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Joe DiMaggio
#5 | Center Fielder | New York Yankees


Joseph Paul DiMaggio: "The Yankee Clipper," "Joltin' Joe"

(also affectionately known as "Dago" to his teammates)

     Joe DiMaggio is remembered as one of the game's most graceful athletes the most enduring symbol of baseball greatness.  "Joe DiMaggio is what you get when you build mystique on top of greatness," said Ron Swoboda, the former Met who played a generation after DiMaggio.  Baseball has produced many icons, but it has produced only one Joe DiMaggio.  His marriage to Marilyn Monroe was an amazing coupling of American celebrity-hood: The country's most revered athlete hitched to its most adored actress.

     The war took three prime years from DiMaggio's baseball life, and he really experienced two baseball careers.  The first went from 1936 to 1942, and the second extended from 1946 to 1951.  In the first career, he averaged .339, won two MVP awards, led the league in homers and batting average twice each, and set the record for most RBI in a player's first five years in the majors.  His second career was beset by injuries and then eroding skills, though he still won an MVP award and led the Yankees to World Championships in 1947, 1949, 1950, and 1951.

 

                               Avg        HR        RBI      R      SLG      OBA       SB

 

1936 - 1942:             .339       219     930     858    .607      .399       25

1946 - 1951:             .304       142     607     532    .540      .387        5

 

 

     As a hitter, he combined power and control like few others before or since.  He won two home-run crowns (with a career-best 46 in 1937 and 39 in 1948) on his way to 361, added two batting titles (1939 and 1940) and added three MVP awards.  Remarkably, he struck out only 369 times, a ratio of dingers to whiffs that no other long-ball hitter even approaches.  He averaged 118 RBIs and had a .325 lifetime batting mark for 13 seasons (down from the .339 it had been before he served three years in the military during World War II).  DiMaggio was a beautiful hitter with a classic swing - his exceptionally wide stance gave him a controlled short stride, and his strong wrists generated enormous power and the ability to wait until the last instant before lashing into a pitch.  His 46 homers in 1937, including a ML-record 15 in July, remain a Yankee record for a righthanded hitter.

     What makes his HR total more impressive is that he played half his games at Yankee Stadium, then the toughest power park in baseball for righties.  At the time left-centerfield, known as "Death Valley", extended 457 feet from the plate.  DiMaggio also hit as high as .381 in 1939, and many rate his 56-consecutive-game batting streak in 1941 as the top baseball feat of all time.  Traveling a dozen games beyond Wee Willie Keeler's 1897 consecutive-game record of 44 and 15 games beyond what had been the modern record, George Sisler's 41-game string of 1922 - began on May 15, 1941.  It kept an entire nation enthralled through June and half of July, before two great plays by Cleveland third baseman Ken Keltner ended it on July 17.  DiMaggio hit .407 during the streak and edged Boston's Ted Williams for the AL MVP award, even though Williams hit .406 that year.

 

     But DiMaggio was more than a hitter.  He was also a splendid defensive outfielder, making tough plays look easy with his grace and anticipation.  He had a great throwing arm.  He was also studious: his positioning encompassed the batter, the pitcher, and the count.  He was always alert to the game situation, and always threw to the correct base.  He was virtually flawless in 1947, making one lone error on the year.

     And according to his manager, Joe McCarthy, he was "the best base runner I ever saw."  There may have been players who were faster from home to first, or first to second, but DiMag was faster than anyone in the game going from first to third or second to home, and nobody was better at calibrating the odds of success.  Frank Crosetti, who coached at third-base for much of DiMaggio's career, said years later that he had never seen DiMaggio thrown out at third base.

     DiMaggio was the quiet, undemonstrative type McCarthy liked.  He was introspective, sometimes stoic.  But he was a leader all the same.  He burst on to the major league landscape in 1936, helping the Yankees begin another dynasty.  After winning only one pennant and World Series in the previous seven years, they won four straight world championships.  In DiMaggio's 13 seasons, they won 10 pennants and 9 Series.  Even while playing most of 1948 with a painful heel injury, DiMaggio almost brought the Yankees home.  The Yankees lost out to the Red Sox and Indians on the next-to-last day of the season, but DiMaggio led the league in home runs (39) and RBI (155).

     DiMaggio's career seemed over in 1949.  He was unable to stand on his sore heel without pain and, of course, was unable to play.  One miraculous June morning, the pain was gone, and DiMaggio made a spectacular return.  After missing the season's first 65 games, he led the Yankees to a three-game sweep of the Red Sox at Fenway Park with four homers and nine RBI.  His brother Dom, a Red Sox star, witnessed the display (another brother, Vince, also was a major leaguer).

 

          Though known to be short tempered in private, DiMaggio refrained from showing such behavior in public.  A painfully private person, he always was careful and protective of his image, understanding that it was his legacy.  He is admired not only for his achievements but for his refusal to rest on his natural skills, working instead to constantly improve his play.  He was responsible to himself, his teammates, and his fans.  He had pride.

 

 

"Baseball isn't statistics, it's Joe DiMaggio rounding second base." 
-Jimmy Breslin

 

"As one of nine men, DiMaggio is the best player that ever lived." 
-Connie Mack

 

 


 

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