Remembering the Yankee Clipper: Joe DiMaggio
He was born November 25, 1914 in Martinez, California, and he would
have been celebrating his 85th birthday this week. Too bad the Yankee
Clipper didn't get the chance to blow out the candles.
Joseph Paul DiMaggio was one of nine children of a fisherman father
who had emigrated from Sicily. It was all planned for Joe to become a
fisherman like his father, but Joe could not abide the smell of fish and
he often got seasick. His real passion was playing baseball.
In 1934, he was playing baseball about as well as it could be played
when his contract with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast
League was purchased by the Yankees. The deal contained the clause that
the graceful outfielder be allowed to play one more season for the
seals. His 1935 season gave the people of San Francisco something to
remember - he batted .398, recorded 270 hits, and drove in 154 runs.
Permission was granted for DiMag in 1936 to drive cross-country with
fellow San Franciscans Tony Lazzeri and Frank Crosetti to the Yankee
spring training camp in St. Petersburg, Florida. Lazzeri turned to
DiMaggio after the trio had concluded one day of driving and said,
"You take over, Joe."
"I don't drive," DiMaggio answered
It was reported that these were the only words he
uttered during the entire three-day automobile trek. As a Yankee he didn't
do much talking either. His abilities on the playing field said it all.
He would step into the batter's box and stub his
right toe into the dirt in back of his left heel. It was almost a dance
step. His feet were spaced approximately four feet apart, with the weight
of his frame on his left leg. Erect, almost in a military position, Joe
Dee would hold his bat at the end and poise it on his right shoulder - a
rifle at the ready. He would look at the pitcher from deep in the batter's
box and assume a stance that almost crowded the plate. He was ready.
In DiMaggio's time - 13 seasons with the Yankees -
they won 10 pennants. In 1951, the man they called the Yankee Clipper,
retired at age 36. Management attempted to get him to perform in
pinstripes for one more season. But he had too much pride, and too much
pain. He knew it was over.
Joseph Paul DiMaggio left behind the memory of a
player who moved about in the vast centerfield of Yankee Stadium with an
almost poetical grace. He had played when he was fatigued, when he was
hurt, when it mattered a great deal, and when it didn't matter at all.
"Joe was the complete player in everything he
did," said his former manager Joe McCarthy. "They'd hit the ball
to center field and Joe would stretch out those long legs of his and run
the ball down. He never made a mistake on the bases and in Yankee Stadium,
a tough park for a right-hander, he was a great hitter, one of the
DiMag had a career average of .325, 361 home runs,
eight World Series home runs, and two batting championships. He also won
three MVP's and hold the record of 56 straight games with a hit.
"Those statistics don't even tell half the
story," said DiMag's former teammate pitcher Eddie Lopat. "What
he meant to the Yankees, you'll never find in the statistics. He was the
real leader of our team. He was the best."
That he was! # #
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About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
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Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz Frommer are the authors of
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