Every time a major league player puts together a hit streak that extends past 20 games, we remember Joe DiMaggio. The 56-game hit streak of DiMaggio’s from 1941 remains baseball’s all-time record, and with each passing year, it seems less and less likely that any modern-day player will ever come anywhere close to matching or breaking it. As a result, DiMaggio will be forever remembered in the baseball world. But he’s so much more than that hit streak.
Aside from his 56-game hit streak, DiMaggio was a career .325 hitter, accumulating 2,214 hits, including 361 home runs. He was a two-time batting champion, an all-star in each of his 13 major league seasons, and a three-time MVP. But even all of that just scratches the surface. Between everything he did both on and off the field, DiMaggio is truly a man, a myth, and a legend.
DiMaggio’s hit streak makes him immortal in the baseball world, but DiMaggio the man came from humble beginnings. He was the son of Italian immigrants and came from generations of fishermen; a vocation he was determined to escape. DiMaggio was chastised by his father for his refusal to follow the family business of fishing, which his father interpreted as laziness.
Players just watched what he did and tried to imitate him. Everyone gravitated to him. Everybody wanted to be like him.
But DiMaggio wasn’t lazy by any stretch. After dropping out of high school, he worked a number of odd jobs while playing semi-professional baseball until he got his big break. DiMaggio played as a fill-in for an injured player in the Pacific Coast League in October 1932, only getting the chance after his older brother, Vince, convinced the manager to give Joe a shot. Less than four years later, DiMaggio was making his debut with the New York Yankees, hitting in front of the iron man himself, Lou Gehrig – and on his way to earning a top-3 spot on among the greatest hitters baseball has ever seen:
Away from the field, DiMaggio carries almost mythical status, in large part because of his marriage to iconic actress Marilyn Monroe. Their marriage was dubbed “the Marriage of the Century” by the press. Had they been alive today, their relationship would have rivaled the likes of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie or Jay-Z and Beyoncé as the most famous couple in the world.
There was a majesty in his swing, and a self-assured confidence in style and conduct that was uniquely Joe DiMaggio’s. In the eye of his public, he was more than a sports hero. He was among the most cherished icons of popular culture.
Between the couple’s brief marriage, Monroe’s untimely and mysterious death, and DiMaggio’s refusal to publicly discuss their relationship, the fascination with DiMaggio’s relationship with Monroe has continued for decades. Both remain mythical figures in their own right, a status that is only enhanced by their whirlwind relationship.
Of course, DiMaggio is best remembered for his play on the field with the Yankees for 13 seasons. Aside from being one of the greatest hitters the game has ever seen, DiMaggio was also equally regarded for his defense. His nickname, the Yankee Clipper, is a reference to an airliner of his time because of the ground he covered in the outfield and how gracefully he glided all over the field.
Joe did everything so easily. You never saw him fall down or go diving for a ball. He didn’t have to. He just knew where the ball was hit and he went and got it.
But perhaps more than anything, DiMaggio’s status as a legend is a result of winning. In his 13 major league seasons, he helped the Yankees reach the World Series 10 times, with the Bronx Bombers winning nine times.
Obviously, DiMaggio had plenty of help around him, as the Yankees were loaded with talent in those days. But in the history of sports, it’s hard to find a player who’s been a part of more winning teams than DiMaggio, which is a big reason why more than 60 years after his last game, he remains one of the most legendary figures in baseball history.