Happy Birthday, Joe DiMaggio
Joseph Paul DiMaggio was born on November 25, 1914, in Martinez, California.
The sixth of seven children born to Italian immigrants, DiMaggio was named after his father’s favorite saint, St. Paul. DiMaggio’s father, as well as several generations of his family, were all fishermen, and his father hoped all of his sons would follow suit. However, DiMaggio hated the work and the smell of fish and worked odd jobs instead.
DiMaggio dropped out of high school to work and eventually joined a semi-professional baseball team. His older brother Vince played for the San Francisco Seals and convinced his manager to let Joe fill in at shortstop. He then made his professional debut on October 1, 1932. The following season he had a 61-game hitting streak that was a league record and the second-longest in all of Minor League history. DiMaggio later recalled, “Baseball didn’t really get into my blood until I knocked off that hitting streak… Getting a daily hit became more important to me than eating, drinking, or sleeping.”
Despite suffering a serious injury in 1934, DiMaggio gained the attention of the New York Yankees, who purchased his contract for $50,000 and five players. He finished the season with his Minor League Team and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP).
DiMaggio made his major league debut with the Yankees on May 3, 1936. That season he set a franchise record for rookies of 29 home runs (that stood for 80 years). In 1939, he earned the nickname, “Yankee Clipper.” In the outfield, he chased down long fly balls with an effortless stride. This led the stadium’s announcer to give him the nickname, comparing him to the then-new Pan-American airliner.
But that grace was matched with strength – his other nickname was “Joltin’ Joe.” In just 13 seasons (he lost three to war-time service), he hit 361 home runs. As a player, DiMaggio was perhaps best known for hitting in 56 straight games in 1941, a feat no one has come close to matching. In game 57, he was twice robbed of hits by outstanding plays by Cleveland third-baseman Ken Keltner. In the dugout after the game, DiMaggio reacted in his typical calm manner. “Well, that’s over,” was all he said. The next day he started a new 17-game streak.
DiMaggio took a break from professional baseball to join in the war effort, enlisting on February 17, 1943. However, he spent his time as a physical education instructor and playing exhibition games. He requested a combat position, but was rejected.
DiMaggio spent his entire career with the Yankees and was awarded the MVP title three times! He was an All-Star for 13 seasons but only stole 30 bases in his whole career. During his Yankee career, the team won 10 American League pennants and nine World Series championships. By the time he retired in 1951, he ranked fifth in career home runs (361) and sixth in career slugging percentage (.579). He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.
DiMaggio married two Hollywood actresses. In 1939, he married Dorothy Arnold and in 1954, he married Marilyn Monroe. Their marriage lasted just nine months, but they reentered each others lives at a later date and maintained a close friendship. It was rumored they may have been planning to remarry until Marilyn’s death in 1962. DiMaggio planned her funeral and sent a half-dozen roses to her grave, three times a week until his death.
Although DiMaggio’s fame started in baseball, he was also known for being the spokesman for Mr. Coffee. Initially, he turned down the proposition to be the face of Mr. Coffee, but after a personal lunch visit from Vincent Marotta, the inventor, he agreed without a contract just a handshake. He also became the spokesman for Bowery Savings Bank. Appearing in several of their commercials.
DiMaggio died on March 8, 1999. Prior to his death, a children’s hospital bearing his name opened in Florida. Months after his death, he was honored with Yankee Stadium’s fifth player monument. Additionally, the West Side Highway was renamed the Joe DiMaggio Highway.
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