Joe DiMaggio

One of the Greatest Baseball Players of All Time

Picture of Yankees baseball player Joe DiMaggio.
Headshot of New York Yankees baseball player Joe DiMaggio smiling in his uniform. (circa 1935). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Joe DiMaggio was undeniably one on the greatest baseball players to ever play the game, setting a record of 56 straight games with a hit in 1941, which still stands more than seven decades later. Though he was said to be shy and reserved, Joe DiMaggio played America's pastime with dedication, grace, and dignity, securing a role as a baseball legend and an American icon. Furthering his celebrity-status, DiMaggio married Hollywood superstar Marilyn Monroe in 1954.

Dates: November 25, 1914 - March 8, 1999

Also Known As: Joseph Paul DiMaggio, Yankee Clipper, Joltin' Joe, Joe D., and Dead Pan Joe

Growing Up

Joseph Paul DiMaggio was born in Martinez, California, a small town outside of San Francisco. He was the fourth son and eighth child of Giuseppe DiMaggio, a fisherman who had come to America in 1898 from Sicily to build a future for his young family, and Rosalie Mercurio DiMaggio.

When Joe DiMaggio was a toddler, his father moved his family to North Beach in San Francisco, where young Joe began to hang out with neighborhood kids playing baseball. He was a good hitter from the start and enjoyed the sport. However, the same could not be said about DiMaggio's academics; Joe struggled both with grades and shyness. As a result, he dropped out of school at 15.

His father wanted Joe to join the family fishing business like two of his older brothers, but the smell of fish and the sea nauseated him.

Joe looked for other opportunities.

Baseball as a Career

Joe DiMaggio's older brother, Vince, had fortuitously paved the path for his little brother. Not only did Vince rebel against joining the family business, he joined a semi-pro baseball team in Northern California. Though their father did not support Vince's decision initially, he acquiesced when Vince began to make money at the sport (Vince, along with their youngest brother, Dominic, would also go on to play in the majors).

With Giuseppe's approval, in 1931, Joe DiMaggio, at 16 years old, began to play for the Jolly Knights, a weekend team that competed with other small clubs and company teams in San Francisco. Before long, his hitting got him noticed and DiMaggio was hired by other teams in the area to play for them throughout the week.

A year later, Vince DiMaggio, who was playing for the San Francisco Seals, a Pacific Coast League (PCL) minor team, again gave his little brother a fortuitous break. The Seals were in need of a shortstop for the last three games of the season and Vince suggested Joe fill the spot. Joe did well, so he was invited to join the San Francisco Seals during the 1933 spring training. Not only did Joe DiMaggio secure a spot on the roster for the 1933 season, he set records that year.

In his first season with the Seals, Joe DiMaggio hit in 61 consecutive games, breaking the PCL record of 49 games set by Jack Ness in 1914. As a result, he was routinely mentioned in the local sports page, where he was nicknamed "Dead Pan Joe" for his unemotional appearance on and off the field. Subsequently, he caught the attention of the major league clubs.

The Yankees Call

After one year in the PCL, Joe DiMaggio was scouted by the New York Yankees.

Even with an injury in 1934, the Yankees still made an offer for DiMaggio, paying the San Francisco Seals owner Charles Graham $25,000 and five players, but giving Joe another year with the San Francisco club to heal. DiMaggio's last year in the minors was superb: batting .398, claiming MVP and helping the Seals win the PCL championship in 1935.

The following spring, Joe DiMaggio joined the Yankees in Florida. He started training camp well but received an injury that kept him from opening day. DiMaggio played his first game for the New York Yankees on May 3, 1936, and went on to assist his team to an American League (AL) pennant and a World Series title his first year in the majors. Batting .323 and 29 homers, he made a lot of fans that first year.

DiMaggio was good in the outfield as well.

Reporters, as well as fans, claimed that from centerfield his longs strides and worthy instincts made chasing down the ball seem effortless. Rounding out his skills was his strong arm and sharp base running. Noticed beyond New York, the rookie was voted to the 1936 All-Star game, an achievement that would occur every year of his major league career.

The Yankee Clipper

Joe DiMaggio not only had a stellar first season for the Yankees but for the following three seasons he would shine. He led the AL in runs (151) and home runs (46) in 1937. In 1939, DiMaggio led the AL batting average with a .381 record. Also in the 1939 season, he was awarded MVP and the batting crown.

DiMaggio and the New York Yankees would secure four consecutive American League (AL) pennants and four World Series wins, making the Yankees the first Major League Baseball (MLB) team in history to earn such a feat. In 1940, DiMaggio led the AL batting average again (.352) and received the batting crown, but the Yankees fell to third place, while the Detroit Tigers won the AL pennant.

Off the field, Joe DiMaggio was a heralded figure in New York and in the summer of 1937 he was given a cameo in a movie being shot in the city, Manhattan Merry Go Round. It is there he met actress Dorothy Arnold. After a public courtship, the couple married in San Francisco amidst a throng of onlookers surrounding the church on November 19, 1939. Joe was six days from his 25th birthday, while Dorothy turned 22 years-old on November 21.

Nearly two years later, DiMaggio would become a father for the first and last time. Joe DiMaggio Jr. was born on October 23, 1941, three months after his father's defining moment in baseball.

The Streak

"The Streak," as it is known in baseball circles, is an unbelievable record Joe DiMaggio cemented in the summer of 1941 when tensions were mounting in the U.S. from the growing war in Europe. It began with a simple single on May 15th against the Chicago White Sox. By mid-June, DiMaggio surpassed the longest hitting streak for the Yankees, which stood at 29 games.

At that point, the press was consumed with DiMaggio and the remaining hitting records: the 1922 MLB record held by George Sisler for 41 consecutive games with a hit and the longer all-time streak set by Wee Willie Keeler in 1887 of 44 games.

Joe DiMaggio and his hitting streak became a national phenomenon. Not only was it front page news around the country that summer, but radio programming was interrupted to announce another hit by Joltin' Joe; Congressional offices were disrupted for updates; and even a song, "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio," by Les Brown and his orchestra, was recorded.

On June 29, 1941, the Yankees were playing a sold-out doubleheader in Washington, D.C. against the Senators. In the first game, DiMaggio tied Sisler's MLB record for safely hitting in 41 consecutive games. Then, between games, DiMaggio's favorite bat was stolen and he had no choice but to play with a replacement bat.

DiMaggio may have been shaken by the circumstances as he hit easily fielded balls in the first, third, and fifth innings. Before the seventh inning, Tom Henrich, a Yankee teammate, gave DiMaggio a bat that DiMaggio had originally lent to Henrich to help him out of slump earlier in the month. With his old bat in his hands, Joe DiMaggio smashed a ball to left field, setting a new MLB record.

Three days later, DiMaggio beat the all-time record set by Keeler in 1887 with a home run against the Boston Red Sox. "The Streak" went on for another fifteen days, ending July 17, 1941, at 56 straight games with a hit.

Happy to Be a Yankee

In 1942, Joe DiMaggio struggled at the plate, though he ended the year with a .305 batting average and the Yankees winning the AL pennant. However, reports speculated DiMaggio was having marital problems and in December his wife filed for divorce. Though they reconciled, it did not last; before 1943 was over, she filed again and the couple was officially divorced in May of 1944.

DiMaggio may have also been feeling the pressure to enlist in World War II, which many ballplayers had already done. In February 1943, Joe DiMaggio joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in Santa Ana, California, before being transferred to Hawaii.

While in the army, he never saw combat other than on the baseball field, yet the stress of his situation and private life took a toll on him. DiMaggio was soon hospitalized for stomach ulcers, which continued to flare up over the course of his enlistment. He was eventually given a medical discharge in September 1945.

DiMaggio did not waste any time getting back in touch with the New York Yankees and was signed for the 1946 season. Over the next six years, DiMaggio would be plagued with injuries, particularly with painful bone spurs in his heels.

On October 1, 1949, the Yankees planned "Joe DiMaggio Day" to honor their veteran player, but DiMaggio had been in the hospital for several days prior with a virus. Despite his significant weight loss and fatigue, DiMaggio dragged himself to Yankee Stadium. In his short speech to thank the fans and management, Joe DiMaggio ended with the famed statement, "I want to thank the good Lord for making me a Yankee."

The Golden Couple

Joe DiMaggio played another two seasons before retiring at the end of 1951 at the age of 37. DiMaggio accepted an offer from New York Yankees to conduct postgame television interviews for the following season. It was also in that following spring that DiMaggio met Marilyn Monroe and a love affair started that would endure on and off again until her death in August 1962.

Marilyn Monroe was an upcoming Hollywood starlet at the time of their meeting in March 1952. Splitting their time together between New York and California, the couple became America's sweethearts. They were married in a small civil ceremony on January 14, 1954, in San Francisco.

The differences between the quiet, reserved, jealous ballplayer and the seductive Hollywood star quickly proved too much for the union. Monroe filed for divorce nine months after their wedding. Despite the turbulence, it is said Joe DiMaggio remained in love with Marilyn Monroe.

Although rumors of remarriage circulated over the years, the two remained close friends. After Marilyn Monroe died of a drug overdose in 1962, DiMaggio identified the body and made funerals arrangements. For the following two decades, he arranged for a dozen red roses to be placed biweekly at her tomb.

A Baseball Legend

Despite all of his career accomplishments, Joe DiMaggio is best remembered for his 56-game hitting streak in 1941. It is a legendary record that still stands today with Pete Rose in 1978 and Paul Molitor in 1987 being the only players in recent history to seriously challenge the record (Rose hit in 44 consecutive games and Molitor in 39 games).

Beyond his celebrated hitting streak, Joe DiMaggio amassed a number of other records, like nine World Series titles in his 13-year major league career with the New York Yankees; 10 American League pennants; three AL MVP awards (1939, 1941, 1947); an All-Star appearance every year of his career; and being the first baseball player to sign a $100,000 contract, which he did in 1949.

DiMaggio's remarkable major league career numbers include playing in 1,736 games with 1,537 RBI's, 361 home runs, and a career batting average of .325, with only one season dipping below .300. The Yankees retired his number, 5, in 1952 and Joe DiMaggio was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.

In 1969, MLB commemorated baseball's centennial year with a spectacular banquet at the Sheraton Park Hotel in Washington, D.C., with more than 2,200 people in attendance, including 34 living Hall of Famers. Highlighting the evening was the announcement of the greatest living ballplayer at each position (obtained through a survey commissioned by MLB of baseball writers and broadcasters) and the overall greatest living ballplayer. Joe DiMaggio was named the Greatest Living Centerfielder. He also won the evening's coveted prize, Greatest Living Ballplayer.

Joe DiMaggio's last public appearance occurred at Yankee Stadium, the site where he inspired and mesmerized fans for nearly 15 years; it was for "Joe DiMaggio Day" in September of 1998. A short time later he was hospitalized in Florida where a cancerous tumor was removed from his lung. He was released home in January, but recovery never came. The great Yankee Clipper died at the age of 84 on March 8, 1999.