“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you….” lamented the lyrical duo of Simon and Garfunkel during the tumultuous 1960s. Seeking a mantra to combat the riots in the cities and a war that would kill 58,000 young Americans, they harkened back to a more peaceful time when one man embodied all that was good in the United States.
And we loved the song because we loved the man.
Many say Joe was the greatest ball player who ever lived. Red Sox fans would counter that Ted Williams owned that coveted moniker. But Joe’s Yankees won all the World Series and the Red Sox won none during their respective baseball years.
When Joe was sold to the New York Yankees in 1935, the last season Babe Ruth played baseball, he replaced Ruth as the leader of the Yankees and won the World Series the first four years he played from 1936 through 1939.
The most admired American in 1941 (FDR came in second) Joe hit in 56 straight games, a record that will never be broken. His streak stopped when a Cleveland third-baseman went deep behind third twice to throw Joe out at first by a step. Undaunted, the Yankee Clipper went on to hit safely in 16 of the next 17 games. Had he beaten out just one of those groundouts, he would have had a 72 game hitting streak.
Noted band leader Les Brown recorded a patriotic song during the Second World War, commenting, “Joe, Joe DiMaggio, we want you on our side.” It sold big.
A very introverted man, he never was showy but rather was the quintessential team player, even encouraging his center field successor, Mickey Mantle, on the fine art of playing center field in the varied configured outfields throughout the league.
An extremely proud man, he never forgave Yankee manager Casey Stengel for interrupting a game, late in Joe’s career, to have him ignominiously return to the dugout after the inning had started, to better solidify the outfield. Joe had owned the cavernous extremities of Yankee Stadium for years, always positioning himself gracefully to make the catch, all the while daring runners to tag up. They seldom tried.
He and Stengel hardly spoke after that embarrassing incident, although Stengel later described Joe thusly… “Joe DiMaggio makes all other baseball players look like plumbers.”
After his retirement, the iconic DiMaggio became a spokesperson for both the Bowery Savings Bank and Mister Coffee for many years, keeping him continually in the public eye.
He married movie star Marilyn Monroe who sadly took her own life at just 36 years. Joe became more reclusive after that, appearing less often at Old Timer games.
An incredible hitter over his entire career, statistics show that at any Yankee game, Joe was two-and-a-half times more likely to get a double, triple or home run, than he was to strike out.
That’s how legendary “Jolting’ Joe DiMaggio” was.