Baseball fans have some of the longest memories in all of sports fandom. Part of the allure of the game is its rich history and many colorful players.
Still, for newer fans who may not know much about him, Joe DiMaggio deserves special mention. In his 13 years in the majors, all with the New York Yankees, he set the gold standard for hard work, hitting prowess, graceful fielding and just being all around amazing.
Here’s a few facts about the man known as Joltin’ Joe and the Yankee Clipper.
The Greatest Yankee Is From California
DiMaggio was born Nov. 25, 1914, in Martinez, Calif. His parents, immigrants from Italy, moved to San Francisco when Joe was one. His father wanted Joe and his other sons to become fishermen like him. However, young Joe instead played baseball with his older brother, Vincent, and immediately showed great skills even on the playground. At 16, he dropped out of high school and dedicated himself to baseball.
His humble roots led many fans to consider him the personification of the American Dream. While celebrated in song (see below), he also got a mention in literature. Ernest Hemingway wrote in The Old Man and the Sea: “I would like to take the great DiMaggio fishing, the old man said. They say his father was a fisherman. Maybe he was as poor as we are and would understand.”
Joe DiMaggio Serving His Country
Any discussion about DiMaggio must include some of his incredible accomplishments. They include his record 56-game hitting streak between May 15 and July 17, 1941; leading the New York Yankees to nine championships in 13 years; and retiring with a lifetime batting average of .325, 361 home runs and 1,537 runs batted in.
However, one of the more memorable feats involved service to his country. DiMaggio left baseball to serve three years with the U.S. Army during World War II. The year he came back, 1946, he showed no rust. He led the Yankees to another world championship, won the American League Most Valuable Player Award, made only one error all season and hit .290.
DiMaggio’s First Hitting Streak
DiMaggio’s famous hitting streak actually is not his longest.
In 1933, in his first full season with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League (PCL), DiMaggio hit safely in 61 straight games. More than 80 years later, that continues to stand as the record for the PCL. That also is the second longest streak of all-time for any minor league player, eight hits shy of the 69-game streak by Joe Wilhoit while playing in 1919 for Wichita in the Western League.
Two Hit Songs
Of all the songs about baseball players – or players in any sport – few remain as recognizable as “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio.” Most baseball fans can just read that phrase and hear Betty Bonney singing it. You can hear it here.
Alan Courtney and Ben Homer wrote the song, and the Les Brown orchestra performed it with Bonney on lead vocal. The song came out in 1941 and mentions the hitting streak.
One memorable song mention is more than most players get, but DiMaggio has two. In their 1968 No. 1 single, “Mrs. Robinson,” Simon and Garfunkel sing: “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”
In 2014, Paul Simon, who wrote the lyrics, told the New York Post he once ran into DiMaggio in a restaurant and the baseball great asked him, “Why you’d say that? I’m here, everyone knows I’m here.” Simon explained that “I didn’t mean it that way. I meant, where are all these great heroes now?” Simon said DiMaggio was flattered when he understood what Simon meant.
Ted Williams’ Mom
As incredible as it seems in hindsight, the Yankees almost traded DiMaggio in 1947 for Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox. That’s the legendary story, anyway, first told by columnist Dave Anderson in the New York Times in 1980.
However, a lesser-known fact came to light in the 2003 book “A Legend in The Making: The New York Yankees in 1939” by Richard J. Tofel. Tofel explains that the same Yankees scout who successfully signed DiMaggio almost signed Williams, who lived in San Diego. But he offered a $500 bonus and Williams’ mom wanted $1,000. The Yankees wouldn’t pay. So the world lost the chance to see Williams and DiMaggio as teammates over $500.
Dimaggio’s Famous Dying Words
It’s one thing to become one of the greatest sports legends of all time. But in the years after his death, DiMaggio also became known as a true romantic. The object of his affection: Marilyn Monroe.
DiMaggio and Monroe married in 1954, but the marriage lasted only nine months. However, by the early 1960s they were back in each other’s lives, even reading poetry together, according to The Telegraph in London. Rumors were the two planned to remarry. After her death in 1962, DiMaggio claimed the body and arranged for her funeral. He had roses sent to her crypt three times a week for 20 years.
When DiMaggio died 37 years later in 1999, his attorney, Morris Engelberg, said the baseball great’s final word were:
“I finally get to see Marilyn.”