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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 best."

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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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

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, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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