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Joseph Paul DiMaggio (born Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, Jr. on November 25, 1914 in Martinez, California – died on March 8, 1999, in Hollywood, Florida), nicknamed "Joltin' Joe" and "The Yankee Clipper", was an Italian American center fielder in Major League Baseball who played his entire career (1936–1951) for the New York Yankees.
A 3-time MVP winner and 13-time All-Star who was widely hailed for his accomplishment on both offense and defense, as well as for the grace with which he played the game, he retired at age 36 with the 5th-most career home runs (361) and 6th-highest slugging percentage (.579) in history. In a 1969 poll conducted in New York to coincide with the centennial of professional baseball, he was voted the sport's greatest living player.
A "picture-perfect" player, many rate his 56-game hitting streak (May 15 - July 16, 1941) as the top baseball feat of all time. His older brother Vince and younger brother Dom DiMaggio were also major leaguer center fielders: Vince was a 2-time National League All-Star; Dom was a 7-time All-Star who played his entire 11-year career for the Boston Red Sox.
The eighth of ten children, DiMaggio was born in a two-room house to Sicilian immigrants, delivered by a midwife. His mother, Rosalia, named him "Giuseppe" for his father; "Paolo" was in honor of Saint Paul, Giuseppe's favorite saint. The family moved to San Francisco, California when Joe was one year old.
Giuseppe was a fisherman, as were generations of DiMaggios before him. It was his dream to have all five of his sons fish the Bay with him. Joe would do anything to get out of cleaning his father's boat, as the smell of dead fish made him sick to his stomach; this earned him Giuseppe's ire, who called him "lazy" and "good for nothing." It was only after Joe became the sensation of the Pacific Coast League that his father was finally won over.
Joe was playing semi-pro ball when Vince, then with the San Francisco Seals, talked his manager into letting his kid brother fill in at shortstop for the last three games of the 1932 season. Joe, making his debut on October 1, couldn't play shortstop, but he could hit.
From May 28 - July 25, 1933, he hit in 61 consecutive games. "Baseball didn't really get into my blood until I knocked off that hitting streak," DiMaggio said. "Getting a daily hit became more important to me than eating, drinking or sleeping."
However, in 1934, his career almost ended. Going to his sister's house for dinner, he tore the ligaments in his left knee when he stepped out of a jitney. The next day, he hit a homer, but had to walk around the bases. The Seals, hoping to sell Joe for as much as $100,000 – a staggering sum during the Great Depression – now couldn't give him away; the Chicago Cubs turned down a no-risk tryout. Fortunately, scout Bill Essick pestered the Yankees to give the 19-year-old another look.
After Joe passed a test on his knee, the Yankees bought his contract on November 21 for $25,000 and 5 players, with the Seals keeping him for one more season. He batted .398 with 154 RBIs and 34 HRs and led the Seals to the 1935 PCL title.
"The Yankee Clipper"
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 hadn't been to the World Series since 1932, but, thanks in large part to their sensational rookie, they won the next four. DiMaggio is the only athlete in North American pro sports history to be on four championship teams in his first 4 full seasons. In total, he led the Yankees to 9 titles in 13 years.
Teammate Hank Bauer lauded DiMaggio as a "red-ass," a man whose drive to win was all-consuming. This extended even to family: a 1948 TIME story reported that his mother told him Dom's wedding was to take place on October 7 unless the Red Sox won the pennant, then it would be delayed ten days. "Mama," DiMaggio replied. "I will personally see to it that Dom is free to marry on the 7th." The Yankees' efforts forced the Sox into a one-game playoff, which they lost to the Cleveland Indians.
On February 7, 1949, DiMaggio became the first baseball player to sign for $100,000 ($70,000 plus bonuses). He was still regarded as its best player, but injuries got to the point where he couldn't 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 December 11.
Although he became eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953, rumors circulated that if he were elected, the Pittsburgh Pirates would sign him to the richest contract in the sport's history purely as a gate attraction. 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 would likely have had even better statistics had his home park not been Yankee Stadium. As "The House That (Babe) Ruth Built," it was designed to accommodate Ruth's left-handed power. (Though other reports suggest the short right-field porch was due to the way the parcel of land Yankee Stadium sits on was shaped) For right-handed hitters, it was a nightmare: Mickey Mantle recalled that he and Whitey Ford used to count the blasts DiMaggio hit that would have been home runs anywhere else, but, at the Stadium, were long outs. Left-center field went as far back as 457 ft, compared to ballparks today where left-center rarely reaches 380 ft.
In 1949, 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 would have benefited from Yankee Stadium's short right-center fence while DiMaggio would have thrived at Fenway Park with its Green Monster.
DiMaggio was given the nickname "Yankee Clipper" by broadcaster Arch McDonald for the gracefulness of his play in the field.
Following the U.S. entrance in World War II, DiMaggio enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces on February 17, 1943, rising to the rank of Sergeant. While Ted Williams and Bob Feller saw action at their request, DiMaggio's popularity was such it was feared that if he was put in harm's way and killed, it would devastate morale. He was stationed at Santa Ana, California, Hawaii, and Atlantic City as a physical education instructor during his 31-month stint, and played baseball.
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, weren't allowed to travel more than 5 miles from their home without a permit, and Giuseppe's boat was seized. Rosalia became an American citizen in 1944, Giuseppe in 1945.
In January 1937, DiMaggio met actress Dorothy Arnold on the set of Manhattan Merry Go-Round, in which he was featured and she was one of its adornments. They married at San Francisco's Roman Catholic Church of SS Peter and Paul 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 with limited social skills whose life revolved around the game. While not the "party animal" Babe Ruth was, he had his fun, leaving Dorothy feeling neglected. However, she was an ambitious social climber who took full advantage of her status as the wife of sports' biggest star. DiMaggio biographer Michael Seidel reported that, except on the nights before Lefty Gomez was to pitch, Dorothy and Lefty's wife, Broadway star June O'Dea, would drag their husbands from one Manhattan nightspot to another. He came to resent 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. After the season, she went to Reno, Nevada; he followed her, and they reconciled. But after he enlisted in the Army and was sent to Hawaii, she returned to Reno and obtained a divorce.
The relationship continued off and on. Dorothy promised Joe she would wait for him to return from 1946 spring training, but married another man. It was only after he met the love of his life on a blind date in 1952 did he finally got her out of his system for good.
According to her autobiography, Marilyn Monroe did not want to meet DiMaggio, imagining he had bulging muscles and wore pink ties. Both were at different points in their lives: Joe wanted to settle down, while Marilyn's career was taking off. They married at San Francisco City Hall on January 14, 1954, the culmination of a courtship that had captivated the nation.
The relationship was loving yet complex, marred by his jealousy. 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 New York's Lexington Avenue before hundreds of fans; director Billy Wilder recalled "the look of death" on DiMaggio's face as he watched. When she filed for divorce just 274 days after the wedding, Oscar Levant quipped it proved that no man could be a success in two pastimes.
He re-entered her life as her marriage to Arthur Miller was ending. On February 10, 1961, DiMaggio secured Monroe's release from a psychiatric clinic (she was reportedly placed in the ward for the most seriously disturbed). She later joined him in Florida where he was a batting coach at the Yankees' training camp. Their "just friends" claim didn't stop remarriage rumors from flying; reporters staked out Monroe's Manhattan apartment building. Bob Hope even "dedicated" Best Song nominee "The Second Time Around" to them at the Academy Awards.
According to biographer Maury Allen, Joe was so alarmed by Marilyn's return 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 return to California to ask her to remarry him.
But before he could, she was found dead on August 5, a probable suicide. 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 "cash in" on the relationship. He never married again.
After DiMaggio, who underwent lung cancer surgery on October 14, 1998, fell into an 18-hour coma on December 11, his lawyer, Morris Engelberg, was forced 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.
Joe was finally taken to his home on January 19, 1999. Days later, NBC broadcast a premature obituary; Engelberg claimed he and DiMaggio had been 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 version of events to The New York Post.
DiMaggio is interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, California, despite the fact that he had been excommunicated. 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. Cramer told the New York Times that Dom cooperated with him on his controversial biography, and got other family members to do likewise.
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.
Oddly, both books contain inaccuracies, salacious gossip, unsubstantiated claims and rely on the same discredited sources. Both state Joe thought Marilyn was murdered due to her involvement with the Kennedy Family; Cramer even claims the coroner who performed her autopsy "took a dive."
Both draw the same conclusion: DiMaggio was a greedy humbug, convinced everyone was out to take advantage of him.
DiMaggio was used by artists as a touchstone in popular culture, not only during his career, but decades after he retired. In the South Pacific song, "Bloody Mary" has "skin tender as Dimaggio's glove". Joltin' Joe DiMaggio was recorded during his hitting streak by Les Brown.
In Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely, Philip Marlowe follows the hitting streak, which Chandler uses as a metaphor for good in Marlowe's debased world. 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 well. Paul Simon explained that DiMaggio was a metaphor for a seemingly more innocent time.
Woody Guthrie wrote "DiMaggio Done It" about his stunning performance in a crucial series against the Red Sox in June 1949, when surgery for bone spurs in his right heel had 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, the worshipful Santiago drawing courage from his hero's ordeal. DiMaggio "appears" in the Seinfeld episode "The Note" (Kramer tries to convince the gang that he saw him at Dinky Donuts.) In The Simpsons episode "'Tis the Fifteenth Season," Montgomery Burns gives Homer Simpson a DiMaggio rookie card: "Apparently they've started letting ethnics into the big leagues." In the 1950 cartoon Boobs in the Woods, Daffy Duck gets a confused Porky Pig to "Steal home, DiMaggio! It means the game!"
He is mentioned in Joss Stone's "Whatever Happened to the Heroes" and John Fogerty's "Center Field." He and Monroe are mentioned in Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire," Madonna's "Vogue," and Tori Amos's "Father Lucifer."
In 1971, Italian industrial design firm Poltronova released the "Joe" chair, named after DiMaggio, and shaped like a gigantic baseball glove. The original brown leather versions are considered a collectors' item and sell for USD$5,000-$7,000.
He appeared in the original Angels in the Outfield (1951) and in The First of May (released in 1999). According to its director, DiMaggio refused payment as its subject, foster children, was dear to him, but Screen Actors Guild rules mandated he take the minimum $250 per day fee.
His hitting streak has been used 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 of the streak. 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 hitting streak. DiMaggio, however, was less than impressed, quoted as saying that Gretzky "never had to worry about a mid-game washout in the middle of the second period."
Yankee Stadium's fifth monument was dedicated to DiMaggio on April 25, 1999. The monument replaced a plaque that previously hung at Monument Park, and before that on the center field wall. The monument calls him "A baseball legend and an American icon." Also on that date the West Side Highway was officially renamed in his honor. The Yankees wore a black number 5 (DiMaggio's uniform number) on the left sleeves of their uniforms for the 1999 season. DiMaggio ranked number 11 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was elected through fan balloting to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
It was announced on January 23, 2006 that more than 1,000 pieces of DiMaggio memorabilia, including his 1947 MVP Award, and a photo Marilyn Monroe signed "I love you Joe" will be auctioned by his granddaughters in May.
- Traded by San Francisco (PCL) to New York Yankees in exchange for cash and 4 players to be named later (November 21, 1934); San Francisco (PCL) received Doc Farrell, Floyd Newkirk, Jim Densmore and Ted Norbert (December 19, 1934); Doc Farrell refused to report to San Francisco (PCL) and New York Yankees sent $5000 (1935) to complete trade.
- Official Website
- Baseball Hall of Fame
- Baseball Reference
- The Sporting News: Baseball's 100 Greatest Players (#11)
- ESPN Classic
- Baseball Library - biography and career highlights
- Major League Baseball: Memorable Moments - the hitting streak
- The American Experience - Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life
- Baseball-Statistics.com - biography
- The Baseball Page
- Washington Post obituary
- Joe DiMaggio at The Internet Movie Database
- Joe DiMaggio Children's HospitalTemplate:Persondata