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