Wednesday, June 23, 2021

1986 Sportflics Decade Greats Joe DiMaggio


The player: Very few ballplayers were revered the way Joe DiMaggio was. Idolized by millions of fans, even the greatest ballplayers of his age called him the greatest. Stan Musial said "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 said  “I have always felt I was a better hitter than Joe, but I have to say that he was the greatest baseball player of our time. He could do it all.” An outstanding fielder and baserunner, DiMaggio lost his age 28-30 seasons due to the war, and played in a home stadium ill-suited to his righthanded swing, but still put up fantastic career hitting numbers - .325 average, 361 HR (fifth all-time when he retired) and 1,537 RBI. He played in 10 World Series, on the winning team nine times, and hit .271 with 8 HR and 30 RBI in 51 games against the NL pennant winners. (In the celebration at City Hall after the 1996 World Series, DiMaggio made a speech where he singled out rookie star Derek Jeter and said something like "When you win nine World Series . . ." I thought right then and there he was jinxing Jeter, and I was right - Jeter only won five.) Of course, the accomplishment that he is best known for was his 56 game hitting streak in 1941. When the streak got into the 20s and then the 30s, he started getting national attention, with radio broadcasts interrupting their programming to give updates. When he broke George Sisler's record of 41 straight games in Washington, the crowd gave the visiting Yankee a three minute standing ovation. DiMaggio hit .374 during the streak, but most importantly, the Yankees won 41 of the 56 games, moving from fourth place, five and a half games out, to first place, seven games ahead of Cleveland.

The man: DiMaggio was known more for his grace and presence rather than friendliness or warmth. However, he was beloved by millions of fans, and his fame went well beyond the baseball field. The son of immigrants, he was one of the first Italian-American celebrities, and his distant persona was likely in part a way to combat some of the prevalent stereotypes of the time. DiMaggio served in the Army Air Forces in World War II as a physical education instructor (he requested a combat assignment but was turned down). During the War he and his first wife, actress Dorothy Arnold, divorced. In January of 1954 he married actress Marilyn Monroe, one of the most famous celebrity marriages of all time. The marriage lasted just nine months, with Monroe filing for divorce in October. The couple was supposedly on the verge of reuniting when Monroe died, presumably by suicide, in 1962. DiMaggio never remarried but was linked to numerous blond actresses over the next few decades, from Lee Meriwether to Morgan Fairchild. Later in life DiMaggio was best known as a spokesman for Mr. Coffee and Bowery Bank. In the 1990s he raised over $4 million for a children's hospital in Florida that now bears his name. After his death, Manhattan's West Side Highway was renamed the Joe DiMaggio Highway, though most people still use the former name. Few baseball players penetrated popular culture the way DiMaggio has; Wikipedia lists 52 examples of DiMaggio in art, comic books, literature, music, movies, theater and TV, ranging from Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea to Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" ("Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns it's lonely eyes to you.")

My collection: I do not have any playing-days cards of DiMaggio. His last card as an active player was 1952 Berk Ross.

1 comment:

  1. I had never either of those quotes from Musial and Williams. That certainly is some high praise! Fun fact: Joe's streak ended on my birthday (though that was a few years before I was born).