DiMaggio was a 3-time MVP winner and 13-time All-Star who was widely hailed for his accomplishment on both offense and, as a center fielder, on defense, as well as for the grace with which he played the game. At the time of his retirement at age 36, he had the fifth-most career home runs (361) and sixth-highest slugging percentage (.579) in history. He is also the only player in baseball history to be selected for the All-Star Game in every season he played.
A "picture-perfect" player, DiMaggio achieved a 56-game hitting streak (May 15 – July 16, 1941) that has been called baseball's most mythic achievement. After going hitless for one game, DiMaggio hit in the next 16 consecutive games, for a total of 72 out of 73. A poll conducted to coincide with the centennial of professional baseball voted him the sport's greatest living player.
Giuseppe was a fisherman, as were generations of DiMaggios, and wanted his five sons to become the same. Joe recalled that he would do anything to get out of cleaning his father's boat, as the smell of dead fish made him nauseous. Giuseppe called him "lazy" and "good for nothing." Tom DiMaggio told Joe's biographer Maury Allen that Giuseppe's opposition was due to not understanding how baseball could help Joe "get away from the poverty" and make something of himself.
Joe was playing semi-pro when Vince, playing for the San Francisco Seals, talked his manager into letting Joe fill in at shortstop. Joe — making his debut on 1 October 1932 — could not play shortstop, but he could hit. From May 27 – July 25, , he got at least one hit in a PCL-record 61 consecutive games: "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."
In 1934, his career almost ended. Going to his sister's house for dinner, he tore the ligaments in his left knee while stepping out of a jitney. The Seals, hoping to sell Joe for $100,000 now couldn't give him away; the Chicago Cubs turned down a no-risk tryout. Fortunately, New York Yankees' scout Bill Essick pestered the team to give the 19-year-old another look. After Joe passed a test on his knee, he was bought on November 21 for $25,000 and 5 players, with the Seals keeping him for the 1935 season. He batted .398 with 154 RBIs and 34 HRs, led the Seals to the PCL title, and was named the League's Most Valuable Player.
Touted by sportswriters as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Shoeless Joe Jackson rolled into one, he made his major league debut on May 3, 1936, batting ahead of Lou Gehrig. The Yankees had not been to the World Series since 1932, but, thanks in large part to their sensational rookie, they won the next four Fall Classics. In total, DiMaggio led the Yankees to nine titles in 13 years.
DiMaggio was an outstanding player, as respected for his smooth, effortless fielding as for his hitting. Hank Greenberg told SPORT magazine in its September 1949 issue that DiMaggio covered so much ground in center field that the only way to get a hit against the Yankees was "to hit 'em where Joe wasn't."
On 7 February 1949, DiMaggio signed a contract for $100,000 ($70,000 plus bonuses). He was still regarded as the game's best player, but injuries got to the point where he could not take a step without pain. A sub-par 1951 season and a brutal scouting report by the Brooklyn Dodgers that was turned over to the New York Giants and leaked to the press led him to announce his retirement on 11 December 1951.
He became eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953. DiMaggio told Baseball Digest in 1963 that the Brooklyn Dodgers had offered him their managerial job in 1953, but he turned it down. He was not elected to the Hall until 1955; the rules were revised in the interim, with DiMaggio and Ted Lyons excepted, extending the waiting period from one year to five.
He might have had better power-hitting statistics had his home park not been Yankee Stadium. As "The House That Ruth Built", its nearby right field favored the Babe's left-handed power. For right-handed hitters, its deep left and center fields could be a nightmare: Mickey Mantle recalled that he and Whitey Ford would count the blasts DiMaggio hit that would have been home runs anywhere else, but, at the Stadium, were merely long outs (Ruth himself fell victim to that problem, as he also hit many long fly outs to center). Bill James calculated that DiMaggio lost more home runs due to his home park than any player in history. Left-center field went as far back as 457ft, compared to ballparks today where left-center rarely reaches 380ft. An illustration is the oft-replayed clip of Al Gionfriddo's catch in the 1947 World Series, which was close to the 415 foot mark in left-center. Had it happened in Ebbets Field, it would have been well into the seats for a home run. To paint an accurate picture on how affected DiMaggio was by Yankee Stadium; He hit 148 home runs in 3,360 at-bats at home. In contrast, hit 213 home runs in 3,461 at-bats on the road. His slugging percentage at home was .546. On the road, it was .610. His on-base percentage at Yankee Stadium was .391. Away, it was .405. He drove in 720 RBI at home. 817 on the road. When you multiply his road totals by two, you get 426 home runs in 13 seasons, at a pace in which he would hit one home run every 16.2 at-bats (which would be good for 30th all-time.) Expert statistician, Bill Jenkinson, elaborated further on this;
From: The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs, by Bill Jenkinson:
For example, Joe DiMaggio was acutely handicapped by playing at Yankee Stadium. Every time he batted in his home field during his entire career, he did so knowing that it was physically impossible for him to hit a home run to the half of the field directly in front of him. That's right! If you look at a baseball field from foul line to foul line, it has a 90-degree radius. From the power alley in left center field (430 in Joe's time) to the fence in deep right center field (407 ft), it is 45-degrees. And Joe DiMaggio never hit a single home run over the fences at Yankee Stadium in that 45-degree graveyard. It was just too far. Joe was plenty strong; he routinely hit balls in the 425-foot range. But that just wasn't good enough in cavernous Yankee Stadium. Like Ruth, he benefited from a few easy homers each season due to the short foul line distances. But he lost many more than he gained by constantly hitting long fly outs toward center field. Whereas most sluggers perform better on their home fields, Joe D hit only 41 percent of his career home runs in the Bronx. In his day, DiMaggio recorded 148 homers at Yankee Stadium. If he had hit the same exact pattern of batted balls with a typical modern stadium as his home, he would have belted about 225 homers during his home field career.
In 1949, Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey and Yankees GM Larry MacPhail verbally agreed to trade DiMaggio for Ted Williams, but MacPhail refused to include Yogi Berra. Had the deal gone through, Williams could have benefited from Yankee Stadium's short right-center fence while DiMaggio could have thrived at Fenway Park with its Green Monster.
Giuseppe and Rosalia DiMaggio were among the thousands of German, Japanese and Italian immigrants classified as "enemy aliens" after Pearl Harbor was attacked. They had to carry photo ID booklets at all times, were not allowed to travel more than five miles from their home without a permit, and Giuseppe's boat was seized. Rosalia became an American citizen in 1944, Giuseppe in 1945.
Years after he had hung up his spikes, DiMaggio was always an A-List celebrity when he came back to New York City. In 1957, he agreed to meet Cuban businessmen who were planning to build a casino in Havana and were interested in cashing in on DiMaggio's name, as a greeter or host. Before he met them at the Warwick hotel, his agent took him to another room and introduced him to two big fans who just wanted to shake his hand and say "Hello". After the meeting, he found out to his great surprise that the fans were none other than Mangano family boss, Albert Anastasia and Anthony "Little Augie Pisano" Carfano, a Luciano family capo. Years later, when he recalled the incident for detectives, he said that he was greatly disturbed when his agent told him later who he had met. "I mentioned something to the effect that you placed me in a spot".
In January 1938, DiMaggio met actress Dorothy Arnold on the set of Manhattan Merry Go-Round. They married at San Francisco's Ss. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church on November 19, 1939 as 20,000 well-wishers jammed the streets.
Even before their son Joseph III was born, the marriage was in trouble. DiMaggio was like many ballplayers: a high-school dropout whose life revolved around the game. While not the New York social figure that Babe Ruth was, he had his fun, leaving Dorothy feeling neglected. However, she was an ambitious social climber who took advantage of her status as the wife of baseball's biggest star. DiMaggio biographer Michael Seidel reported that, except on the nights before Lefty Gomez was to pitch, Dorothy and Lefty's wife, Broadway's June O'Dea, would drag their husbands from one Manhattan nightspot to another. He resented how she complained about his off-the-field activities while she spent his money. But when Dorothy threatened divorce in 1942, the usually unflappable DiMaggio went into a slump, and developed ulcers. She went to Reno, Nevada in February 1943; he followed her and they reconciled. But shortly after he enlisted in the Army and was sent to Hawaii, she filed for divorce in Los Angeles.
The relationship continued off and on. Dorothy reportedly promised Joe she would wait for him to return from 1946 training camp, but married another man.
The relationship was loving yet complex, marred by his jealousy and her ambition. DiMaggio biographer Richard Ben Cramer asserts it was also violent. One incident allegedly happened after the skirt-blowing scene in The Seven Year Itch was filmed on September 14, 1954 in front of New York's Trans-Lux Theater. Then-20th Century Fox's East Coast correspondent Bill Kobrin told the Palm Springs Desert Sun that it was Billy Wilder's idea to turn the shoot into a circus: "... every time her dress came up and the crowd started to get excited, DiMaggio just blew up." The couple then had a "yelling battle" in the theater lobby. When she filed for divorce 274 days after the wedding, Oscar Levant quipped it proved that no man could be a success in two pastimes.
On August 1, 1956, an International News wire photo of DiMaggio with Lee Meriwether announced their engagement, but Cramer wrote that it was a rumor started by Walter Winchell. He was later linked to 1957 Miss America Marian McKnight, who won the crown with a Marilyn act. Marilyn biographer Donald Spoto claimed they were "very close to marrying" but she denies it. Biographers and news reports also linked him to Liz Renay, Cleo Moore, Marlene Dietrich, Gloria DeHaven, and Elizabeth Ray, but he never publicly confirmed any involvement.
DiMaggio re-entered Marilyn's life as her marriage to Arthur Miller was ending. On February 10, 1961, he secured her release from Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic. She joined him in Florida where he was a batting coach for the Yankees. Their "just friends" claim did not stop remarriage rumors from flying. Reporters staked out her apartment building. Bob Hope "dedicated" Best Song nominee "The Second Time Around" to them at the 33rd Academy Awards.
According to biographer Maury Allen, Joe was so alarmed at how Marilyn had returned to her self-destructive ways, falling in with people he felt detrimental to her (including Frank Sinatra and his "Rat Pack"), he quit his job with a military post-exchange supplier on August 1, 1962 to ask her to remarry him. But before he could, she was found dead on August 5. Her death was deemed a probable suicide but is subject to endless conspiracy theories. Devastated, he claimed her body and arranged her funeral, barring Hollywood's elite. He had a half-dozen red roses delivered 3 times a week to her crypt for the next 20 years. Unlike her other two husbands or other men who knew her intimately (or claimed to) he refused to talk about her publicly or write a tell-all. He never remarried.
Following lung cancer surgery on October 14, 1998, DiMaggio fell ill again December 11. The attack forced his lawyer, Morris Engelberg, to admit that the positive reports he had been feeding to the press were greatly exaggerated. He claimed Joe made him promise not to tell even his family about his condition.
DiMaggio died on March 8, 1999. On January 24, NBC broadcast a premature obituary; Engelberg claimed he and DiMaggio were watching TV and saw it. His last words, according to Engelberg, were "I'll finally get to see Marilyn." However, the day after DiMaggio's death, a hospice worker who cared for him gave a radically different account to The New York Post.
On March 11, 1999, DiMaggio's funeral was held at Ss. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church in San Francisco, and officiated by lifelong friend and DiMaggio confidant, Armand Oliveri, S.D.B. In his eulogy, Dom DiMaggio declared that his brother had everything "except the right woman to share his life with", a remark seeming to confirm the family's disapproval of Monroe. Richard Ben Cramer told the New York Times that Dom cooperated with him on his controversial biography, and got other family members to do likewise. In an eerie coincidence, Joe DiMaggio's estranged son, Joe, Jr., died later that same year.
The equally controversial Engelberg offered dozens of signed bats on Shop At Home, for $3,000 each, weeks before DiMaggio died. In April 1999, he sued the City of San Francisco to stop its plan to name the North Beach park, where Joe learned to play baseball, after him. That June, he sold hundreds of items to a collectibles dealer, including baseballs DiMaggio signed on his deathbed, and offered Joe's personal effects at a Sotheby's auction.
In 2003, Engelberg broke attorney-client privilege, and published his own book on DiMaggio as a rebuttal to Cramer's.
In Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely, Philip Marlowe follows the streak, which Chandler uses as a metaphor for good. A generation later, Simon and Garfunkel used him in that same vein in "Mrs. Robinson". The literal-minded DiMaggio was reportedly not fond of the lyric "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?" as he was very much alive, and had not gone anywhere. However, he changed his mind when he gained a whole new generation of fans from that song. When he died The Times of London observed in its obituary that the lines from "Mrs Robinson" were what DiMaggio would be most remembered for. In their eulogical report on DiMaggio, ESPN SportsCenter quoted the last line of the song: "What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson? Joltin' Joe has left and gone away?" A tributory newspaper comic strip shows DiMaggio standing in front of the Pearly Gates in his Yankees uniform, holding his bat on his shoulder. St. Peter, in foreground, writes in his book: "Memo to Mr. Simon & Mr. Garfunkel: he's here."
He is mentioned in John Fogerty's "Center Field." He and Monroe are mentioned in Jennifer Lopez's "I'm Gonna Be Alright," Madonna's "Vogue," Tori Amos's "Father Lucifer," Sleeper's "Romeo Me," and Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire."
Woody Guthrie wrote "DiMaggio Done It Again" about his performance in a crucial series against the Red Sox in June 1949 when surgery for bone spurs in his right heel kept him out of the Yankees' first 65 games and threatened his career. It is during this period Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea is set, Santiago drawing courage from his hero's ordeal (Guthrie's song was later covered by Wilco for the 2000 album Mermaid Avenue Vol. II).
Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe's relationship is cited in a number of songs. Diesel Boy Song, "She's My Queen." "She is my queen, she's my Marilyn, and I'm her Joe DiMaggio." Man From Delmonte's "Beautiful People": "I can be your Miss Monroe and you can be my Joe DiMaggio and we can do the things beautiful people like to do."
DiMaggio's consecutive game hitting streak was also a point of reference in the Star Trek universe. In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Harmon "Buck" Bokai of the London Kings, a favorite player of Commander Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine breaks DiMaggio's streak.
From 1972 to 1992, DiMaggio was spokesman for the Bowery Savings Bank.
His hitting streak has been used as a standard to compare similar feats in other sports. Johnny Unitas throwing at least 1 TD in 47 consecutive games is often cited as football's version. Martina Navratilova referred to her 74 straight match wins as "my DiMaggio streak." Wayne Gretzky's 51-game point-scoring run also was compared with the streak. DiMaggio was less than impressed, quoted as saying that Gretzky (who scored an empty-net goal in the final moments of a game to keep the streak alive) "never had to worry about a mid-game washout in the middle of the second period."
In an article in 1976 in Esquire magazine, sportswriter Harry Stein published an "All Time All-Star Argument Starter," consisting of five ethnic baseball teams. Joe DiMaggio was the center fielder on Stein's Italian team.
Yankee Stadium's fifth monument was dedicated to DiMaggio on 25 April 1999, and the West Side Highway was officially renamed in his honor. The Yankees wore DiMaggio's number 5 on the left sleeves of their uniforms for the 1999 season. He is ranked #11 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was elected by fans to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
An auction of DiMaggio's personal items was held on May 19-20, 2006 by his son's adopted daughters. Highlights included: the ball hit to break Wee Willie Keeler's hitting-streak record ($63,250); 2,000th career hit ball ($29,900); 1947 Most Valuable Player Award ($281,750); uniform worn in the 1951 World Series ($195,500); Hall of Fame ring ($69,000); photograph Marilyn autographed "I love you Joe" ($80,500); her passport ($115,000); their marriage certificate ($23,000). The event netted a total of $4.1 million.
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