Joe DiMaggio didn't look heroic on the ball field. Crossing the
plate after hitting a home run, he tended to tilt his head
diffidently to one side as though to say, Don't pay too much
attention to me. For a man who treasured acclaim (the roar of
the fans cheering him at Old-Timers' Games meant the world to
him), DiMaggio tried to appear above it when he was young. It
would have been unseemly to play to the crowd. England's Leonard
Woolf wrote, "There develops in nearly all arts, and indeed in
games like cricket, at various periods after an archaic, vague
or inchoate beginning, a classical style which combines great
power and freedom and beauty with a kind of self-imposed
austerity and restraint." Woolf could have been writing about
Unlike so many of baseball's stars, DiMaggio wasn't flamboyant,
bad-tempered, colorful, talkative or explosive. He was quiet and
efficient and marvelously skillful in all aspects of the game:
hitting, fielding, throwing, running the bases. Ted Williams was
a better hitter, but that was the only thing the Boston Red Sox
outfielder did superlatively. DiMaggio did everything
superlatively, without fuss. At the plate he locked himself into
his wide-legged stance, cocked his bat and waited without
moving, watching the pitcher, waiting for him to throw. When
DiMaggio swung, strength surged from his big thighs and muscular
back into his arms and wrists and bat. It was a beautiful swing,
rich with power, yet controlled. You almost never saw him strike
out. When he hit the ball a long way, as he so often did, he
didn't pause to watch it but rather took off running hard for
first, looking for an edge that would give him an extra base or
two if the ball didn't reach the seats. No wonder he hit so many
triples. (He averaged 10 a year.) Although the Clipper didn't
look particularly fast, Joe McCarthy, his manager from 1936 to
'46, liked to say DiMaggio "just knew how to run bases better
than anybody." He stole only 30 bases in his 13 seasons, but
McCarthy believed DiMaggio could have stolen 50 or 60 bases a
year if he had allowed him. And few, if any, players were better
at going from first to third, or second to home, than DiMaggio.
In the outfield that deceptive speed, combined with an
exceptional ability to position himself according to the batter
and the upcoming pitch, made fielding look easy for DiMaggio. He
had tremendous range, yet the admiring cliche was, No one ever
saw DiMaggio make a hard catch. In all the times that I saw
DiMaggio play throughout his career, I cannot recall ever seeing
him dive for a ball or crash against the outfield fence. Yet he
seemed always to be there when the ball got there, catching it
DiMaggio's austere style was defined in a game I saw in the late
1940s between the Yankees and the St. Louis Browns at Yankee
Stadium. The Browns, losing by two runs, filled the bases in the
ninth inning with one out. The next batter hit a little looping
fly ball into right center, too far out for the second baseman
to reach and too far in for the outfielders. It seemed a certain
base hit, and the St. Louis base runners took off, the tying
runs racing toward home from third and second, the winning run
heading around second toward third. DiMaggio came loping across
from centerfield, and you wondered if, with his powerful arm, he
could get the ball on the bounce and throw to the plate in time
to cut down the tying run.
However, I was astonished, as were the Browns, when without
breaking stride, DiMaggio leaned forward, stuck out that long
arm of his and caught the ball no more than a foot off the
ground. It was a startling catch, but what he did next was
prototypically DiMaggio. Still in full stride, he straightened
up, threw the ball to the first baseman for the game-ending
double play and, without stopping, without saying anything,
without showing any emotion, continued across the rightfield
foul line, into the Yankees' dugout and out of sight, as though
it were routine, just the end of another day's work.
B/W PHOTO: AP [T of C]
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY CORBIS Singular Sensation DiMaggio, shown here rapping a single against the Washington Senators in Griffith Stadium in 1938, was a reluctant celebrity hounded by photographers off the field...and on (page 52). [Leading Off]
TWO B/W PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CORBIS Although they'd been divorced for nine months, DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe were all smiles at the New York premiere of The Seven Year Itch on June 1, 1955. At Old-Timers' Day five years later, DiMaggio, perhaps the most popular Yankee of all time, was still the center of attention. [Leading Off]
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY AP DiMaggio displayed his usual impeccable form in sliding past Cincinnati Reds catcher Ernie Lombardi to score the tying run in the ninth inning of the fourth and final game of the Yankees' sweep of the 1939 World Series. [Leading Off]
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY CORBIS
B/W PHOTO: BASEBALL HALL OF FAME Pantheon Among fellow immortals--Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle--DiMaggio always seemed to draw the most unabashed admiration from his peers.
TWO B/W PHOTOS: AP [See caption above]
B/W PHOTO: RAY STUBBLEBINE/REUTERS Throwback The tradition of DiMaggio tossing the first pitch at the Yankees' home opener, which he did for the final time last year, provided a lovable link to past glories.
DiMaggio By the Numbers
Major league games played, in which he batted .325 with 2,214
hits, 389 doubles, 131 triples, 361 homers, 1,390 runs scored
and 1,537 runs batted in.
Batting average in 1939, which led the major leagues. The
following season his .352 average led the American League.
Consecutive games in which the 18-year-old hit safely for the
Pacific Coast League's San Francisco Seals in 1933, a PCL record.
Consecutive games in which the 26-year-old hit safely for the
New York Yankees in 1941, a major league record.
Home runs in 1937, the only season in which he led the major
leagues. (He led the American League in 1948 with 39.)
All-Star Games for the DiMaggio brothers combined, a record. Joe
was an All-Star in each of his 13 seasons. Younger brother Dom,
an outfielder for the Boston Red Sox from 1940 to '53, was a
seven-time All-Star. Older brother Vince--an outfielder for the
Boston Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia
Phillies and New York Giants from 1937 to '46--made the
midsummer classic twice. (The Alomars, Roberto and Sandy Jr.,
are second with 14.)
Offensive categories (hits, runs, doubles, triples, home runs,
total bases, RBIs, extra-base hits, batting average and slugging
percentage) in which DiMaggio remains in the top five on the
Yankees' alltime list.
American League pennants won by the Yankees in his 13-year career.
World championships won by the Yankees in his 13-year career.
American League MVP awards (1939, '41 and '47).
Player in major league history who has more than 300 home runs
and fewer than 400 strikeouts. (DiMaggio had 361 homers and 369
A Clipper Chronology
Nov. 25, 1914
Joseph Paul DiMaggio is born in Martinez, Calif., the eighth of
what will be nine children of Giuseppe and Rosalie DiMaggio, a
Sicilian couple who immigrated to America around the turn of the
The 16-year-old DiMaggio drops out of Galileo High to take a job
at an orange-juice bottling plant, which he later describes as
"a lousy way to make a living." He quits the plant and, after
doing odd jobs for a while, devotes most of his time to playing
baseball in a parking lot near the wharves.
Older brother Vince makes the roster of the minor league San
Francisco Seals. When a shortstop is needed late in the season,
Vince recommends Joe, who had moved on to local semipro ball.
Seals owner Charlie Graham sells DiMaggio to the Yankees for
$25,000, five players and a proviso that the 19-year-old
centerfielder spend the 1935 season with San Francisco.
May 3, 1936
After missing the first two weeks of the season with an injured
left ankle, DiMaggio goes 3 for 6 in his first game as New York
routs the St. Louis Browns 14-5. He would hit 29 home runs for
the season, still a Yankees rookie record.
July 7, 1936
At Boston's Braves Field, DiMaggio becomes the first rookie to
play in an All-Star Game.
DiMaggio sets a major league record for homers in a month by
banging out 15.
Nov. 19, 1939
DiMaggio marries actress Dorothy Arnold in San Francisco.
May 14, 1941
DiMaggio goes hitless in a 4-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians. He
won't have another 0-fer for more than two months.
July 2, 1941
DiMaggio homers off Dick Newsome of the Boston Red Sox to extend
his hitting streak to 45 games, breaking the major league record
set by Wee Willie Keeler in 1897.
July 17, 1941
The Indians stop DiMaggio's hitting streak at 56 games. Al Smith
walks DiMaggio once and retires him twice--the first on a
tremendous backhand stab by third baseman Ken Keltner--and Jim
Bagby gets DiMaggio to ground into a double play.
Feb. 17, 1943
With World War II escalating, DiMaggio enlists in the Army Air
Force in San Francisco.
Oct. 11, 1943
After many attempts at reconciliation, Dorothy files for divorce.
Sept. 14, 1945
DiMaggio is discharged from the Army.
Feb. 7, 1949
DiMaggio signs baseball's first $100,000-a-year contract.
Oct. 5, 1950
DiMaggio hits a game-winning home run off Robin Roberts in Game
2 of the World Series, giving the Yanks a 2-1 win over the
Philadelphia Phillies en route to a sweep.
Dec. 11, 1951
Saying, "I just don't have it anymore," DiMaggio, 37, announces
Jan. 14, 1954
Two years after being introduced by Philadelphia Athletics
outfielder Gus Zernial, DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe are married
at San Francisco City Hall.
Oct. 27, 1954
After 274 days of marriage, DiMaggio and Monroe divorce.
July 25, 1955
DiMaggio is enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
April 10, 1968
DiMaggio returns to the game, wearing the green and gold of
Charley Finley's Oakland A's. Joltin' Joe serves two years as a
coach and consultant to Finley.
Sept. 27, 1998
DiMaggio makes his last appearance at Yankee Stadium, as former
teammate Phil Rizzuto presents him with replacements for the
eight World Series rings that were stolen from DiMaggio's hotel
room in 1960.
March 8, 1999
Following a five-month battle with lung cancer, DiMaggio dies in
his Hollywood, Fla., home at age 84.