by Harold Friend
Jon Stirling is a Baltimore Orioles' loyalist. Jon started following the Birds when they arrived just in time for the 1954 season. Jon never liked the haughty Yankees, but he grudgingly admired the greatest of all center fielders, Joseph Paul DiMaggio. On Saturday, July 31, 1965, Jon attended the Yankees' annual Old Timers' Game at Yankee Stadium, a ball park that greed recently destroyed. The Yankees' lost, but Joe DiMaggio, at the age of 51, again confirmed his greatness.
Easy to Root Against the Yankees
It started even before the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore. During the winter of 1954, the New York Yankees stole our best pitcher, Bullet Bob Turley. After that, it was even easier to root against the Yankees, an exercise that didn't produced much satisfaction until 1965, when age and deliberately poor management by new owner CBS, caused the demise of baseball's dynasty.
Old Timers' Game
I was in New York on business at the end of July. The Yankees were hosting the Cleveland Indians on Saturday,July 31, and I had two tickets. I called my friend, Mike Phransessa, to ask him if he wanted to go to the game. The grabber was that it was also Old Timers' Day. Mike, who was an avid Yankees' fan, jumped at the chance.
The Yankees Were Bad
As we walked into Yankee Stadium, I felt great, because for the first time that I could remember, the Yankees were a bad team. The Old Timers' game pitted National League players who had won awards against their American League counterparts.
A Great Ovation for Yogi Berra
Yogi Berra, whom the Yankees fired in favor of their 1964 World Series conquerer, Johnny Keane, received a tremendous ovation when he was introduced, which was in stark contrast to the chorus of boos that rained down on Keane a little earlier. I, of course, cheered the Keane, but even I could not boo Yogi Berra.
A few minutes later, the thunderous applause Yogi received paled in comparison to the fans' frenzy when Joe DiMaggio was introduced. I admit it. I was among those who cheered the loudest for the man who was the living symbol of Yankees' greatness. For the moment, it was easy to forget all the negatives. It was easy to forget the way the Yankees had used Kansas City as a farm team, and how they always took advantage of financially challenged franchises.
Joe DiMaggio Hits
No one could question Joe DiMaggio's greatness, but one could question, at least to some extent, what occurred in the second inning. After the National League stars scored four runs in the top of the second, Joe led off the bottom of the inning against former Cincinnati Reds' right-hander Bucky Walters.
As the crowd watched with eager anticipation, Walters went into an exaggerated wind-up after first asking where Joe wanted the pitch. It reminded me of an article I had read on bleacherreport.that discussed how batters could request pitch location in the 1880s.
A Foul Pop Fly
DiMaggio merely smiled at Bucky, who delivered the pitch. The Yankee Clipper hit a high foul pop fly in foul territory behind home plate. Catcher Jim Hegan moved under the ball, hesitated, caught it, and then walked a few steps before purposely touching the ball to the ground. The "Clown Prince of Baseball," Al Schacht, who was umpiring, insisted that DiMaggio continue to bat. The crowd roared in approval. Mike told me that it was the right thing to do as I shook my head.
Joe stepped back into the batters box. Walters delivered and DiMaggio lifted another pop fly, this time near third base. Monte Irvin, who was playing third, decided to attempt an awkward, running, backhand catch. To his and the crowd's amazement, Irvin made the play, but Schacht ruled that backhanded catches were illegal.
The Third Time
During his career, Joe DiMaggio hit 361 home runs and struck out 369 times. It was extremely difficult to get a third strike past him. On this day, Bucky Walters couldn't get DiMaggio out a third time.
Given new life, Joe took his signature wide stance as Walters delivered. Joe lined the delivery into the left field stands for a home run. The crowd was uncontrollably wild as Joe circled the bases. "As DiMaggio trotted around the bases, the pennants attached to the grandstand roof seemed to flap in recognition and memories of invincibility lived again."
None was "Joe DiMaggio"
My friend Mike was besides himself, and he was not alone. I could hardly hear him as he shouted to me about DiMaggio's greatness. "You can have Mantle, Mays, Snider, and even Speaker. You give me Joe."
I had to admit that it was thrilling. Yes, DiMaggio had been retired twice before he connected for the home run, but seeing Joe DiMaggio round the bases on more time was indescribable.
I saw Mickey, Willie, and the Duke. I read about Tris Speaker. Each was unique in his own way, but none was Joe DiMaggio.
DiMaggio Hits One For Auld Lang Syne At Yankee Stadium :DI MAGGIO CLOUTS OLD-TIME HOMER. (1965, August 1). New York Times (1923-Current file),p. S1. Retrieved February 14, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 481113812).