A "picture player" at bat and in center field, many rate his 56-game hitting streak - from May 15 - July 16, 1941 - as the top baseball feat of all time. His older brother Vince and younger brother Dom were major leaguers. Vince was a National League All-Star. Dom played for 11 years with the Boston Red Sox. All three were noted for their defense.
He was born Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio in Martinez, California in a two-room house, delivered by a midwife. "Giuseppe" (Joseph) was for his father; "Paolo" (Paul) for St. Paul, his father's favorite saint. The family moved to San Francisco when Joe was a year old.
Giuseppe was a fisherman, as were generations of DiMaggios before him. He hoped all five of his sons would follow his footsteps, but Joe had no desire to. As he recalled, he would do anything to get out of cleaning his father's boat as the smell of dead fish made him sick to his stomach. This earned him Giuseppe's ire, who called him "lazy" and "good for nothing." It was only after Joe became the sensation of the Pacific Coast League that the old man was finally won over.
Joe was playing semi-pro ball when Vince, playing with the San Francisco Seals, talked his manager into letting his kid brother fill in at shortstop for the last three games of the season. Joe, making his pro debut on October 1, 1932, it turned out, couldn't play short, but he could hit. From May 28 - July 25, 1933, he hit in 61 consecutive games. "Baseball didn't really get into my blood until I knocked off that hitting streak," DiMaggio said. "Getting a daily hit became more important to me than eating, drinking or sleeping."
However, in 1934, his career almost ended. Going to his sister's house for dinner, he tore the ligaments in his left knee when he stepped out of a jitney. The next day, he hit a homer, but had to walk around the bases! The Seals, hoping to get as much as $100,000, a staggering sum in the Great Depression, now couldn't give him away; the Chicago Cubs turned down a no-risk tryout. Fortunately, scout Bill Essick pestered the New York Yankees to give the 19 year-old another look. After he passed a test on his knee, the Yankees offered $25,000 and 5 players. With no other teams interested, the Seals agreed if they could keep him another year. Thus, DiMaggio had the odd experience of playing with the men thrown into the deal. He batted .398 with 154 RBIs and 34 HRs and lead the Seals to the 1935 PCL title.
"The Yankee Clipper"
Touted by sportswriters as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe Jackson combined, he made his debut on May 3, 1936, batting ahead of Lou Gehrig. The Yankees hadn't been to the World Series since 1932, but, thanks in large part to their sensational rookie, they won the next four. DiMaggio is the only athlete in North American pro sports history to be on four World Championship teams in his first 4 full seasons. In total, he led the Yankees to 9 titles in 13 years.
On February 7, 1949, DiMaggio became the first pro athlete to sign for $100,000 ($70,000 + bonuses). He was still regarded as the game's best player, but mounting injuries got to the point where he couldn't take a step without pain. A sub-par 1951 season and a brutal scouting report made by the Brooklyn Dodgers that was turned over to the NL champ New York Giants and leaked to the press convinced him to announce his retirement on December 11, 1951, turning center field over to Mickey Mantle. He was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame until his third try in 1955. He amassed 361 homers, averaged 118 RBI annually, compiled a .325 lifetime BA, and struck out only 369 times. He won two batting crowns and three MVP awards.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces on February 17, 1943, and rose to the rank of Sergeant. While fellow superstars Ted Williams and Bob Feller saw action (at their request), DiMaggio's popularity was such it was feared that if he was put in harm's way and killed, it would devastate morale. He was stationed at Santa Ana, California, Hawaii, and Atlantic City as a physical education instructor during his 31-month stint, and played baseball.
Giuseppe and Rosalie DiMaggio were among the thousands of German, Japanese and Italian immigrants deemed "enemy aliens" after Pearl Harbor was attacked. They had to carry photo ID booklets at all times, weren't allowed to travel more than 5 miles from their home without a permit, and Giuseppe lost his boat. Ironically, they weren't citizens of Italy because their native Isola delle Femmine was part of Sicily, which was not annexed by Italy until 1946. Rosalie became an American citizen in 1944; Giuseppe in 1945.
In January 1937, DiMaggio met Dorothy Arnold on the set of Manhattan Merry Go-Round in which he was featured and she was one of its adornments. They married at San Francisco's Church of Sts. Peter's and Paul's on November 19, 1939 as well-wishers jammed the streets.
Even before their son, Joseph III, was born, the marriage was in trouble. DiMaggio was like most ballplayers: a high-school dropout with limited social skills whose life revolved around the game. While not the "party animal" Babe Ruth was, he had his fun, leaving Dorothy feeling neglected. However, she was an ambitious, social-climber who took full advantage of her status as the wife of baseball's biggest star. He came to resent how she complained about his off-the-field activities while she spent his money. But, when she threatened to divorce him in 1942, the usually unflappable DiMaggio went into a slump, and developed ulcers. After the season, she went to Reno, Nevada to get a divorce. He followed her, and they reconciled. But, after he enlisted in the Army and was sent to Hawaii, she returned to Reno. She divorced him in 1944.
The relationship continued off and on over the next several years. Dorothy promised Joe she would wait for him to return from 1946 spring training, but married another man while he was away. It was only after he met the love of his life on a blind date in 1952 did DiMaggio finally get her out of his system for good.
According to her autobiography, Marilyn Monroe did not want to meet DiMaggio, imagining he had bulging muscles and wore pink ties. Both were at different points in their lives: the just-retired DiMaggio wanted to settle down; Marilyn's career was taking off. They married at San Francisco City Hall on January 14, 1954, the culmination of an 18-month courtship that had captivated the nation (he was excommunicated by the Catholic Church for bigamy).
By all accounts, their relationship was loving yet complex, marred by conflicting personalities, jealousy (his), and infidelity (hers). DiMaggio biographer Richard Ben Cramer asserts it was also violent. One incident allegedly happened after the skirt-blowing scene in The Seven Year Itch was filmed on New York's Lexington Avenue before hundreds of fans; director Billy Wilder recalled "the look of death" on DiMaggio's face as he watched. When she filed for divorce just 274 days after the wedding, Oscar Levant quipped it proved that no man could be a success in two pastimes.
He re-entered her life as her marriage to Arthur Miller was ending. In February 1961, DiMaggio secured Monroe's release from a psychiatric clinic (she was reportedly placed in the ward for the most seriously disturbed). She later joined him in Florida where he was a batting coach at the Yankees' training camp. Their "just friends" claim didn't stop remarriage rumors from flying. Reporters staked out Monroe's Manhattan apartment building. Bob Hope even "dedicated" Best Song nominee The Second Time Around to them at the Academy Awards.
According to DiMaggio biographer Maury Allen, alarmed at how she had returned to her self-destructive habits with people he considered detremental to her well-being (including Frank Sinatra and his "Rat Pack"), Joe quit his job with a military post-exchange supplier to return to California and ask Marilyn to remarry him. He claimed her body after her suicide on August 5, 1962, and arranged her funeral. He had a dozen red roses delivered 3 times a week to her crypt for 20 years. Unlike other men who knew her intimately (or claimed to), he never talked about her publicly nor wrote a book. He never married again.
What is interesting is not how DiMaggio was used by so many artists as a touchstone in American culture during his career, but decades after he retired. He is mentioned in the South Pacific song "Bloody Mary." "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio," about his hitting streak by Les Brown, was a big hit. In Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely, Philip Marlowe follows DiMaggio's streak, which Chandler uses as a metaphor for good in an increasingly-debased world. A generation later, Simon and Garfunkel used DiMaggio in that same vein in "Mrs. Robinson".
Woody Guthrie wrote a song about DiMaggio's tremendous performance in a crucial series against the Boston Red Sox in June 1949, when surgery for bone spurs had kept him out of the Yankees' first 65 games, and threatened to end his career. It is during this period Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea is set, the worshipful Santiago drawing courage from his hero's ordeal. DiMaggio is even referenced in the Porky Pig/Daffy Duck cartoon, Boobs in the Woods.
He was admired by his peers as a consummate professional, refusing to rest on his skills, working constantly to improve, and playing in spite of tremendous pain and injuries. On July 21, 1969, DiMaggio was named the greatest living player at a gala celebrating baseball's 100th anniversary.
No doubt, his place in American culture would have been different had he not become involved with Monroe, and had she not died young and under tragic circumstances. His refusal to "cash in" on their union enhanced his standing with the public as a man of integrity.
On September 19, 1992, the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital opened in Hollywood, Florida, for which he raised over $4,000,000. Cuban boat boy [[Eli�n Gonz�lez]] was taken there after he was rescued off the coast of Miami, Florida, on what would have been DiMaggio's 85th birthday.
DiMaggio died of complications from lung cancer surgery at his home in Hollywood, Florida, and is interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, California. In his eulogy, Dom DiMaggio declared his brother "had everything except the right woman to share his life with," a remark seeming to confirm the family's disapproval of Monroe. Richard Ben Cramer told the New York Times that Dom cooperated with him on his controversial biography, and got other family members to do likewise.
The equally-controversial executor of DiMaggio's estate, Morris Engelberg, sued the City of San Francisco to stop its plan to name the park where Joe learned to play baseball after him. In February 1999, he authorized the sale of signed DiMaggio bats on Shop At Home for $3,000 each. That June, he sold hundreds of DiMaggio-signed pieces to a sports collectibles dealer, including baseballs DiMaggio signed on his deathbed. In 2003, Engelberg published his own book on DiMaggio.