smell of dead fish made him sick to his stomach. This earned him Giuseppe's ire, who called him "lazy" and "good for nothing." It was only after Joe became the sensation of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) that his father was finally won over.
Joe was in semi-pro ball when older brother Vince, playing for the San Francisco Seals, talked his manager into letting Joe fill in at shortstop. Joe—making his debut on October 1, 1932—could not play shortstop well, but he could hit. From May 28 to July 25, 1933, he got at least one hit in a PCL-record, 61 consecutive games.
In 1934, DiMaggio's career almost ended. Going to his sister's house for dinner, he tore the ligaments in his left knee while stepping out of a taxi. The Seals, hoping to sell Joe for $100,000—a staggering sum during the Great Depression—now couldn't give him away. Fortunately, Yankees' scout Bill Essick pestered the team to give the 19-year-old another look. After Joe passed a test on his knee, he was bought for $25,000 plus the rights to five lesser players, with the Seals keeping him for the 1935 season. That year, he batted .398 with 34 home runs and 154 RBIs, led the Seals to the 1935 PCL title, and was named the league's most valuable player.
"The Yankee Clipper"
Touted by sportswriters as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Shoeless Joe Jackson rolled into one, DiMaggio made his major-league debut on May 3, 1936, batting ahead of Lou Gehrig. The Yankees had not been to the World Series since 1932, but, thanks in large part to their sensational rookie, they won the next four world championships. In total, he led the Yankees to nine titles, out of ten World Series appearances, in 13 years.
During his career with the Yankees, DiMaggio hit .325, drove in 1,537 runs, and had 361 home runs. His fielding average was .978, and he played the game with a grace second to none. His league records were equally impressive, including:
- American League (AL) Most Valuable Player: 1939, 1941, and 1947
- AL batting champion: 1937 (.381) and 1940 (.352)
- AL total bases leader: 1937 (418), 1941 (348), and 1948 (355)
- Major League record 56-game hitting streak in the summer of 1941.
DiMaggio had warmed up for his streak by getting at least one hit in each of the last 19 games of spring training, then kept his hitting alive for the first eight games of the regular season. (This 27-game streak was only two behind the Yankee record of 29.) Previously, in the Pacific Coast League, DiMaggio had a 61-game streak (May 28–July 25, 1933) that brought him notoriety, but nothing like what was to come.
On May 14, 1941, DiMaggio was hitting just .194, and the mighty Yankees were 14-13. Then the following day, the streak started. DiMaggio got hits in 46 consecutive games by late June, and the Yankees were now far ahead of their old nemesis, the Boston Red Sox. When the Yankee Clipper passed George Sisler's league record of 41 games with a hit, his teammates rushed out of the dugout to congratulate him, a rarity in those days. Then DiMaggio went on to pass "Wee" Willie Keeler's record of 44 games, set in 1897, before there even was an American League. DiMaggio batted .363 for the first 31 games of the streak, and an amazing .461 for the last 25.
Finally, what came to be known simply as "The Streak" came to an end in League Park against the Cleveland Indians. The very next day DiMaggio continued with yet another streak lasting 17 consecutive games.
While the eyes of baseball fans were focused on DiMaggio's hitting exploits, a 22-year-old player on the Red Sox named Ted Williams was batting a blistering .488 during his own 23-game streak that began a day before DiMaggio's. When the season ended, the young Williams had hit .406, besides leading the league in runs, homers, walks, slugging average, and on-base percentage (.551, the highest in more than 60 years). Nevertheless, Williams lost the 1941 American League Most Valuable Player award to DiMaggio and "The Streak."
Stephen Jay Gould wrote of DiMaggio's 56-hit streak as the only sports record that was an unpredictable anomaly based on statistical analysis, and therefore the greatest feat in all of sports. His hitting streak has been used as a gold standard to compare similar feats in other sports: Johnny Unitas throwing at least one touchdown in 47 consecutive games is often cited as football's version. Martina Navratilova referred to her 74 straight match wins as "my DiMaggio streak." Wayne Gretzky's 51-game scoring run also was compared with The Streak. DiMaggio was less than impressed, quoted as saying that Gretzky (who scored an empty-net goal in the final moments of a game to keep the streak alive) "never had to worry about a mid-game washout in the middle of the second period."
By 1949, DiMaggio was still regarded as the game's best player, but injuries got to the point where he could not take a step without pain. A sub-par 1951 season and a brutal scouting report by the Brooklyn Dodgers that was leaked to the press led him to announce his retirement on December 11, 1951. He was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.
DiMaggio would likely have had even better statistics had his home park not been Yankee Stadium. As “The House That Ruth Built,” it was designed to accommodate the Babe's left-handed power. For right-handed hitters, it was a nightmare: Mickey Mantle recalled that he and Whitey Ford would count the blasts DiMaggio hit that would have been home runs anywhere else, but, at the Stadium, were merely long "outs." Others calculated that DiMaggio lost more home runs due to his home park than any player in history. Left-center field went as far back as 457 feet, compared to ballparks today where left-center rarely reaches 380 feet.
Following the U.S. entrance in World War II, DiMaggio enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces on February 17, 1943, rising to the rank of sergeant. While Ted Williams, Bob Feller, and Hank Greenberg served overseas at their request, DiMaggio was stationed at Santa Ana (California), Hawaii, and Atlantic City as a physical-education instructor during his 31-month stint, and played baseball.
Giuseppe and Rosalia DiMaggio were among the thousands of German, Japanese, and Italian immigrants classified as "enemy aliens" after Pearl Harbor was attacked. They had to carry photo ID booklets at all times, were not allowed to travel more than five miles from their home without a permit, and Giuseppe's boat was seized. Rosalia became an American citizen in 1944, Giuseppe in 1945.
In January 1937, DiMaggio met actress Dorothy Arnold on the set of Manhattan Merry Go-Round. They married at San Francisco's Catholic SS Peter and Paul on November 19, 1939, as 20,000 well-wishers jammed the streets.
Even before their son Joseph III was born, the marriage was in trouble. While not the "party animal" Babe Ruth was, he had his fun, leaving Dorothy feeling neglected. When Dorothy threatened divorce in 1942, the usually unflappable DiMaggio went into a slump and also developed ulcers. She went to Reno, Nevada in February 1943; he followed her and they reconciled. But shortly after he enlisted in the army and was sent to Hawaii; she filed for divorce in Los Angeles.
DiMaggio met Marilyn Monroe on a blind date in 1952. According to her autobiography, Monroe did not want to meet DiMaggio, fearing he was a stereotypical "jock." Both were at different points in their lives: the just-retired Joe wanted to settle down; Marilyn's career was taking off. Their elopement at San Francisco City Hall on January 14, 1954, was the culmination of a courtship that had captivated the nation.
The relationship was loving, yet complex, marred by his jealousy and her ambition. DiMaggio biographer Richard Ben Cramer asserts it was also violent. When she filed for divorce 274 days after the wedding, comedian Oscar Levant quipped it proved that "no man could be a success in two pastimes."
DiMaggio re-entered Marilyn's life as her marriage to Arthur Miller was ending. On February 10, 1961, he secured her release from Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic, where she was reportedly placed in the ward for the "most seriously disturbed." She joined him in Florida, where he was a batting coach for the Yankees. Their "just friends" claim did not stop remarriage rumors from flying. Reporters staked out her apartment building, and Bob Hope "dedicated" Best Song nominee "The Second Time Around" to them at the Academy Awards.
According to biographer Maury Allen, Joe was so alarmed at how Marilyn had returned to her self-destructive ways, falling in with people he felt detrimental to her (including Frank Sinatra and his "Rat Pack"), that he quit his job with a military post-exchange supplier on August 1, 1962, to ask her to remarry him. But before he could, she was found dead on August 5, a probable suicide. Devastated, he claimed her body, and arranged her funeral, barring Hollywood's elite. He had a half-dozen red roses delivered three times a week to her crypt for the next twenty years. Unlike her other two husbands or other men, who knew her intimately (or claimed to), he refused to talk about her publicly or "cash in" on the relationship. He never married again.
Following lung cancer surgery on October 14, 1998, DiMaggio fell into an 18-hour coma on December 11. The coma forced his lawyer, Morris Engelberg, to admit that the positive reports he had been feeding to the press were greatly exaggerated. He claimed Joe made him promise not to tell even his family about his condition.
Joe was finally taken home on January 19, 1999. Days later, NBC broadcasted a premature obituary; Engelberg claimed he and DiMaggio were watching TV and saw it. His last words, according to Engelberg, were "I'll finally get to see Marilyn." However, the day after DiMaggio's death, a hospice worker who cared for him gave a radically different account to the New York Post.
DiMaggio is interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, California. In his eulogy, his brother Dom declared that Joe had everything "except the right woman to share his life with," a remark seeming to confirm the family's disapproval of Monroe.
DiMaggio was used by artists as a touchstone in popular culture not only during his career, but decades after he retired. In the South Pacific song, "Bloody Mary," the character of this name is described as having "skin tender as DiMaggio's glove." During his hitting string, "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio" was recorded by bandleader Les Brown.
In Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely, the character Philip Marlowe follows the streak, which Chandler uses as a metaphor for good. A generation later, Simon and Garfunkel used DiMaggio as a metaphoric American hero in "Mrs. Robinson." The literal-minded DiMaggio was reportedly not fond of the lyric "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?" as he was very much alive, and had not gone anywhere. However, he changed his mind when he gained a whole new generation of fans from that song.
On September 17, 1992, the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital opened, for which DiMaggio raised over $4,000,000.
Yankee Stadium's fifth monument was dedicated to DiMaggio on April 25, 1999. It replaced a plaque that previously hung at Monument Park: "A baseball legend and an American icon." Also on that date, New York City's West Side Highway was officially renamed in his honor. The Yankees wore DiMaggio's number 5 on the left sleeves of their uniforms for the 1999 season. He is ranked number 11 on the Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was elected by fans to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Cramer, Richard Ben. Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life. Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN 978-0684865478
- Beckett Publications. Joe DiMaggio: The Yankee Clipper. Beckett Publications, 1998. ISBN 978-1887432603
- DiMaggio, June, and Mary Jane Popp. Marilyn, Joe and Me: June DiMaggio Tells It Like It Was. Penmarin Books, 2006. ISBN 978-1883955632
- Selig, Allen, and Richard Gilliam, eds. Joltin' Joe DiMaggio. Carroll & Graf, 1999. ISBN 978-0786706860
All links retrieved August 1, 2022.
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