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Joe DiMaggio

Joe DiMaggio

Position(s):
OF, 1B
Nicknames:
Joltin' Joe, The Yankee Clipper
Born:
November 25, 1914
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
6' 2"
Weight:
193 lbs
Major League Debut:
5-03-1936 with NYA
Allstar Selections:
1939 ML, 1939 MVP, 1941 MVP, 1947 MVP
Hall of Fame:
1955

The most complete player of his era, Joe DiMaggio is considered by most baseball historians to be the first true "five-tool" player ever to grace a major league ballfield.  In fact, prior to leaving the game for three years to serve in the military during World War II, DiMaggio may well have been the greatest all-around player in baseball history.  His tremendous ability, along with the stylish grace and elegance he exhibited while patroling centerfield in Yankee Stadium for 13 seasons, eventually enabled The Yankee Clipper to reach iconic-like status, turning him into a true American hero.

Early Career:

Born Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio Jr., the eighth of nine children to Italian immigrants, Joseph Paul DiMaggio had already made a name for himself in his native California by the time he joined the New York Yankees in 1936.  Honing his baseball skills under the watchful eye of former major league outfielder Lefty O'Doul while playing for the San Francisco Seals from 1933 to 1935, DiMaggio became a West Coast legend by hitting in a Pacific Coast League record 61 consecutive games from May 27 to July 25, 1933.  DiMaggio later said, "Baseball didn't really get into my blood until I knocked off that hitting streak.  Getting a daily hit became more important to me than eating, drinking or sleeping."

DiMaggio joined the Yankees prior to the start of the 1936 season, after being purchased for $25,000 and five players.  He made his major league debut on May 3, 1936, batting third in the New York lineup, just ahead of Lou Gehrig.  The Yankees hadn't won the American League pennant since 1932, but, with Gehrig and DiMaggio leading the way, they captured the first of four consecutive world championships in the brilliant rookie's first year with the team.  Displaying his vast array of skills, DiMaggio excelled both in the field and at the bat.  He intimidated opposing baserunners with his powerful throwing arm, accumulating a league-leading 22 outfield assists, while also establishing himself as one of the game's top offensive performers by hitting 29 homers, driving in 125 runs, scoring 132 others, batting .323, and compiling 206 hits, 44 doubles, and a league-leading 15 triples.  DiMaggio's exceptional all-around performance earned him the first of 13 selections to the All-Star Team and an eighth-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting.

DiMaggio was even better in his second year in the league, with the 22-year-old outfielder having perhaps the finest season of his career.  Despite playing in spacious Yankee Stadium, noted for its distant fences in both left-center and centerfield, the righthanded-hitting DiMaggio slugged a league-leading 46 home runs, knocked in 167 runs, topped the circuit with 151 runs scored, batted .346, stroked 215 hits and 15 triples, and led the league with 418 total bases and a .673 slugging percentage.  He also compiled more than 20 assists in the outfield for the second of three consecutive times.  For his efforts, DiMaggio was awarded a second-place finish in the league MVP voting.

DiMaggio continued to build on his reputation as the finest all-around player in the game over the course of the next three seasons, leading New York to the world championship in both 1938 and 1939.  In the first of those years, he hit 32 homers, drove in 140 runs, scored 129 others, and batted .324.  After drawing the ire of the fans early in 1939 for missing the first few weeks of the season due to a contract dispute, DiMaggio demonstrated that he was well worth the money he extracted from the Yankee front office.  The game's greatest player not only led the league with a career-high .381 batting average, but also hit 30 home runs and drove in 126 runs, in only 120 games and 462 official at-bats.  DiMaggio was named the league's Most Valuable Player for his extraordinary performance.  He then won his second straight batting title the following year, hitting .352, while also clubbing 31 homers and knocking in 133 runs, to earn a third-place finish in the league MVP balloting.

Record Hitting Streak:

It was in 1941, though, that The Yankee Clipper became a true American folk hero.  He edged out Ted Williams (who batted .406 for the Red Sox that year) for league MVP honors by hitting 30 home runs, scoring 122 runs, batting .357, and driving in a league-leading 125 runs, en route to leading the Yankees to their fifth world championship in his first six years with the team.  More importantly, DiMaggio carved out a permanent place for himself in both the record books and in mainstream American culture by hitting in a major league record 56 consecutive games.  As DiMaggio continued to hit in game after game from May 15 to July 16, he reached legendary status, prompting songs to be written about him and transposing himself into more than just a baseball player.  He became the idol of millions and arguably the most famous man in America.  Adding to his glorification was the DiMaggio "mystique", an aura that seemed to surround him as he glided gracefully after fly balls in the outfield, slugged home runs with a near-perfect swing, moved swiftly but effortlessly around the bases, and carried himself majestically  both on and off the field.  Not only did fans of the game look up to DiMaggio, but other players admired and respected him as well.

A True Icon:

Stan Musial, certainly one of the greatest players ever to don a major league uniform, expressed his reverence for The Yankee Clipper when he stated, "There was never a day when I was as good as Joe DiMaggio at his best.  Joe was the best, the very best I ever saw."   

Ted Williams, to whom DiMaggio was often compared, said, "DiMaggio was the greatest all-around player I ever saw.  I give it to him over Mays (Willie) simply because he was a better hitter than Mays.  I saw him play, I saw what he could do, and I'm positive that he was a better hitter than Mays." Williams continued to express his admiration for DiMaggio by saying, "I can't say enough about DiMaggio.  Of all the great major leaguers I played with or against during my 19-year career, he was my idol.  I idolized Joe DiMaggio!"

War Years:

DiMaggio had something of an off-year in his final season before joining the war effort.  Although he drove in 114 runs and scored 123 others in 1942, he hit "only" 21 homers and batted "just" .305.  Clearly not the same player after he returned to the major leagues in 1946, DiMaggio batted only .290, with just 25 home runs, 95 runs batted in, and 81 runs scored.  Despite being named A.L. MVP for the third and final time in 1947, DiMaggio actually posted sub-par numbers once again, hitting just 20 homers, driving in only 97 runs, and batting .315.  However, Joltin' Joe showed he still had something left the following year, batting .320, scoring 110 runs, and leading the American League with 39 home runs and 155 runs batted in, to earn a second-place finish in the league MVP voting.

The 1948 campaign was DiMaggio's last great season.  Injuries cut into his playing time significantly in each of his last three years, although he remained an extremely productive player to the very end.  After missing half of the 1949 campaign with an injured in-step, DiMaggio returned to the Yankee lineup to bat .346, hit 14 home runs and drive in 67 runs over the team's final 76 games.  He followed that up by clubbing 32 homers, knocking in 122 runs, scoring 114 others, and batting .301 in 1950.  DiMaggio batted just .263, with only 12 homers and 71 RBIs in 1951, prompting him to announce his retirement at the end of the season.  In making the announcement, DiMaggio declared, "I made a solemn promise to myself that I wouldn't try to hang on once the end was in sight.  It wasn't easy to pass up $100,000, but with me it was all or nothing...I feel like I have reached the stage where I can no longer produce for my club, my manager, and my teammates.  I had a poor year, but even if I had hit .350, this would have been my last year.  I was full of aches and pains and it has become a chore for me to play.  When baseball is no longer fun, it's no longer a game, and so, I've played my last game."

Retirement and Legacy:

DiMaggio's great pride caused him to leave the game at age 36, when he probably could have played another two or three seasons.  He refused to allow himself to perform at a level that wasn't up to the expectations either he or the fans set for himself.  DiMaggio often said that he felt a need to always play his very best because there might be one person in the stands who never saw him play before, and he wanted to make certain that he left a favorable impression on that one fan.

Later in life, the level of importance DiMaggio placed on his public image, his obsessive and somewhat narcissistic nature, and revelations regarding his preoccupation with money caused much of the luster to be rubbed off the DiMaggio mystique.  Yet, he remained an iconic-like figure until he died on March 8, 1999.  And although later generations of fans came to widely accept the notion that Willie Mays and a few others may have been slightly better all-around players, there is little doubt that the man named Baseball's Greatest Living Player in a 1969 poll conducted to coincide with the centennial of professional baseball was one of the greatest players who ever lived.  In addition to winning three Most Valuable Player Awards, DiMaggio finished in the top 10 in the voting seven other times.  He is the only player in baseball history to be selected to the All-Star Team in every season in which he played, and he was also named to The Sporting News All-Star Team a total of eight times.  DiMaggio led the American League in home runs, runs batted in, batting average, and slugging percentage two times each, he topped the circuit in total bases three times, and he finished first in triples and runs scored once each.  He surpassed 30 homers in seven of his 13 seasons, drove in more than 100 runs nine times, knocking in at least 125 runs on seven separate occasions, scored more than 100 runs eight times, batted at least .320 eight different times, and finished in double-digits in triples eight times.  Perhaps the most amazing thing about DiMaggio is that he hit 361 home runs and struck out a total of only 369 times during his career.  Considered to be one of the greatest defensive centerfielders in baseball history, DiMaggio was an instinctive and graceful outfielder who possessed both outstanding speed and a powerful throwing arm.  Although he was rarely called upon to steal bases, DiMaggio was also generally regarded as the finest baserunner of his day.

Some of the luster may have been rubbed off the DiMaggio mystique in recent years, but he remains one of the most heroic figures in baseball history.  Ted Williams writes in his book The Hit List, "Joe DiMaggio's career cannot be summed up in numbers and awards.  It might sound corny, but he had a profound and lasting impact on the country.  How many athletes can make that claim?  Despite what Simon and Garfunkel sang about him, every baseball fan knows that DiMaggio could never really leave us.  For many fans he's become baseball's knight in shining pinstripe armor.  Hell, for some he was almost the embodiment of the American dream."

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Tagged:
Baseball History, Five-tool player, Hall of Fame, Hitting streak, Joe DiMaggio, Longest Hitting Streaks, MVP, New York Yankees, San Francisco Sea Lions, Seals Stadium, The Yankee Clipper, Yankee Stadium

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