Baseball plays a big role in Hemingway’s story, and the figure of Joe DiMaggio represents a kind of manly ideal of competence and integrity for Santiago. In this he is like the bullfighters Hemingway shows his reverence for in "Blood on the Sand" or The Sun Also Rises: like the bullfighters, DiMaggio epitomizes the idea of “grace under pressure,” the notion that the highest expression of integrity is doing one's job even when in great personal danger or pain; as Santiago says, he hopes he will be “worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel.” Earlier he tells Manolin, who fears that the Yankees might lose to the Indians, to “Have faith in the Yankees my son. Think of the great DiMaggio.” DiMaggio’s talent and integrity is an inspiration to Santiago, but also a point of comparison: he constantly imagines how DiMaggio would think of him and his work. Later, he asks himself, “Do you believe the great DiMaggio would stay with a fish as long as I will stay with this one? he thought. I am sure he would and more since he is young and strong. Also his father was a fisherman. But would the bone spur hurt him too much?” Still later, after the fish is caught, he reflects, “I wonder how the great DiMaggio would have liked the way I hit him in the brain? It was no great thing, he thought. Any man could do it. But do you think my hands were as great a handicap as the bone spurs? I cannot know. I never had anything wrong with my heel except the time the sting ray stung it when I stepped on him when swimming and paralyzed the lower leg and made the unbearable pain.”
Of course, all Santiago knows about baseball and DiMaggio comes from the newspaper; his persistent concern for DiMaggio’s “bone spurs” suggests that he has no real idea of what this injury could be and so attaches a kind of fabulous meaning to it; whatever hardship he might face, it could not be worse than a bone spur, even the “unbearable pain” of the sting ray's sting. In this way, Santiago’s reverence for DiMaggio becomes ironic; in fact, Santiago’s struggle with the fish, or even the day-to-day details of his life, far exceed anything the historical DiMaggio might have had to endure. Santiago might idolize DiMaggio, but he himself is the real hero.
Ernest Hemingway writes in "The Old Man And The Sea:"
"The Yankees cannot lose."
"But I fear the Indians of Cleveland."
"Have faith in the Yankees my son. Think of the great DiMaggio."pg 17.
Santiago's attitude toward Joe DiMaggio is one of fondness and honor. He thinks Joe is great and has faith in the Yankees because they have the "great" Joe DiMaggio. Hemingway also shows us Santiago's respect for DiMaggio through Santiago's remarks about Joe while he is fighting to catch the big marlin. On page 103-104 Santiago states that he wonders how DiMaggio would have liked how he hit the marlin "in the brain." Santiago is a man who honors men who work hard, have confidence in themselves, and have integrity. He respects DiMaggio so much he says he would like to take him fishing sometime.