Work in Sports
Yankee legend dead at 84
Posted: Monday October 18, 1999 08:48 PM
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.
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.