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Yankee legend dead at 84

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Posted: Monday October 18, 1999 08:48 PM

  Joe DiMaggio endeared himself to many during his 13-year career with the Yankees. Hulton Deutsch/Allsport

Joltin' Joe has left and gone away.

Joe DiMaggio died on March 8, 1999 at the age of 84 following complications from lung cancer.

But his memory remains, indelibly etched in the hearts and minds of generations of fans who watched as the Yankee Clipper achieved success and confronted fame with the same grace he showed as one of the greatest center fielders to ever play the game.

Friends and former ballfield foes came forward to praise DiMaggio.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said DiMaggio, as the son of an immigrant, "represented the hopes and ideals of our great countryÉ. There was an aura about him that was amazing. I idolized him."

Former Red Sox slugger Ted Williams said there was no one he "admired, respected and envied more" than DiMaggio.

The New York Yankees' center fielder roamed the basepaths for 13 years through 1951, missing three seasons to serve in World War II. During that time he played for 10 pennant winners and nine World Series champions, batted .325 and hit 361 home runs.

Multimedia Memories
CNN/SI's Audio and Video on one of Baseball's Greats, Joe DiMaggio
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•SI Flashback: The Longest Streak in History
•CNN/SI's Jim Huber: Give thanks for Joe DiMaggio
•Multimedia Memories - Remembering Joe DiMaggio (1914 - 1999)
•DiMaggio's estranged son included in will
•Your Take: Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
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Career During the 56-Hit Streak
Avg 1,390 91 Hits
Hits 361 22 Multi-Hit Games
HR 1,537 5 Three-Hit Games
RBI 369 4 Four-Hit Games
K's 369 Historical Stats
DiMaggio Remembered
"For several generations of baseball fans, Joe was the personification of grace, class and dignity on the baseball diamond. His persona extended beyond the playing field and touched all our hearts. In many respects, as an immigrant's son, he represented the hopes and ideals of our great country." -- baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

"Like his many fans across America, and indeed, around the world, the Yankees are deeply saddened by the passing of Joe DiMaggio, one of our own and one of the greatest of all time. It was the class and dignity with which he led his life that made him part of all of us." -- Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner.

"He was the kind of guy that exemplified what a major leaguer should be like, and act like, and play like. ... He played the game with so much intensity. He played the game with pride. He wore the Yankee uniform with dignity and character." - former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.

"Only Tris Speaker, Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr. challenge DiMaggio for the honor of being the best center fielder in major league history. Mantle was awfully good in center, too, but not as good as Joe." -- longtime Sports Illustrated baseball writer Robert W. Creamer.

But more than anything it was The Streak, a 56-game hitting streak during the magical summer of '41, that riveted a country fresh from the Depression and elevated him from baseball star to national celebrity.

He ascended even higher in popular culture in 1954 when he wed Marilyn Monroe, a storybook marriage that failed all too quickly and left him brokenhearted. For years after she died in 1962, DiMaggio sent roses to her grave but refused to talk about her.

His swanky swing and classy countenance inspired wistful lines in literature and song, including Paul Simon's lament to lost heroes in "Mrs. Robinson" from the movie "The Graduate": "Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you. What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson? Joltin' Joe has left and gone away."

Indeed, but his legend stands - shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig. He won three American League Most Valuable Player awards, appeared in 11 All-Star games and entered the Hall of Fame in 1955.

The son of a San Francisco fisherman, Joe DiMaggio arrived in New York in May 1936, at age 21. He introduced himself to Yankees fans with two singles and a triple in his first game, and never slowed until retirement.

"I was out there to play and give it all I had," he said in 1991. "I looked at it like `I'm doing my best.' If I got the hit, fine. I always felt good that I had given my best."

Yet DiMaggio's exceptional baseball ability don't account fully for his almost legendary place on the American cultural landscape, the reason why Simon sang about him and Ernest Hemingway wrote about him. There was something about the courtly bearing of this son of Italian immigrants that made him special.

"I would like to take the great DiMaggio fishing," the ancient Cuban fisherman says in Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea." "They say his father was a fisherman. Maybe he was as poor as we are and would understand."

DiMaggio's only child was a son, Joe Jr., from his first marriage to Dorothy Arnold, an actress he met in 1937. Their marriage ended in divorce. After his later divorce from Monroe, he did not marry again.

DiMaggio was born on Nov. 25, 1914, in Martinez, Calif. His father operated a fishing boat in San Francisco and expected his sons to follow in his footsteps. His father called baseball "a bum's game," but Joe and brothers Vince and Dom spent most of their time playing it, and all three made it to the major leagues.

Besides his brother, Dom, survivors include his son, Joe Jr.; two grandchildren, Paula and Cathy; and four great-grandchildren.

Wire service reports contributed to this story.

Related information
SI's Frank Deford: Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you
SI's Leigh Montville: Joe D, star of stars
SI Flashback: The Longest Streak in History
CNN/SI's Jim Huber: Give thanks for Joe DiMaggio
Multimedia Memories - Remembering Joe DiMaggio (1914 - 1999)
DiMaggio's estranged son included in will
Your Take: Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
Photo Essay: Joltin' Joe
CNN/SI Historical Profile: Joe DiMaggio
Baseball fans will miss Joe DiMaggio (0 K)
During his days, no one played the game better than Joe DiMaggio
  • Start(0 K .MOV)
Joe DiMaggio's proficiency at the plate helped the Yankees win titles (0 K)
Joe DiMaggio made a good impression during his rookie season (0 K)
Yogi Berra says Joe DiMaggio always played hard (172 K)
Ralph Branca thinks Joe DiMaggio was a complete player (339 K)
Whitey Ford still can't believe he played with Joe DiMaggio (155 K)
Ted Williams says Joe DiMaggio was a fantastic hitter (92 K)
According to Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio "did everything right" (391 K)
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