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Joe DiMaggio

Postwar Comeback

DiMaggio was stationed first in Southern California and later Hawaii and all told missed three full seasons from his prime athletic years, 1943-45. The Yankees still managed to win the AL pennant the first year he was gone and took sweet revenge on the Cardinals in the World Series. DiMaggio did not return until 1946 and when he did he was obviously rusty—or perhaps merely mortal. His batting average was .290, the first time in his major league career he hit under .300. He hit only 25 home runs and drove in 95 runs, both numbers were also career lows. However, his outfield play remained superb.

Without a doubt the 1947 season was DiMaggio's comeback year. His offensive numbers were still down from his prewar years, though he did hit .315. Prior to the season DiMaggio had two surgeries on his left heel: the first to remove a bone spur, the second a skin graft. Still he answered the bell for most of the season and led the Yankees to another pennant and a World Series victory over the Dodgers, against whom he hit two home runs and drove in five runs. At season's end DiMaggio was awarded with his third AL MVP.

In 1948 DiMaggio discovered the quirkiness of the game, or rather, the fickleness of the writers who vote for postseason awards. His offensive statistics were much better than they had been the previous season, and a fairly healthy DiMaggio resembled his prewar self. For the season he batted .320 and led the American League in home runs (39), RBIs (155), and total bases (355). He was second in slugging percentage and fourth in number of hits, but he came in second in the MVP voting to Lou Boudreau whose team, the Cleveland Indians, won the pennant that year.

In 1949 the Yankee Clipper signed a contract that made him the first ballplayer to earn $100,000, topping Babe Ruth's historic $80,000 annual salary. 1949 also was the year DiMaggio proved what a champion he really was. Out with illness and injuries (his heel again) for most of the season—he played in only 76 games—he still managed to hit for a .346 average and drive in 67 runs, including four home runs at Fenway Park late in the season that broke the hearts of the Boston faithful who, nevertheless, gave him a standing ovation. On October 1st the Yankees celebrated "Joe DiMaggio Day" at the Stadium, but more importantly they played their archrivals, the Boston Red Sox, who held a one-game lead over the Yankees with just two games left in the season. The Red Sox not only featured Williams but their center fielder was DiMaggio's brother Dominic.

DiMaggio was determined to play despite a recent battle with viral pneumonia, which had kept him out of the lineup for almost two weeks. In that first game DiMaggio had told manager Casey Stengel that he expected to play only three innings, but as the game wore on and the Yankees chipped away at a Boston lead he managed to play all nine; he collected two hits. The next day, the final game of the season a noticeably ill DiMaggio played for eight and one third innings, but took himself out of the game with one out in the ninth when a ball was hit over his head for triple that drove in two runs and cut the Yankee lead. The Yankees held on to win the game, the pennant and the World Series, in five games, against the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was the start of their most amazing championship run of all—five in a row.

Awards and Accomplishments

1936-42, 1946-51 American League All-Star Team
1939 American League MVP
1941 American League MVP
1941 Associated Press Athlete of the Year
1947 American League MVP
1955 Baseball Hall of Fame
1969 Baseball's Greatest Living Player
1999 Major League Baseball All-Century Team

The DiMaggio Nobody Knew

Joe DiMaggio was our first modern media star, an athlete of extraordinary gifts and grace, a personage of regal dignity, an icon of American glamour. He was also the loneliest hero we have ever had.

In the end, he was free of the crowds that cheered and revered him, the crowds that made his fortune and that he detested. He always hated it when fans would interrupt him in restaurants, stop him on the street, ask him to sign. Now, at last, with the help of a roaring squadron of San Francisco motorcycle cops, Joe DiMaggio would make his last trip on earth nonstop, beyond all annoyance, in perfect privacy. Perfection was always the goal. Joe's brother Dominic, the old Red Sox center fielder, ruled that only family could say goodbye in the grand old church. Dom said that's what Joe would have wanted. Yet even among those 60 mourners, there were many whom Joe had pushed away in life…. That pallbearer with the gray ponytail—that was Joe DiMaggio Jr., whom Big Joe bitterly cut out of his life. Father and son never spoke. Even Dommie, the youngest and sole surviving brother, didn't speak with Joe for years. Only as lung cancer was killing Joe at 84 did the brothers try to repair the breach….

That was the point: he died as he lived … without intimates of any sort, an object of feverish curiosity, in impenetrable secrecy, swaddled in myth, without even a formalistic nod to the public's right to know. Dominic was correct: that's what Joe would have wanted … as the family in the church, the fans in the morning chill on the street who politely applauded his casket, as the nation as a whole looking in on TV … said goodbye to the loneliest hero we have ever had.

Source: Richard Ben Cramer. Newsweek, March 22, 1999, p. 52.

Age and injury were now creeping up on DiMaggio, yet he was still the most celebrated man in the game. He turned in a respectable year in 1950 with a .301 average, 32 home runs and 122 RBIs, while leading the league in slugging percentage. In 1951, though, he knew he was finished. He missed 38 games and when he played his performance was subpar. The World Series against the New York Giants was DiMaggio's swan song in which he hit a home run and drove in 5 runs. After 13 years in the major leagues Joe DiMaggio hung up his spikes for good; he relinquished the coveted center field position to the young Mickey Mantle. Announcing his retirement at a press conference DiMaggio said, "When baseball is no longer fun it's no longer a game. And so, I've played my last game of ball.… I feel I have reached the stage where I can no longer produce for my ballclub, my manager

Joe DiMaggio

my teammates, and my fans the sort of baseball their loyalty to me deserves."

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsBaseballJoe DiMaggio Biography - Hometown Sensation, Off To A Fabulous Start, The Streak, Chronology, Postwar Comeback, Awards And Accomplishments