It has been said that the quality of a man’s life is measured by the legacy that he leaves behind. If this is the case, Joe DiMaggio was as big a man that has ever lived. “Joltin’ Joe” or “The Yankee Clipper,” whichever you prefer, is still loved and revered as much as the day he played his final game on September 30, 1951, and the day he died on March 8, 1999.
As Mickey Mantle explained, “heroes are people who are all good with no bad in them. That’s the way I always saw Joe DiMaggio. He was beyond question one of the greatest players of the century.”
A thirteen time all-star, DiMaggio is best remembered for his 56 game hitting streak while a member of the New York Yankees. The streak perhaps overshadows his three Most Valuable Player awards in 1939, 1940 and 1947. Also sometimes forgotten are his two American League batting titles in 1939 and 1940.
Some say DiMaggio’s greatness could have been even better, had he not left for three years, 1943-45, to serve his country. They point to the effect the service had on his statistics. But this is perhaps the highlight of his greatness, his enthusiasm for brushing aside his personal achievement to stand up and defend what he believed in.
Actor Kevin Costner remarked of DiMaggio’s life, “there are certain people’s names that are reminders of what men can be like. To this day, when I hear the name Joe DiMaggio it is so much more than a man’s name. It reminds me to play whatever game I’m in with more grace and pride and dignity…”
As for the 56 game hitting streak, he handled the pressure with the same grace. There was no laying down bunts or conscious attempts at bloop singles just to keep the streak alive. If it was going to continue, it would do so with honest effort and professionalism.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to DiMaggio was given by Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals. “There was never a day when I was as good as Joe DiMaggio at his best. Joe was the best, the very best I ever saw.”
A legacy could not have a better measurement than that.