'Yankee Clipper' Was Possibly Among The 5 Best Players Who Ever Played

By Father Gabe Costa
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Had he lived, Joseph Paul DiMaggio would have turned 100 years old on Nov. 25.

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His career has been celebrated in print, film clips and music, while his legend has been passed on from generation to generation. For the last few decades of his life, he was publicly introduced as “Baseball’s Greatest Living Player,” and few disagreed with that appellation.

DiMaggio, who grew up in California, began his career with the Yankees in 1936. The Bombers had not been to a Fall Classic for the three previous years, but that pattern was to change immediately. The Pinstripers reeled off four consecutive World Series titles by beating the New York Giant’s in both 1936 and 1937 and sweeping both the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds, in 1938 and 1939, respectively.

The “Yankee Clipper,” as he became known, would appear in nine World Series, with his Bombers losing just one. Although, like many major leaguers, he would have his career interrupted by service in the Armed Forces, DiMaggio still managed to put up the following statistics, all with less than 7,000 career at-bats:

• 3 Most Valuable Player awards

• 2 batting crowns

• 2 RBI titles

• 2 HR crowns

• 3 times he led the league in total bases

• More than 350 career HRs

• More than 1,500 RBI

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• He scored nearly 1400 runs

• He accumulated nearly 4,000 total bases

• He ranks 10th in career slugging percentage at .579 and 12th in career OPS at .977

• And, of course, his 56-game hitting streak in 1941 is considered one of the most unapproachable seasonal records

DiMaggio’s best year was 1937. He led the league with 46 homers, 151 runs, a .673 slugging percentage and 418 total bases. Oddly enough, he did not lead the league in RBI, even though he drove in 167, because Detroit’s Hank Greenberg drove in an incredible 183.

DiMaggio ended his 13-year career with the Yankees at the end of the 1951 season. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955. He died on March 18, 1999.

DiMaggio was a very private individual. While he appreciated his well-deserved fame and glory, he could be perceived as distant and aloof. The fans worshipped “Joltin’ Joe” from afar. He was not the warm, cuddly type, like Babe Ruth. The Babe was a swashbuckler, DiMaggio was a stone monument. Ruth was fire, Joe D was ice. Yet, they both dominated the scene.

It is interesting to note that while there have been many books written on DiMaggio, there has never been a full-length movie on the Yankee Clipper, as there have been on Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb and Jackie Robinson. I have no idea why this is the case.

Where does DiMaggio rank with the all-time greats? I believe he is easily in the top 10, perhaps in the top five. And for virtually anyone who started to follow the national pastime from the mid-1930s on — and who had the pleasure of seeing him perform in person — DiMaggio was simply the greatest player ever.

You are gone, Joe, but you will never be forgotten.

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