Joe “Joltin’ Joe” DiMaggio has been a household name since his debut in 1936 with the New York Yankees. He is now long gone but remains a legend and a force to look up to for fans and athletes alike.
Born in 1914 to a poor Italian family, DiMaggio and his parents saw both world wars and were classified as enemies of the state by the United States after Pearl Harbor. His father, a fisherman, even had his boat seized as he was fishing on the San Francisco Bay, though he had done so for years.
But DiMaggio would not let his humble beginnings stop him from success on the field. Though his early days as an amateur player are murky, his impact on Major League Baseball are well recorded. For example, the player set a franchise record for rookies in 1936, when he hit 29 home runs in 138 games. The record stood for 80 years until it was broken by Aaron Judge with 52 such hits. Joe DiMaggio was such a success that he led the Yankees to nine World Series championships, a title only surpassed by Yogi Berra.
Joe started playing baseball with his brother Vince on San Francisco’s sandlot baseball fields, where he soon became notoriously skilled. At age 16, he dropped out of Galileo High School to play baseball full time, though he and his team were still using rocks for bases and taping up the ball with bicycle tape. A couple of years later in 1933, DiMaggio won a place on the San Francisco Seal’s roster thanks to a recommendation from his older brother. His incredible batting of .340 got him recognized by the Yankee authorities, and he was then sold to the New York team for $25,000 and five other Seals players. The Yankees won four consecutive World Series in DiMaggio’s first four seasons, making him the only athlete in American history to win championships in each of his first four seasons. Come 1939, DiMaggio would be named Most Valuable Player of the American League.
But the political situation overseas could no longer be ignored, and DiMaggio was sent to serve in the United States military, where he spent the better part of three years playing baseball for the Seventh Army Air Force team and acting as a physical training instructor. He was also responsible for boosting company morale during the war effort.
He had two more good seasons in 1946 and 1947, but DiMaggio was starting to feel the impact of his baseball career on his body, and in 1951, DiMaggio gave a speech that would change the world of baseball forever:
“I feel like I have reached the stage where I can no longer produce for my club, my manager, and my teammates. I had a poor year, but even if I had hit .350, this would have been my last year. I was full of aches and pains, and it had become a chore for me to play. When baseball is no longer fun, it’s no longer a game, and so, I’ve played my last game”.
Joe DiMaggio was such an awesome baseball player that he left his legacy everywhere before he died in 1999. In fact, the entire Yankees team wore his old jersey number on their sleeves for that season. DiMaggio left his mark in many places, most notably at the Children’s Hospital in Florida, for which he raised over $4 million. Other important accomplishments include being awarded the Sports Legend Award at the 13th annual American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame Awards Dinner in New York City and ranked 11th in the 100 Greatest Baseball players of all time in “Sporting News.”