Joe DiMaggio

(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: DiMaggio was one of the greatest players in major league baseball history. Besides generating impressive career batting and fielding statistics and leading the New York Yankees to ten American League pennants during his thirteen-year career, DiMaggio played with a verve, grace, and style that have made him a symbol of excellence on the baseball diamond as well as an American cultural icon.

Early Life

Joseph Paul DiMaggio, Jr., was the eighth of nine children born to Giuseppe and Rosalia DiMaggio, Italian immigrants who migrated to California around the beginning of the twentieth century. Giuseppe, who made his living as a crab fisherman, moved his family to San Francisco the year after Joseph’s birth. As youngsters, the DiMaggio boys worked with their father, attended local public schools, and played sandlot baseball, a sport for which they seemed to possess a natural gift. Two of Joseph’s brothers, Vincent and Dominic, also had major league baseball careers, though their older brother Tom, who followed Giuseppe into crab fishing, was said to be the family’s most proficient baseball player.

DiMaggio left school during his sophomore year of high school and searched for work, which was difficult to obtain during the Great Depression year of 1931. At the time, however, his older brother Vincent was playing baseball for the San Francisco Seals of the highly competitive Pacific Coast League. Vincent secured a place on the team for DiMaggio for the final three games of the 1932 season. By this time, DiMaggio’s baseball playing abilities were well known around San Francisco. As a teenager, he had excelled on the sandlots and in the local Boys’ Club league, and he had already been recruited by the San Francisco Missions, the Seals’ local rival.

DiMaggio became a star outfielder for the Seals during the season of 1933. He batted .340 and at mid-season secured a hit in sixty-one consecutive games, a minor-league record that still stands. DiMaggio’s extraordinary achievements during that maiden professional season attracted the attention of several major-league baseball scouts. The next year, the New York Yankees purchased DiMaggio from the Seals for $25,000, but they allowed him to play one more season in San Francisco to gain additional playing experience. During that final season with the Seals, DiMaggio batted .398, hit thirty-four home runs, and was voted the Pacific Coast League’s most valuable player.

Life’s Work

DiMaggio broke into the major league with a big season. In 1936, playing for the Yankees, DiMaggio logged a .323 batting average, hit 29 home runs, and recorded 125 runs batted in (RBIs) and 132 runs scored. He helped the Yankees win their first American League pennant since 1932 and batted .346 in his team’s World Series victory over the New York Giants.

By the age twenty-two, DiMaggio had grown to 6 feet 2 inches tall, and his slender adolescent frame had filled out to 200 pounds. He had developed rugged good looks, and after beginning to draw a major-league baseball salary, he started to collect a wardrobe that would perennially place him on the lists of America’s best-dressed men. In the batter’s box, DiMaggio assumed a very wide stance and generated power from a classic sweeping swing of the bat. He possessed extremely powerful wrists and forearms that enabled him to drive the bat across the plate with enormous speed and power.

DiMaggio followed his outstanding rookie performance with perhaps the best season of his baseball career. In 1937, DiMaggio batted .346, led the American League with 46 home runs, scored 151 runs, and batted in another 167. Again the Yankees won the American League pennant and bested the New York Giants in the World Series. During the next five seasons, DiMaggio established himself as the American League’s most feared hitter. He led the league with a .381 batting average in 1939 and a .352 average in 1940. In 1941, he recorded the single most noteworthy achievement of his baseball career when he secured a hit in fifty-six consecutive games (which smashed the previous mark of forty-four games). In every Yankee game played between May 15 and July 16 of that season, DiMaggio recorded at least one hit. Twice, in 1939 and 1941, he was voted the American League’s most valuable player. Each year he was named to the American League’s all-star team.

DiMaggio was more than a skilled batsman; he excelled in every phase of the game. He developed into a splendid outfielder who effectively covered the large centerfield area of Yankee...

(The entire section is 1893 words.)