Joe DiMaggio joined the Yankees for the 1936 season, making his major league debut on May 3 against the St. Louis Browns. He played with a talented team which included members Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez. It had been two years since Babe Ruth left the Yankees, and the team was in need of a new era of success.
Joe immediately made a strong impact in his rookie season, helping the team to its first pennant in four years. Success only continued as they went on to defeat the New York Giants in the World Series. Rookie Joe hit .346 against the Giants and made a stunning catch in deep center field before a crowd of more than 43,000 fans, among them President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Paving a Path to ‘The Streak’
1939 was another big year for Joe with the Yankees as he led the league in hitting with .381 and won his first of three Most Valuable Player awards. He led the league in hitting again in 1940. But it was May 15, 1941 when Joe began the process that would make his mark on sports’ history.
While the Yankees lost 13-1 against the Chicago White Sox that day in Yankee Stadium, Joe hit a line drive to left center field—an RBI single—that was the catalyst to a never-duplicated, spirit-inducing run on the record books, which eventually became known simply as “The Streak.”
Joe enthralled the nation with this 56-game hitting streak ending on July 17 when Cleveland’s third basemen Ken Keltner stopped the run with two spectacular plays. During the streak, Joe had produced dazzling statistics with 91 hits in 223 at bats, averaging .409. Even after Keltner ended the streak, Joe went on to hit safely in the following 17 games.
That memorable year in baseball history ended with the Yankees winning over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. Joe’s totals for the year included:
- .357 Batting Average
- 125 RBIs
- 30 Home Runs
- MVP for the 2nd Time
Post-War: Yankees Back on Top
Beginning in 1943, the war took three years away from Joe’s professional baseball career, yet Joe’s return from military duties in 1947 put the Yankees back on top. That year, he won his third MVP league title and led the Yankees to another world championship in seven games against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The years 1949, 1950 and 1951 brought three more World Series championships to Joe and the Yankees.
Joe began to suffer from a heel injury in 1948, and by the end of the 1951 season, the pain led Joe to retire from the game of baseball. In 1955, Joe was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
American Grace as a Yankee
Throughout all of Joe’s successes, he remained introspective and modest, yet he was a strong leader, guiding the Yankees to a total of nine world championships. In addition to being a consummate team leader, Joe was known for his gracefulness—his classic swing, wide stance, short stride and powerful wrists. He had perfect positioning on the field and had a way of making the toughest plays look easy.
Joe has emerged as an American icon who symbolizes style, integrity, dignity, perseverance and the ability to raise the game in others. His American Grace transcends the baseball field, and this grace—in the 1940s as much as today—has the ability to inspire people to strive for something more, a personal best, a realization of individual greatness.