The Yankee Clipper, New York City’s Hero
Joseph Paul DiMaggio was born on November 25, 1914 in Martinez, California a city east of San Francisco. He had nine siblings including his brothers Vince and Dom who would join him as making a career in baseball. DiMaggio recalled his youth saying “I began playing baseball on a vacant lot in San Francisco when I was about 10 years old. In those days, I preferred almost anything to working on my fathers (Giuseppe DiMaggio a fisherman) fishing boat or cleaning it up when the fishing day was over. I hated the smell. My father looked on baseball in much the same way as I did fishing.” Needless to say, a career in baseball wasn’t what Joe’s parents were pinning their hopes on for their boy.
Joe D started his baseball career like most native Californians in that time did, with the Pacific Coast League. In 1934, when he was 20 years of age. His contract was purchased by the New York Yankees. DiMaggio’s life would never be the same. It was unarguably the greatest move that New York General Manager George Weiss ever made, and he would go on to say the same himself in his later years. His rookie year was 1936 and he became close with fellow Bay Area natives and sons of Italian immigrants Tony Lazzeri and Frankie Crosetti who would become the Yankees all-time leader in World Series titles winning 17 as a player and coach. The three were known for their lack of conversations throughout the cross-country drive from California to Florida. After a tough spring the man they would end up calling “Joltin Joe” would make his professional debut on May 3, 1936 against the Browns of St. Louis. He singled in his first career at-bat and hits would keep on coming until his career ended after the 1951 season. In his rookie campaign DiMaggio hit .323 with 29 home runs (a team rookie record until Aaron Judge’s 52 in 2017) and drove in an astounding 125 runs.
DiMaggio won four world series in his first four seasons with the team and was the epitome of clutch. He collected his first of three MVP awards in 1939, his second came in 1941, and it perhaps was the greatest season an offensive player could ever imagine. On May 15th of 1941, the Yankee Clipper collected a base hit, he would continue to get at least one hit in every game for the next 56 games. From May 15th to July 17th, Joe hit 15 home runs and drove in 55 while hitting a Cobb like .408. His 56-game hitting streak still stands as a major league record to this day and one that no one has ever approached breaking. He earned his second overall MVP award and finished the season hitting .357. It was during this season, he had his famous MVP battle with Boston’s Ted Williams, the two would forever be intertwined. The media loved DiMaggio and Williams on the other hand wasn’t fond of reporters and vice versa. DiMaggio was a perfectionist who was always concerned about embarrassing himself on the diamond. He wore fine tailored suits and was always in the company of a beautiful woman including Marilyn Monroe.
He missed time to serve the United States in World War II, although he was never deployed to Europe or Japan. He asked multiple times to be sent to combat wanting to serve his country but was eventually discharged in 1945 due to stomach ulcers. Though the United States won the war people were still unsure of the worlds future, baseball and especially in New York Joe DiMaggio helped them get over everything. He did the same in his magical 1941 season when tensions in world were so very high.
DiMaggio was the ultimate winner, he played 13 seasons winning 10 American League pennants and nine championships. Statistically his poorest year was 1949 but that was due in large part to a devastating injury to his heel which caused him such pain that he had trouble walking on it with his full weight. However, he came back in late June and proceeded to pick up right where he left off hitting four home runs in his first three games back, a sweep over the Red Sox. A plane flew overhead with a banner trailing saying “The Great DiMaggio” and this wasn’t in the Bronx, it was in Boston flying over Fenway Park. The Yankees would go on to win that 1949 World Series and proceeded to win the next four straight. He was so beloved by his teammates and fans that he took on the persona as this almost mythical hero. He was friends with politicians, sports writers, businessmen and authors. His good friend Ernest Hemmingway mentions him numerous times in his novels. Grantland Rice the famous sports writer describes him “The ball drifts down, DiMaggio is there. Ty Cobb has ruled and Ruth sung his tune. Tris Speaker was a melody in rime. DiMaggio, you won’t forget him soon. Here is the master artist of our time.” That last line resonates for anyone who watched him play or researched him. Everything he did seemed so elegant and effortless, but few put more time into mastering their craft than DiMaggio. Of course, many are familiar with the famous “Mrs. Robinson” song by Paul Simon, its lyrics “Heaven holds a place for those who pray. Joltin Joe has left and gone away. Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” No other player in history has been received like DiMaggio, not his legendary predecessors Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig nor his heir Mickey Mantle. Not Williams, Foxx, Kaline, or Musial. They all had the skill, but none could compete with DiMaggio’s grace and humility.
Joe DiMaggio died in 1999, his number 5 resides in Monument Park, and he has one of the five monuments in the sacred area of Yankee greats. Today when people visit Yankee Stadium they can check his monument out and read of his greatness, visit the Yankee Museum and see his artifacts next to other legends that had the honor to wear pinstripes. Some hit more home runs, some had more hits but DiMaggio to all was the hero that New York needed, (no this is not a Batman Dark Knight reference) and he came through time after time. No one loved what he did more after all how can you not be sentimental about the man who said “I want to thank the good lord for making me a Yankees.” Well Joe, we’re sure glad he made you a Yankee too.
Stats by Baseball Reference
Credits to “Summer of ’49 by David Halberstram and “Red Sox vs. Yankees: The Great Rivalry by Harvey & Frederic Frommer
Article by Fave Ruggiero