Joe DiMaggio was born on November 25, 1914 in Martinez, California, the eighth of nine children born to Sicilian immigrants Giuseppe (1872–1949) and Rosalia (Mercurio) (1878–1951) DiMaggio . He was delivered by a midwife identified on his birth certificate as Mrs. J. Pico. He was named Paolo after his father Giuseppe’s favorite saint, Saint Paul. The family moved to nearby San Francisco when Joe was a year old. Giuseppe was a fisherman, as were generations of DiMaggios before him. According to statements from Joe’s brother, Tom, to biographer Maury Allen, Rosalia’s father wrote to her with the advice that Giuseppe could earn a better living in California than in their native Isola delle Femmine, a northwestern Sicilian village in the province of Palermo. After being processed on Ellis Island, Giuseppe worked his way across America, eventually settling near Rosalia’s father in Pittsburg, California, on the east side of the San Francisco Bay Area. After four years, he earned enough money to send to Italy for Rosalia and their daughter, who was born after he had left for the United States. Giuseppe hoped that his five sons would become fishermen. DiMaggio recalled that he would do anything to get out of cleaning his father’s boat, as the smell of dead fish nauseated him. Giuseppe called him “lazy” and “good-for-nothing.”
DiMaggio was playing semi-pro ball when older brother Vince DiMaggio, playing for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League (PCL), talked his manager into letting DiMaggio fill in at shortstop. Joe DiMaggio made his professional debut on October 1, 1932. From May 27 to July 25, 1933, he hit safely in 61 consecutive games, a PCL-record, and second-longest in all of Minor League Baseball history. “Baseball didn’t really get into my blood until I knocked off that hitting streak,” he said. “Getting a daily hit became more important to me than eating, drinking or sleeping.” In 1934, DiMaggio suffered a career-threatening knee injury when he tore ligaments while stepping out of a jitney. Scout Bill Essick of the New York Yankees, convinced that the injury would heal, pestered his club to give him another look. After DiMaggio passed a physical examination in November, the Yankees purchased his contract for $50,000 and five players. He remained with the Seals for the 1935 season and batted .398 with 154 runs batted in (RBIs) and 34 home runs. His team won the 1935 PCL title, and DiMaggio was named the league’s Most Valuable Player.
DiMaggio made his major league debut on May 3, 1936, batting ahead of Lou Gehrig. The Yankees had not been to the World Series since 1932, but they won the next four Fall Classics. In total, DiMaggio led the Yankees to nine titles in 13 years. In 1939, DiMaggio was nicknamed the “Yankee Clipper” by Yankee’s stadium announcer Arch McDonald, when he likened DiMaggio’s speed and range in the outfield to the then-new Pan American airliner. In 1947, Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey and Yankees GM Larry MacPhail verbally agreed to trade DiMaggio for Ted Williams, but MacPhail refused to include Yogi Berra. In the September 1949 issue of SPORT, Hank Greenberg said that DiMaggio covered so much ground in center field that the only way to get a hit against the Yankees was “to hit ’em where Joe wasn’t.” DiMaggio also stole home five times in his career.
On February 7, 1949, DiMaggio signed a record contract worth $100,000 ($1,007,000 in current dollar terms) ($70,000 plus bonuses), and became the first baseball player to break $100,000 in earnings. By 1950, he was ranked the second-best center fielder by the Sporting News, after Larry Doby. After a poor 1951 season, a scouting report by the Brooklyn Dodgers that was turned over to the New York Giants and leaked to the press, and various injuries, DiMaggio announced his retirement at age 37 on December 11, 1951. When remarking on his retirement to the Sporting News on December 19, 1951, he said:
I feel like I have reached the stage where I can no longer produce for my club, my manager, and my teammates. I had a poor year, but even if I had hit .350, this would have been my last year. I was full of aches and pains and it had become a chore for me to play. When baseball is no longer fun, it’s no longer a game, and so, I’ve played my last game.
Through May 2009, Joe DiMaggio was tied with Mark McGwire for third place all-time in home runs over the first two calendar years in the major leagues (77), behind Phillies Hall of Famer Chuck Klein (83), and Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun (79). Through 2011, he was one of seven major leaguers to have had at least four 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons in their first five years, along with Chuck Klein, Ted Williams, Ralph Kiner, Mark Teixeira, Albert Pujols, and Ryan Braun. DiMaggio holds the record for most seasons with more home runs than strikeouts (minimum 20 home runs), a feat he accomplished seven times, and five times consecutively from 1937–1941. DiMaggio would likely have exceeded 500 home runs and 2,000 RBIs had he not served in the military.
DiMaggio might have had better power-hitting statistics had his home park not been Yankee Stadium. As “The House That Ruth Built”, its nearby right field favored the Babe’s left-handed power. For right-handed hitters, its deep left and center fields made home runs almost impossible. Mickey Mantle recalled that he and Whitey Ford witnessed many DiMaggio blasts that would have been home runs anywhere other than Yankee Stadium (Ruth himself fell victim to that problem, as he also hit many long flyouts to center). Bill James calculated that DiMaggio lost more home runs due to his home park than any other player in history. Left-center field went as far back as 457 ft [139 m], where left-center rarely reaches 380 ft [116 m] in today’s ballparks. Al Gionfriddo’s famous catch in the 1947 World Series, which was close to the 415-foot mark [126 m] in left-center, would have been a home run in the Yankees’ current ballpark. Joe DiMaggio hit 148 home runs in 3,360 at-bats at home versus 213 home runs in 3,461 at-bats on the road. His slugging percentage at home was .546, and on the road, it was .610.
Joe DiMaggio became eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953 but he was not elected until 1955. The Hall of Fame rules on the post-retirement induction waiting period had been revised in the interim, extending the waiting period from one to five years, but DiMaggio and Ted Lyons were exempted from the rule. DiMaggio told Baseball Digest in 1963 that the Brooklyn Dodgers had offered him their managerial job in 1953, but he turned it down. After being out of baseball since his retirement as a player, Joe became the first hitting instructor of the newly relocated Oakland Athletics from 1968 to 1970.
DiMaggio’s most famous achievement is his MLB record-breaking 56-game hitting streak in 1941. The streak began on May 15, 1941, a couple of weeks before the death of Lou Gehrig, when DiMaggio went one-for-four against Chicago White Sox pitcher Eddie Smith. Major newspapers began to write about DiMaggio’s streak early on, but as he approached George Sisler’s modern era record of 41 games, it became a national phenomenon. Initially, DiMaggio showed little interest in breaking Sisler’s record, saying “I’m not thinking a whole lot about it… I’ll either break it or I won’t.” As he approached Sisler’s record, DiMaggio showed more interest, saying, “At the start I didn’t think much about it… but naturally I’d like to get the record since I am this close.” On June 29, 1941, DiMaggio doubled in the first game of a doubleheader against the Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium to tie Sisler’s record, and then singled in the nightcap to extend his streak to 42.
DiMaggio enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces on February 17, 1943, rising to the rank of sergeant. He was stationed at Santa Ana, California, Hawaii, and Atlantic City, New Jersey, as a physical education instructor. He was released on medical discharge in September 1945, due to chronic stomach ulcers. Other than now being paid $21 a month, DiMaggio’s service was as comfortable as a soldier’s life could be. He spent most of his career playing for baseball teams and in exhibition games against fellow Major Leaguers and minor league players, and superiors gave him special privileges due to his prewar fame. DiMaggio ate so well from an athlete-only diet that he gained 10 pounds, and while in Hawaii he and other players mostly tanned on the beach and drank. Embarrassed by his lifestyle, DiMaggio demanded combat duty in 1943, but was turned down.
In January 1937, DiMaggio met actress Dorothy Arnold on the set of Manhattan Merry-Go-Round, in which he had a minor role, and she was an extra. They married at San Francisco’s St. Peter and Paul Church on November 19, 1939, as 20,000 well-wishers jammed the streets. Their son, Joseph Paul DiMaggio III, was born at Doctors Hospital on October 23, 1941. The couple divorced in 1944. According to her autobiography, Marilyn Monroe originally did not want to meet DiMaggio, fearing that he was a stereotypical arrogant athlete. They eloped at San Francisco City Hall on January 14, 1954. An incident between the couple is supposed to have occurred immediately after the skirt-blowing scene in The Seven Year Itch that was filmed on September 14, 1954, in front of Manhattan’s Trans-Lux 52nd Street Theater. Then-20th Century Fox’s East Coast correspondent Bill Kobrin told the Palm Springs Desert Sun that it was director Billy Wilder’s idea to turn the shoot into a media circus. The couple then had a “yelling battle” in the theater lobby. A month later, she contracted the services of celebrity attorney Jerry Giesler and filed for divorce on grounds of mental cruelty nine months after the wedding. After the failure of their marriage, DiMaggio had undergone therapy, stopped drinking alcohol and expanded his interests beyond baseball: he and Monroe read poetry together in their later years. DiMaggio re-entered Monroe’s life as her marriage to Arthur Miller was ending. On February 10, 1961, he secured her release from Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic. She joined him in Florida where he was a batting coach for the Yankees. Their “just friends” claim did not stop remarriage rumors from flying. Reporters staked out her Manhattan apartment building. Bob Hope “dedicated” Best Song nominee “The Second Time Around” to them at the 33rd Academy Awards. According to Maury Allen’s biography, DiMaggio was alarmed at how Monroe had fallen in with people he felt were detrimental to her well-being. Val Monette, owner of a military post-exchange supply company, told Allen that DiMaggio left his employ on August 1, 1962, because he had decided to ask Monroe to remarry him. She was found dead in her Brentwood, Los Angeles, home on August 5 after housekeeper Eunice Murray telephoned Monroe’s psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson. DiMaggio’s son had spoken to Monroe on the phone the night of her death and claimed that she seemed fine. Her death was deemed a probable suicide by “Coroner to the Stars” Thomas Noguchi, but has been the subject of numerous conspiracy theories.
DiMaggio, a heavy smoker for much of his adult life, was admitted to Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, on October 12, 1998, for lung cancer surgery and remained there for 99 days. He returned to his Hollywood, Florida home on January 19, 1999, where he died on March 8. Joe DiMaggio’s final words were: “I finally get to see Marilyn”, referring to his former wife Marilyn Monroe. DiMaggio’s funeral was held on March 11, 1999, at Sts. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church in San Francisco; he was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, California. DiMaggio’s son died the following August at age 57. A highway lining the Hudson River in Manhattan, New York from the end of Lower Manhattan is named the Joe DiMaggio Highway. It runs for the entire way.
At his death, The New York Times called Joe DiMaggio’s 1941 56-game hitting streak “perhaps the most enduring record in sports.” In an article in 1976 in Esquire magazine, sportswriter Harry Stein published an “All Time All-Star Argument Starter”, consisting of five ethnic baseball teams. Joe DiMaggio was the center fielder on Stein’s Italian team. On September 17, 1992, the doors were opened at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, for which he raised over $4,000,000. On April 13, 1998, DiMaggio was given the Sports Legend Award at the 13th annual American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame Awards Dinner in New York City. Dr. Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State and a longtime fan of DiMaggio’s, made the presentation to the Yankee great. The event was one of DiMaggio’s last public appearances before taking ill. Yankee Stadium’s fifth monument was dedicated to DiMaggio on April 25, 1999, and the West Side Highway was officially renamed in his honor. The Yankees wore DiMaggio’s number 5 on the left sleeves of their uniforms for the 1999 season. He is ranked No. 11 on The Sporting News’ list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and he was elected by fans to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. In addition to his number 5 being retired by the New York Yankees, DiMaggio’s number was also retired by the Florida Marlins, who retired it in honor of their first team president, Carl Barger, who died five months before the team took the field for the first time in 1993. DiMaggio had been his favorite player.
An auction of Joe DiMaggio’s personal items was held by the adopted daughters of DiMaggio’s son in May 2006. Highlights included the ball hit to break Wee Willie Keeler’s hitting-streak record ($63,250); his 2,000th career hit ball ($29,900); his 1947 Most Valuable Player Award ($281,750); the uniform worn in the 1951 World Series ($195,500); his Hall of Fame ring ($69,000); a photograph Marilyn autographed “I love you Joe” ($80,500); her passport ($115,000); and their marriage certificate ($23,000). Lot 758, DiMaggio’s white 1991 Mercedes 420 SEL sedan, which was a gift from the New York Yankees commemorating the 50th anniversary of DiMaggio’s 1941 season, sold for $18,000. The event netted a total of $4.1 million. On August 8, 2011, the United States Postal Service announced that DiMaggio would appear on a stamp for the first time. It was issued as part of the “Major League Baseball All-Star Stamp Series” which came out in July 2012.