By Father Gabe Costa
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Mr. John White is a retired engineer. He is our guest blogger for this installment of By The Numbers. He writes about “The Great DiMaggio”.
Today, whenever the name Joe DiMaggio comes up, the immediate memory is of the famous 56-game hitting streak, and probably an image of Marilyn Monroe is included. But the truth is that few, if any, can say they actually saw him play. My awareness of this caused me to write a book about DiMaggio, since I was fortunate enough to have seen him in action.
As a Yankee fan for over 70 years, I thought I knew a lot about him, but researching the book opened my eyes to a number of amazing stats and anecdotes. For example, speaking of the streak, are you aware that he also holds the Minor League record when, in his first year with the San Francisco Seals he hit safely in 61 consecutive games, a true portent of things to come? That streak only ended when the opposing pitcher threw a no-hitter. And did you know that in 1941, the year of the major league streak, he struck out a total of only 13 times?
One thing I uncovered was truly extraordinary. After 1928 the famed “Murderer’s Row” team went downhill and failed to win the American League Pennant in six of the seven years prior to DiMaggio’s arrival in 1936. During those years, the average number of games they lagged behind the pennant winner was a hefty 11. After Joe arrived, an instantaneous improvement occurred and the Yankees won the pennant in six of his first seven years on the team…and they won by an average of 14 games, a truly startling reversal of form. (They also won the World Series all four of his first years, which had never been done before.) Just before his arrival in ’36, the Detroit Tigers beat out the Yankees by 3 games, but then the Yankees, with DiMaggio on the team, beat that same Detroit team by 19 ½ games. I have checked the records, and DiMaggio was virtually the only significant change in the lineup after he arrived.
I also found, in addition to numerous statistical evidence, a lengthy list of comments by various players, managers and umpires which I feel is some of the most insightful information one can have. For example:
The great Hall of Famer, Stan Musial, winner of seven National League batting titles and once hit 5 home runs in a double header, said:
“There was never a day when I was as good as Joe DiMaggio at his best. Joe was the best, the very best I ever saw.”
Mickey Mantle is quoted as follows: “As far as I’m concerned, Joe DiMaggio is probably the greatest all-around baseball player that ever lived.” It is important to remember that Mickey only saw him play in his last year, 1951, when he was so injured and unable to play up to his extremely high standards that he retired despite the Yankees’ repeated offers for him to continue at the highest salary in baseball.
Ted Williams: “I really wish I could hit like that guy Joe DiMaggio. I’m being honest. He’s big and strong and can club that ball without any effort. Joe was simply the greatest player I ever saw, as well as the most graceful.”
Lou Gehrig said: “DiMaggio is the greatest instinctive ballplayer I ever saw.” This from a man who played for 10 years with Babe Ruth.
Here are a few of his accomplishments:
The only player, ever, to be selected for the All-Star game in every season he played and the first rookie ever selected.
The only player, ever, to have more home runs than strikeouts in a season. He did that in 7 of his 13 seasons.
The only player, ever, to hit for the cycle (a single, double, triple and home run in one game) twice AND hit a second home run each time. He did this 11 years apart.
The only player in the “modern era” (since 1900) to have 53 RBIs in one month, August, 1939.
The only player, ever, to hit three triples in one game, two times in a season (once consecutively).
The only player, ever, whose career home run and strikeout totals are virtually the same. No one is remotely close.
The first baseball player to sign an annual contract for $100,000.
The first athlete to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
There is a great deal more to say, but space limitations prevent me from continuing. I hope you have enjoyed learning a little more about the great DiMaggio.