Historical revisionists blame the New York media for the DiMaggio mystique, his appeal reached far beyond the Big Apple. In cities around the American League where Yankee-hating was a given, DiMaggio still received a special dispensation.
Joe DiMaggio got his start with the same San Francisco minor league team, the Seals, that launched his brothers, Vince and Dom, into the major leagues. When Vince made the roster in the early ’30s, he convinced the team to take his younger brother Joe on as shortstop.
Joe delivered the goods, hitting .340 during his first season, with 28 homeruns and 169 RBIs. Two years later, Seals owner Charlie Graham traded DiMaggio to the Yankees for five players and $25,000.
With the Yankees, Joe DiMaggio warmed more baseball fans’ chests than hot-dog heartburn. He was adored and idealized for his handsome face and his quiet, slightly aloof manner. At the plate, DiMaggio stood with his feet planted wide apart and his bat ready, but straight-up and motionless. When fans saw him swing, they never forgot it, no matter where the ball went.
He was known as a picture-perfect player for his grace and form, and his presence was powerful enough to make him an American icon; he was referenced in everything from Ernest Hemingway’s book, “The Old Man and the Sea,” to Simon and Garfunkel’s theme song for “The Graduate.”
DiMaggio’s stats were perhaps not the best ever, but close enough to support the emotions of his fans. He lost three years to the service between 1943 and 1945, but still ended with 2,214 hits, 361 home runs, 1,390 runs scored, 1,537 RBIs, and a .325 career batting average. He led the league in homers twice, RBIs twice, and batting average twice. When he drove in 155 runs in 1948, he had more RBIs than games. He played 13 years and was named to 13 American League All-Star teams. He was the American League MVP three times, including the 1941 season, in which he had a hit in a record 56 consecutive games.
He retired from baseball in 1951, stating that though he hit .340 that season, he could no longer give his best to the club, the team, or the fans. DiMaggio’s number 5 was retired by the New York Yankees in 1952 and he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955, just a year after he was eligible and was voted the sport’s greatest living player in a poll taken during the baseball centennial year of 1969. In 1998, an 83 year old DiMaggio made his last trip to Yankee Stadium, where he was presented with eight (8) World Series rings. He was inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1978.