Joe DiMaggio, CF
, New York Yankees
, played 1936-1951, born 11-25-1914 , died 3-8-1999. Batted R, threw R.
DiMaggio represents a bridge between the Yankees
in the 1930's and the Yankees of Mantle
in the early 1960's. His career was, and is, one of the finest in the history of the game, and his position in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame
as a first-ballot member is well-deserved. Joe was the eighth son in a family of nine. His father was a fisherman on the San Francisco
docks, but Joe couldn't stand the prospect of dealing with fish for the rest of his life, and set out to find some way out. The way he found was baseball
. DiMaggio spent three years in the Pacific Coast League
with the San Francisco Seals
after his older brother Vince
signed with them. He came to the Seals at the age of 17, at the end of the 1932 season, and proceeded to dominate the PCL until he came to the Yankees in 1936. He had a 61-game hitting streak for San Francisco in 1933; this was a portent of things to come in the majors.
DiMaggio played outstanding defense in center field
every year of his career, with a Range Factor
that was consistently well above the league average. Where DiMaggio was truly impressive, though, was in his hitting ability. While DiMaggio's contemporary Ted Williams
was promoting plate discipline
as the most productive approach at bat, DiMaggio's hitting approach more closely resembled that of Nomar Garciaparra
. He never walked more than 80 times in a season, but never struck out more than 39 times in a year either. By consistently putting the ball in play, and flashing consistent 20-30 home run
power, DiMaggio was able to assemble high batting averages
, and for his era, his offensive production would have been more than respectable from a first baseman
. Coming, as it did, from a Gold Glove center fielder
, it was a truly awe-inspiring career. Bill James
recently performed some analyses of players' defense through baseball history; his conclusion is that out of Joe, Vince, and Dom DiMaggio
(the three of the DiMaggio brothers who played in the majors), one of them was among the three best defensive outfielders in their league every year that at least one of them was playing, and that for the players whose careers were centered around the 1940's, the DiMaggio family owns three of the four top positions for outfield defense.
Dimaggio won numerous awards during his career: Most Valuable Player
in 1939, 1941, and 1947; led the league in home runs twice, RBI
's twice, batting average twice, runs once, total bases
three times, and triples once. His list of top ten finishes in major statistical categories spans most of his career, in most offensive statistics. What DiMaggio will always be remebered for, however, is The Streak--his 56-game hitting streak in 1941. This remains a record, and is quite possibly one of the "marks which will never be broken
" that will actually stand the test of time. At the beginning of the 2001 season, there was idle speculation that Ichiro Suzuki
, a hitter who is in many respects similar to DiMaggio, but without the same power, would be able to match or exceed DiMaggio's hitting streak. Needless to say, that didn't happen.
Life after Baseball
DiMaggio was always an intensely private individual, even when he was one of the biggest stars in baseball. After he retired, his forays into the limelight were brief: a brief marriage to Marilyn Monroe
in 1954 and a time serving as a spokesman for Mr. Coffee
were the most notable times that he did anything to draw much attention outside of baseball circles until his death. In the 1950s and 1960s, DiMaggio began to appear as a legendary figure in popular culture, notably in The Old Man and the Sea
as "the great DiMaggio" and in Mrs. Robinson
, in the famous "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?" verse. DiMaggio died of lung cancer on March 8, 1999 in Hollywood, Florida.