JOLTIN' JOE DiMAGGIO--THE YANKEE CLIPPER
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA'S GREATEST BALLPLAYER
THE DIMAGGIO BOYS
Joe DiMaggio started the 1933 season slowly but improved as the year went on. By mid season, the lowly Seals began winning with Joe leading the way with his ascending batting average and driving in winning runs. On May 28, the 18-year-old DiMaggio began a hitting streak. The San FranciscoChronicle tabbed Joe De Maggio (the press constantly misspelled DiMaggio) as a man with nerves of steel or no nerves at all after he hit in 50 straight games and broke Jack Ness' Pacific Coast League record of 49 that dated back to 1915. Reporters referred to Joe as "Dead Pan" as he answered questions about the streak with a simple nod or mere shrug of the shoulders. He went on to hit in 61 straight games, setting a minor league record that still stands today, and batted .405 during the streak. He finished the year with a .340 average with 28 home runs while his 169 RBI's led the PCL. One could say that Joe DiMaggio saved the San Francisco Seals and the Pacific Coast League. The stock market had crashed in 1929 and the country was mired in the beginnings of "The Great Depression." Attendance throughout the PCL was dwindling, however picked up dramatically as DiMaggio's streak continued.
Vince and Joe DiMaggio were born in the small fishing village of Martinez, California, about 25 miles to the northeast and across the bay from San Francisco. Their father, Giuseppe, had moved there from Sicily because he heard from his in-laws that he could earn a living as a fisherman and own his own boat, a small 16-footer. Giuseppe, Italian for Joseph, couldn’t speak English nor much Italian. He spoke with a Sicilian tongue. In the past, Sicily had been over-run by outsiders--Greeks, Romans, other Europeans, and Arabs. Although Giuseppe’s values were not quite la Cosa Nostra or la Mafia, he did believe in family. Keep your head down, your mouth shut, and work hard to protect yourself and your family from government, nobles, the church, and other authoritarian predators. Only family and silence could be trusted. Perhaps Joe DiMaggio inherited a few of these traits which would explain his aloof shyness. He rarely spoke while growing up, nor later when he became a Yankee.
The DiMaggio’s moved to the North Beach area of San Francisco when Joe was two years old. The fishing was better there. The boys were expected to follow in their father’s footsteps and carry on the family crabbing and fishing business. Oldest son, Tom, who might have been the best slugger of the clan, followed suit, as did son #2 Michael who later drowned while on a fishing trip in Bodega Bay. Younger brothers Vince and Joseph Paul hated the fishy smell and lifestyle that surrounded Fisherman's Wharf. They weren't raised in Sicily but instead grew up on the streets of San Francisco where they peddled newspapers to supplement the family living and attended Galileo High School. They played sandlot baseball before joining local club and company teams organized into leagues by Al Earl from a sporting goods store. Vince played for Jack's Haberdashery before signing a pro contract. Joe played for the sandlot Jolly Knights, then Rossi Olive Oil with their snazzy new uniforms in the city "B" leagues before bolting to Sunset Produce of the "A" league because they paid him a few bucks. Vince was the first to rebel from the DiMaggio family when he quit high school, left home, and traveled north to play semi-pro baseball at Fort Bragg in the Lumber Leagues. Joe followed suit and quit school at age 16. In 1932, at age 19, Vince DiMaggio signed a contract with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League and was sent to the Tucson Lizards of the level-D Arizona-Texas League where he hit .347 and led the league with 25 home runs. Later that same summer, he hit .270 in 59 games for the Seals and when San Francisco needed a shortstop at the end of the season, Vince got his 17-year-old little brother Joe a tryout. Joe was no infielder but he showed that he could hit and got an invite to spring training. Early the next season, Vince was released but Joe stayed on as the team's right fielder earning $225/month. It has been rumored that Joe stole his brother's job; however. it all worked out as Vince later caught on with the Hollywood Stars. He combined to hit .333 with 11 HR's for the two PCL teams.
Dominic DiMaggio, or "Dommie" as Ted Williams called him, began playing sandlot baseball with the North Beach Merchants. He pitched and played shortstop at Balboa High School and was offered a scholarship to attend Santa Clara College but opted to turn pro and signed a contract with the San Francisco Seals in 1937. That 1st year, at age 20, he hit .306 with the Seals, .308 the next year, and .361 (2nd best in the PCL) with 14 home runs and 18 triples in 1939 when he was named the Pacific Coast League's MVP. He led the PCL in hits and runs scored and was the league's 2nd best in stolen bases and triples. He praised Seal's manager Lefty O'Doul for prepping him for his major league career, all with the Boston Red Sox. He hit .301 as a rookie in 108 games in 1940 and combined to hit .298 over the course of his 11-year major league career.
THE CLASSIC SWING
In 1934, Vince DiMaggio returned to Hollywood and hit .288 (6th best on the team) with 17 home runs (3rd best on team) for the third-place Stars. During the winter, Joe injured his knee while getting out of a taxi cab, so he said. It was late and he was in an area of bars and nightclubs. Nevertheless, he was damaged goods and again suited up for the 1935 Seals. He played injured, yet still hit .341 (led the Seals and 5th best in the PCL), with 12 HR's (led Seals) and his .517 slugging percentage led the Seals and was 3rd best in the PCL. In 1935, Vince dropped to hit .278 for the Hollywood Stars. He hit 24 HR's (2nd best on the team and 5th best in the PCL) while Joe led the 103-70 Seals to a pennant and PCL league championship when they defeated the Los Angeles Angels 4 games to 2 in the playoffs. Joe hit .398 for the season (2nd only to Oscar "Ox" Eckhardt's .299 average) with 34 HR's (also 2nd in the PCL as was his .672 SLG). Earlier, after the 1934 season, the Seals optioned Joe's contract to the Yankees for a mere $25,000 but New York wanted him to spent one more year in San Francisco to make sure his injury healed.
Clearly, Joe DiMaggio did not steal his brother's job with the Seals. He earned it. Not only had Joe's knee healed, but he was tutored in 1935 by new Seal's manager Francis "Lefty" O'Doul, a San Francisco native and tabbed as among the greatest hitting instructors of all-time. Some give O'Doul credit for Joe's success as a hitter by lengthening his stance, crowding the plate, and placing his weight on the front foot ala the Charlie Lau theory; however, photos of Joe's classic swing show that his weight is clearly planted on his back foot. Keep the weight back and wait till the last split second before starting the swing. Another theory was that O'Doul did little or nothing at all to change DiMaggio's swing. Why mess with perfection? Joe was a natural.
During Joe DiMaggio's 13 years in New York, the Yankees won 10 pennants and nine World Series championships, a dynasty unmatched with Joe usually leading the way. Three times, Joe DiMag was named the American League's MVP (1939, 1941, and 1947). He won back-to-back AL batting titles in 1939 and 1940 (.381 and .352). In 1937 he finished 2nd in the MVP voting when he led the American League in four major categories--Runs (151), Home Runs (46), Slugging % (.673), and Total Bases (418). In 1941, he hit safely in 56 straight games, a prized major league record that still stands today. He also led the AL in RBI's with 125 and Total bases with 348. More impressively, Joe D only struck out 13 times in 541 at-bats. In 1948, he again finished 2nd in the MVP balloting and narrowly missed winning the triple crown by leading the AL in HR's with 39 and RBI's with 155. He again led the league with 355 total bases and his .598 SLG was 2nd best in the AL as was his 127 runs scored. He hit .320, the AL's seventh-best. He also led the AL by getting plunked eight times. In 1950, at age 35, DiMaggio led the AL with his .585 SLG when he hit 32 home runs, 10 triples, and 33 doubles. For his career, DiMaggio compiled a lifetime .325 batting average with 361 HR's, 131 triples, 389 doubles, 2,214 hits, and 1,537 RBI's with an incredible career .579 slugging percentage. He averaged 34 HR's, 12 triples, 36 doubles, and 143 RBI's per season while only striking out an average of 34 times each year (162 game averages). His stats would have been even greater had he not missed three years (age 28-30) due to military service during WWll. He rarely started a season healthy, often not joining the starting lineup til a month or more after opening day. He was a major league All-Star 13 times (every year that he played) and was enshrined into MLB's Hall of Fame in 1955.
While Joltin' Joe was streaking towards four straight WS titles, older brother Vince was striking out and the youngest DiMaggio, Dominic, was beginning his pro career with the San Francisco Seals. Vince finally made his major league debut in 1937 at age 24 with the National League's Boston Bees (later became the Braves). He hit .256 with 13 home runs but also led the NL in strikeouts when he went down 111 times in 132 games. The following year, he again struck out more times than anyone else in the NL when he whiffed 134 times in 540 at-bats while batting only .228 with 14 homers. In 1939, he was traded to the Yankee organization and demoted to the Kansas City Blues of the "AA" American Association. There, he hit .290 and led the league with his .636 SLG % and 46 home runs which gave him another shot in the majors with Cincinnati but only hit .071 in eight games. He started the 1940 season with the Redlegs however was traded after two games to the Pittsburgh Pirates where he completed his most successful year as a major-leaguer when he hit .289 with 19 home runs and a .522 slugging percentage.
Vince DiMaggio spent 10 years in the majors with five different NL teams--Boston, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and the New York Giants with a career .249 batting average. At times, he was considered as the best defensive center fielder in the National League and was twice named to the NL All-Star team. He also led the NL in striking out, which he accomplished six times. In 1947, he returned to the Pacific Coast League, then classified as AAA, and hit .241 with 22 HR's for the Oakland Oaks under the guidance of manager Casey Stengel. The next year, Vince began his managerial career as a playing/manager for the level-C Stockton Ports of the California League and hit .283 with a league-leading 30 home runs. From 1949 to 1951, he skippered the Pittsburg (Calif.) Diamonds of the level-D Far West League as a playing manager. He hit .367 with 37 homers in 1949 and .353 with 26 HR's in '50. At age 38, he ended his career by hitting .237 with nine homers for the Tacoma Tigers of the level-B Western International League. Unlike his two younger brothers, Vince would retire practically unnoticed.
In his autobiography, Joe considered himself Lucky To Be A Yankee but certainly not in love nor as a family man. His first marriage was a disappointment and he disowned his only child Joe Jr. Shortly after Joe retired as a ballplayer, he married Marilyn Monroe. He cherished the young starlet but he also wanted to possess her and that just wasn't going to happen. Strike three was when she posed "Over the Grate". DiMaggio thought the iconic scene from the Seven Year Itch as disgusting and shameful; an act he deplored. The marriage barely lasted nine months. In Tom Claven's book, The DiMaggios, it's noted that Joe knew about his ex's drug problems. He wanted her back and convinced her to leave that New York scene and remarry but it was too late. Just two days before they were to wed a second time, he got the news that she was dead. Did Bobby and John Kennedy, whom she was having affairs with, actually have a role in her overdose death? If so, it would not be the last time that one of the Kennedy brothers played a role in the suspicious death of a younger woman.
SAN FRANCISCO SEALS
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA BASEBALL
VINCE, JOE & DOMINIC
In 1948, Dom finished 2nd in the American League in runs scored (127), 4th in the AL with 101 base on balls, and 4th with his 40 doubles. A year later, he hit safely in 34 straight games (a Boston Red Sox record that still stands today) while his 186 hits, 126 runs, and 34 doubles were all 3rd best in the American League. The starting outfield for the American League in the 1949 All-Star game was Joe DiMaggio in center, Ted Williams in left, and lead-off man Dominic in right. His best year was 1950 at age 33 when he led the American League in runs scored with 131. He hit .328 (2nd best on the team) and led the BoSox in hits (193, 3rd best in the AL), triples (11), and stolen bases (15). He only struck out 31 times in 588 at-bats. The "Little Professor" (he looked more like a school teacher than a ballplayer) was a seven-time American League All-Star and is one of only three players to average more than 100 runs per season over the course of his career. During the time period (1940-1942 and 1946-1952), no player in major league baseball had more hits than Dom DiMaggio and only Ted Williams had scored more runs. He was consistently the best lead-off man and defensive center fielder in the American League.
After retirement as a player, Dominic became one of the founders and 10% shareholder of the Boston Patriots (later the New England Patriots of the NFL). Concerned about the treatment of ballplayers by team owners, Dom had a hand in the early beginnings of a players union which eventually led to the MLB Players Association. Dominic DiMaggio was inducted into the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1978.
The Yankee Clipper possessed all the characteristics, some innate, while others arose along with his greatness. He was born shy, reserved, and self-conscious. Joe DiMaggio didn't ask to be a ballplayer and admittedly said that he was a loner. He participated within society but preferred to be left alone with his roll-your-own cigs, a habit developed as a young teen that would eventually kill him. He didn't celebrate with the rest of the team after an important victory. He shied away from adoring fans and the press. Instead, he quickly headed for his favorite New York hangout, Toots Shor's in midtown Manhattan, where Shor, a former bouncer, reserved a table in the corner and made sure Joe was protected from any madding crowd. There, Joe could relax with his cigarettes and coffee and reminisce over the godly acts that he had performed. How could he not experience some sort of self-admiration and inner glory considering the feats that he had accomplished?
The Latin existere is to exist, to arise, to become, prove to be, step forth, to stand out from the rest. Although the "Yankee Clipper" did his best to stay out of the limelight, his stats and the press made sure that he existed front and center. Along with Ted Williams, Joltin' Joe DiMaggio was the ultimate Existential Ballplayer. Joe DiMaggio was a rock, an island, and Northern California's greatest ballplayer.
VINCE, JOE & DOMINIC
AT A REUNION
The following year, the Yankee's sent fellow San Franciscans and former Seals Frankie Crosetti and Tony Lazzeri to personally escort Joe to spring training in St. Petersburg, Florida. On their way thru the Midwest, they met dust-bowlers going in the opposite direction headed to Northern California to pick fruit for a mere pittance just to stay alive. The nation was still in a depression. Joe DiMaggio got three hits in his 1st exhibition game hitting 3rd in the lineup and playing right field. He got two hits the next game, then four, followed by two more and was hitting .600 with two triples after his 1st week. He made his major league debut on May the 3rd, 1936 with the Yankees in their usual spot--2nd place. DiMaggio got three hits including a triple as the Yanks won six of their next seven games with Joe in the lineup, vaulting them into 1st place. By mid season, Joe was an American League All-Star with his picture on the cover of Time Magazine. After a collision in the outfield, Joe became the Yankees' new center fielder, a position he wanted and was more suitable to his aggressive style of baseball. He returned to the lineup the next day however Myril Hoag landed in the hospital where surgery was needed to relieve the pressure that was building up around his brain. Hoag, from Davis, California, would recover and later return to hit .301 for the Yankees but never again as their starting center fielder. That job now belonged to Joe DiMaggio.
The Yankees would roll, clinching the pennant on September the 9th, the earliest any AL team had ever clinched a title, and finished by leading Detroit by nineteen and a half games. Lou Gehrig was named American League MVP putting up his usual numbers--(.354 average, 49 HR's, and 152 RBI's). He led the league in home runs, Base on Balls (130), Runs (167), On Base % (.478), and Slugging % (.696), however, it was rookie Joe DiMaggio that received most of the ink. Although Joe missed the first month of the season with a foot injury, he still managed to hit .323 (3rd best on team), with 29 homers, (2nd best on team), 125 RBI's (2nd on team), and a .576 SLG (3rd best on team). His 15 triples led the American League. The Yankees went on to defeat the New York Giants four games to two in the World Series. Joe hit .346 for the Series, 3rd best for the Yanks.
Prior to 1936, the Yankees had finished 2nd for the third year in a row and Joe D fit in perfectly with their new attitude--give it all you've got on every play, every pitch. Gone was the "Babe" along with his clogging up the base paths, dogging it in the outfield, and boozing lifestyle. The loudmouths and braggarts of the team were either traded or released early in the season. When it came to drawing attention to himself, the stoic Joe DiMaggio preferred to be a no-show. He possessed a quiet sense of confidence. He wanted to live on the outside looking in but the press wouldn't allow it, constantly making him the center of attention. It made for good copy. Joe was no spiritual leader. That honor belonged to his roommate--Bay Area native Lefty Gomez. Joe led by example, letting his bat, style of play, hard work, and hustle do all the talking. It soon began to rub off onto the other players. Seven Yankees hit over .300 with light-hitting Frankie Crosetti hitting .288, his best during a 17-year career. Joe DiMag and the Yanks would win another three World titles ('37,'38', and '39) making it four in a row. The Yankees had found their man to replace the legendary Ruth and it only took one year and 25K to land him.
JOE & MARILYN
CALIFORNIA BASEBALL HISTORY DIMAGGIO NORTHERN CALIFORNIA BASEBALL
TIP OF THE CAP
JOE, TED WILLIAMS & DOM