Here’s to You Joe DiMaggio
There are many quick snippets, fast-talk, quotes, brief tidings, etc. when it comes to the man who can claim the title of the world’s ultimate baseball player – Mr. DiMaggio; but there never seems to be an article that simply speaks of him. That man, that incredible athlete, that heart, that son, that baseball uniform that will live in the hearts and minds of baseball fans and fanatics for all time. So…here’s to you, Joe DiMaggio!
“The Yankee Clipper” he was – an Italian American who played his entire thirteen-year career for the New York Yankees, which is impossible to say in this day and age. This is a man who was beyond stellar at his position and the Yankees baseball uniform he wore will never be overshadowed or forgotten no matter what generation comes along.
Joe DiMaggio was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1955; he was a three-time MVP winner, and a thirteen-time All-Star (the ONLY player in history to ever be selected for the All-Star Game in every season he played). But the biggest and most amazing accolade to say about the great DiMaggio? In his full thirteen-year career, the New York Yankees won ten pennants and nine world championships. In fact, at that time, the only baseball uniform you wanted on your team was the baseball uniform of The Yankee Clipper.
The fifth-most career home runs; the sixth-highest slugging percentage in history; and, the man behind a 56-game hitting streak (May 15–July 16, 1941), a record that STILL stands to this day. There are still so many polls given year after year, and in the 21st century – even after all this time has passed – DiMaggio still reigns as the sports world’s greatest legend (voted on by fans from absolutely every sport).
Even though he is known as a die-hard New Yorker, DiMaggio was actually not born there. He had a father who had to come to America and worked and saved his money in order to bring the rest of his family over to live the American Dream. And, oh, what a dream. Good old Dad could never have know back then that the dream for DiMaggio was going to be as big as anyone’s could ever possibly be. On May 3, 1936 – batting ahead of Lou Gehrig – the Yankee Clipper made his major league debut and the rest is all complete and utter “perfect” sports history. Before DiMaggio, the New York Yankees had not been to the World Series since 1932, but they won the next four Fall Classics when DiMaggio came along. It was no surprise to anyone after seeing him in action. DiMaggio covered so much ground in center field that the only way to get a hit against the Yankees was, as all the opponents said, “to hit ‘em where Joe wasn’t,” which everyone found out was impossible because the Yankee Clipper was like a ghost on the field. He could time travel from left to right so fast, that no matter where the ball was going, his glove was always directly under it.
DiMaggio’s baseball uniform was number 5, and no one has ever seen anyone who could even be called “half” the baseball player that Joe DiMaggio was while he played with the Yankees. The nickname actually came along from the Yankees’ announcer, who was absolutely in awe of the speed that Joe had behind his plays. Simply watching Joe’s range in the outfield led the announcer to believe that Joe was the new Pan American airliner…the Yankee Clipper.
Considering the contracts of nowadays, it is almost amazing to say that DiMaggio signed a contract worth $100,000 ($70,000 plus bonuses), and became the first baseball player to break $100,000 in earnings. Yes, that was a record, even though he is twenty times the player that the “million-dollar” players are today. And the world wept when DiMaggio announced his retirement on December 11, 1951, stating to the Sporting News that:
“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 had 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.”
The only rather ‘odd’ bit about DiMaggio is that batting on his home turf wasn’t as easy or fluid as killing the opponents in other stadiums. Joe DiMaggio never hit a single home run over the fences at Yankee Stadium in their “45-degree” graveyard. It was just too far. Joe routinely hit balls in the 425-foot range, but the cavernous Yankee Stadium was difficult for everyone. Whereas most sluggers performed better on their home fields, DiMaggio hit only 41 percent of his career home runs in the Bronx; he hit 148 homers at Yankee Stadium.
Joe DiMaggio was also a true and utter American and loved his country, enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Forces on February 17, 1943, and rising to the rank of sergeant. He was discharged in 1945 but his parents – Giuseppe and Rosalia DiMaggio – were among the thousands of German, Japanese and Italian immigrants classified as “enemy aliens” by the government after Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan. They had to carry photo ID booklets at all times, and were not allowed to travel outside a five-mile radius from their home without a permit.
Another ‘sad’ fact about DiMaggio comes from the world of love. Marilyn Monroe had said that she did not want to meet DiMaggio at first, fearing he was a stereotypical arrogant athlete. So much for that, as they eloped and were married on January 14, 1954. And the reason for their split? Turns out it was simply the picture of that dress… The skirt-blowing scene in The Seven Year Itch was filmed in front of a NYC theatre, and Billy Wilder had turned the shoot into a media circus. The couple then had a “yelling battle” in the theater lobby and Marilyn filed for divorce on grounds of mental cruelty only two hundred and seventy four days after the wedding.
But DiMaggio re-entered Monroe’s life as her marriage to Arthur Miller was coming to an end, and DiMaggio even secured her release from the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic. Their “just friends” claim wasn’t bought by anyone, but DiMaggio was so frightened at how Monroe had fallen in with people he felt were detrimental to her well-being, that he quit his job with a military post-exchange supplier and asked her to remarry him; she was found dead on August 5th of an apparent suicide.
DiMaggio loved Monroe, that was known throughout the land. And this amazing baseball player’s personal life left him sad and lonely for many decades to come. Devastated, he claimed her body and arranged her funeral, barring Hollywood’s elite. He also had a half-dozen red roses delivered three times a week to her crypt for twenty years, and never married again
So, as a baseball player DiMaggio will go down in history as the elite – the best of the best. As a son who cared for his parents, another A-plus is given to him in that regard. But the one thing that DiMaggio was never able to attain was love. Frankly, what worked for him in baseball never worked for him in the relationship department. Although The Yankee Clipper could catch any ball that came into Yankees’ center field – with women, he would only always be in love with the one that got away.
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