“There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best.” – Joe DiMaggio
Joe DiMaggio Biography
There are some names that are almost synonymous with baseball. Names like Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, and Joe DiMaggio. The eleven-time all star DiMaggio is truly one of the greatest players ever, but he was also much more. Though he died in 1999, his legacy still lives on through the Give It All movement.
Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio was born to Giuseppe and Rosalie DiMaggio in Martinez, California on November 25, 1914. He was one of the youngest of nine children, ranking eighth of those nine and as the fourth son. DiMaggio’s parents were immigrants from Sicily arriving in 1898, coming to the Bay Area of California to join the burgeoning fishing industry there. They moved to North Beach, San Francisco when Joe was but a year old so Giuseppe could work with the better fishing in the area.
It was always the hope of Giuseppe senior that his son would join the family business, but young Joe had no desire to do so. He disliked the smell of fish and truly did not want to clean fishing boats for the rest of his life. Unlike two of his older brothers who did become fishermen, Michael and Tom, Joe decided instead to take up baseball like two other brothers Dominic and Vince. As one might imagine, this did not go over well with the older DiMaggio, who thought his boy would never amount to anything.
Joe started out at only ten years old playing third base in the sandlots in the North Beach neighborhood. His first championship in the Boys Club league earned him two gold baseballs and $8 in baseball gear. He only played for about four years before drifting off to sell newspapers instead.
He returned to baseball when older brother Vince was signed by the minor league team the San Francisco Seals. Joe realized there was some money to be made in the game. Vince was sure his little brother could be a good player and encouraged him to come back to the sport, so Joe dropped out of high school in 1930 to focus his attention on baseball. Joe was recommended by his brother when the Seals were short-handed and ended up playing three games at the end of the 1932 season for the Seals at shortstop.
The following year, Joe batted .340 including a 61 game hitting streak, and he smacked in 28 home runs for the Seals. Joe started to draw a lot of national attention at this point, with scouts coming from all around to watch him. He was eventually sold to the Yankees in November 1934 for five players and $25,000 cash although he stayed with the Seals for the 1935 season to heal from a knee injury.
It wasn’t just his natural talent that got him to the majors. He worked tirelessly to get there, and to stay there. Though he never wanted to join his father as a fisherman, he did learn the value of hard work from him. DiMaggio also credits growing up poor as a motivator, commenting one time, “That’s why no boy from a rich family has ever made the big leagues.”
DiMaggio played his entire major league career for the New York Yankees, earning himself the nickname “The Yankee Clipper”. His career was quite lengthy – 1936 to 1951, with a break during World War II.
His record is impressive, earning nine World Series titles, including one his rookie season and four his first four years. He is the only player in any major sport in America to be able to make such a claim. His first Most Valuable Player award came in 1939, and he would go on to earn two more.
Joltin’ Joe set a baseball record for hits in consecutive games with 56, and despite the power hitters of the modern era trying, no one has broken this record yet. His career batting average is .325. DiMaggio also hit 361 home runs, won two batting titles (1939-1940), and played in 11 All-Star games.
DiMaggio was not only a fabulous hitter, but he was a strong player at center field. He also played for the Seventh Army Air Force baseball team and provided physical fitness training during WWII, enabling him to stay stateside for most of his enlistment time. His popularity was certainly a morale lift for the troops.
Though he lost three years of playing, he certainly never lost his touch in his time of service. He won more MVP awards and more World Series titles after the war, before retiring in 1951 due to the foot pain he was experiencing.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955, the first year he was eligible. Sportswriters called him the greatest living player, and he was named to the All-Century team in 1999. His personal legacy is one of a gentleman, with people talking about how classy he was, always.
His personal life was a bit rockier than his career. DiMaggio first married Dorothy Arnold in 1939. Their son, Joseph Paul DiMaggio III, arrived on October 23, 1941. This marriage didn’t last, ending in 1944. DiMaggio famously married Marilyn Monroe in January 1954, but they separated later that same year. DiMaggio was much older than Marilyn, and while he was retiring, her career was taking off. They did remain, friends, until Marilyn died in 1962, and DiMaggio never remarried.
DiMaggio died in March 1999 from lung cancer. Though he is gone, his legacy lives on, and not just in the record books. He was an inspirational hero to immigrants everywhere, and to those who start life in meager means. Now, the Give it All foundation seeks to inspire people to try. His batting records all began with a single swing, and the foundation hopes to reach people – to get them to start with that first swing, that first bite of healthier food, that first word on a resume.