Impressed even as a non-Italian, non-baseball type,
PS. there's some fun bits near the end. Looks like the Times put
together a bigger package for DiMaggio then they did for Deng
March 8, 1999
Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper and an American Icon, Dies at 84
By JOSEPH DURSO
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Joe DiMaggio, the flawless center fielder for the
New York Yankees who, along with Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle,
symbolized the team's dynastic success across the 20th century and
whose 56-game hitting streak in 1941 made him an instant and
indelible American folk hero, died early Monday at his home here. He
was 84 years old.
DiMaggio burst onto the baseball scene from San Francisco in the
1930's and grew into the game's most gallant and graceful center
fielder. He wore No. 5 and became the successor to Babe Ruth (No. 3)
and Lou Gehrig (No. 4) in the team's pantheon. DiMaggio was the
team's superstar for 13 seasons, beginning in 1936 and ending in
1951, and appeared in 11 All-Star Games and 10 World Series. He was,
as Roy Blount Jr. once observed, "the class of the Yankees in times
when the Yankees outclassed everybody else."
He was called the Yankee Clipper and was acclaimed at baseball's
centennial in 1969 as "the greatest living ballplayer," the man who
in 1,736 games with the Yankees had a career batting average of .325
and hit 361 home runs while striking out only 369 times, one of
baseball's most amazing statistics. (By way of comparison, Mickey
Mantle had 536 homers and struck out 1,710 times; Reggie Jackson
slugged 563 homers and struck out 2,597 times.)
But DiMaggio's game was so complete and elegant that it transcended
statistics; as The New York Times said in an editorial when he
retired, "The combination of proficiency and exquisite grace which
Joe DiMaggio brought to the art of playing center field was something
no baseball averages can measure and that must be seen to be believed
Grace on the Field, Sensitivity Off It
DiMaggio glided across the vast expanse of center field at Yankee
Stadium with such incomparable grace that long after he stopped
playing, the memory of him in full stride remains evergreen. He
disdained theatrical flourishes and exaggerated moves, never climbing
walls to make catches and rarely diving headlong. He got to the ball
just as it fell into his glove, making the catch seem inevitable,
almost preordained. The writer Wilfred Sheed wrote, "In dreams I can
still see him gliding after fly balls as if he were skimming the
surface of the moon."
His batting stance was as graceful as his outfield stride. He stood
flat-footed at the plate with his feet spread well apart, his bat
held still just off his right shoulder. When he swung, his left, or
front, foot moved only slightly foward. His swing was pure and
flowing with an incredible follow-through; Casey Stengel said, "He
made the rest of them look like plumbers."
At his peak, he was serenaded as "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio" by Les Brown
and saluted as "the great DiMaggio" by Ernest Hemingway in "The Old
Man and the Sea." He was mentioned in dozens of films and Broadway
shows; the sailors in "South Pacific" sing that Bloody Mary's skin is
"tender as DiMaggio's glove." Years later, he was remembered by Paul
Simon, who wondered with everybody else: "Where have you gone, Joe
DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you."
Sensitive to anything written, spoken or sung about him, he confessed
that he was puzzled by Simon's lyrics and sought an answer when he
met Simon in a restaurant in New York. "I asked Paul what the song
meant, whether it was derogatory," DiMaggio recalled. "He explained
it to me."
DiMaggio joined the Yankees in 1936, missed three years while he
served in the Army Air Forces in World War II, then returned and
played through the 1951 season, when Mickey Mantle arrived to open
yet another era in the remarkable run of Yankee success. In his 13
seasons, DiMaggio went to bat 6,821 times, got 2,214 hits, knocked in
1,537 runs, amassed 3,948 total bases and reached base just under 40
percent of the time.
For decades, baseball fans argued over who was the better pure
hitter, DiMaggio or Williams. Long after they had both retired,
Williams said: "In my heart, I always felt I was a better hitter than
Joe. But I have to say, he was the greatest baseball player of our
time. He could do it all."
And he did it all with a sureness and coolness that seemed to imply
an utter lack of emotion. DiMaggio was once asked why he did not vent
his frustrations on the field by kicking a bag or tossing a bat. The
outfielder, who chain-smoked cigarettes and had suffered from ulcers,
replied: "I can't. It wouldn't look right."
But he betrayed his sensitivity in a memorable gesture of annoyance
in the sixth game of the 1947 World Series after his long drive was
run down and caught in front of the 415-foot sign in left-center
field at Yankee Stadium by Al Gionfriddo of the Brooklyn Dodgers. As
DiMaggio rounded first base, he saw Gionfriddo make the catch and,
with his head down, kicked the dirt. The angry gesture was so
shocking that it made headlines.
In the field, DiMaggio ran down long drives with a gliding stride and
deep range. In 1947, he tied what was then the American League
fielding record for outfielders by making only one error in 141
games. He also had one of the most powerful and precise throwing arms
in the business and was credited with 153 assists in his 13 seasons.
His longtime manager, Joe McCarthy, once touched on another DiMaggio
skill. "He was the best base runner I ever saw," McCarthy said. "He
could have stolen 50, 60 bases a year if I let him. He wasn't the
fastest man alive. He just knew how to run bases better than anybody."
Three times DiMaggio was voted his league's most valuable player: in
1939, 1941 and 1947. In 1941, the magical season of his 56-game
hitting streak, he won the award even though Williams hit .406.
In each of his first four seasons with the Yankees, DiMaggio played
in the World Series, and the Yankees won all four. He appeared in the
Series 10 times in 13 seasons over all, and nine times the Yankees
He also had to endure the casual bigotry that existed when he first
came up. Many of his teammates called him the Big Dago, and Life
magazine, in a 1939 article intending to compliment him, said:
"Although he learned Italian first, Joe, now 24, speaks English
without an accent, and is otherwise well adapted to most U.S. mores.
Instead of olive oil or smelly bear grease he keeps his hair slick
with water. He never reeks of garlic and prefers chicken chow mein to
Forging a Record Still Unchallenged
The Streak began on May 15, 1941, with a single in four times at bat
against the Chicago White Sox. The next day, he hit a triple and a
home run. Two weeks later, he had a swollen neck but still hit three
singles and a home run in Washington. The next week against the St.
Louis Browns, he went 3 for 5 in one game, then 4 for 8 in a
doubleheader the next day with a double and three home runs. His
streak stood at 24.
On June 17, he broke the Yankees' club record of 29 games. On June
26, he was hitless with two out in the eighth inning against the
Browns, but he doubled, and his streak reached 38. On June 29, a
doubleheader against Washington, DiMaggio lined a double in the first
game to tie George Sisler's modern major league record of hitting in
41 straight games and then broke Sisler's record in the second game
by lining a single. On July 1, with a clean single against the Red
Sox at Yankee Stadium, he matched Willie Keeler's major league record
of 44 games, set in 1897 when foul balls didn't count as strikes. The
next day he broke it with a three-run homer.
As DiMaggio kept hitting safely, radio announcers kept an excited
America informed, Bojangles Robinson danced on the Yankee dugout roof
at the Stadium for good luck and Les Brown recorded "Joltin' Joe
DiMaggio . . . we want you on our side."
The Streak finally ended on the steamy night of July 17 in Cleveland
at Municipal Stadium before 67,468 fans. The pitchers were Al Smith
and Jim Bagby Jr., but the stopper was the Indians' third baseman,
Ken Keltner, who made two dazzling backhand plays deep behind third
base to rob DiMaggio of hits. It is sometimes overlooked that
DiMaggio was intentionally walked in the fourth inning of that game,
and that he promptly started a 16-game streak the next day.
In 56 games, DiMaggio had gone to bat 223 times and delivered 91 hits
for a .408 average, including 15 home runs. He drew 21 walks, twice
was hit by pitched balls, scored 56 runs and knocked in 55. He hit in
every game for two months, and struck out just seven times.
His most dramatic moments came in the season of 1949, after he was
sidelined by bone spurs on his right heel and did not play until June
26. Then he flew to Boston to join the team in Fenway Park, hit a
single and home run the first two times he went to bat, hit two more
home runs the next day and another the day after that.
DiMaggio always seemed tortured by Monroe's sex goddess image. He
protested loudly during the making of Billy Wilder's "The Seven Year
Itch" when the script called for her to cool herself over a subway
grate while a sudden wind blew her skirts up high.
But when the actress seemed on the verge of an emotional collapse in
1961, DiMaggio brought her to the Yankees' training camp in Florida
for rest and support. And when she died of an overdose of
barbiturates at the age of 36 on Aug. 4, 1962, he took charge of her
funeral and for the next 20 years sent roses three times a week to
her crypt in the Westwood section of Los Angeles.
[These are the products he endorsed?!]
When DiMaggio made an unexpected and dramatic return to the public
scene in the 1970's as a dignified television spokesman for the
Bowery Savings Bank of New York and for Mr. Coffee, a manufacturer of
coffee makers, he did it with remarkable ease for a man who had been
obsessed with privacy, who had once confided that he always had "a
knot" in his stomach because he was so shy and tense.
It was the kind of cheering that accompanied him through life and
that he had quietly come to expect. It recalled the time when he and
Marilyn Monroe, soon after their wedding, took a trip to Tokyo. She
continued on to entertain American troops in Korea, and said with
fascination when she returned, "Joe, you've never heard such
And Joe DiMaggio replied softly, "Yes, I have."