“Know what my first thrill as a Yankee was? It was shaking hands with Joe DiMaggio.” Mickey Mantle.
Joe DiMaggio projected an image of aloofness. Rookies, who held him in awe, were so intimidated that they dared not speak to him until he made the initial move.
DiMaggio affected one rookie so deeply that when a rookie joined the New York Yankees, Mickey Mantle made sure to greet him warmly. With outstretched hand, Mickey approached the young hopeful. “I’m Mickey Mantle.”
At baseball’s centennial celebration in Washington during July, 1969, Willie Mays burst into the room after the coronation dinner for the players who had been designated the greatest at his position.
The players had been asked to gather in a special room outside the dinner hall. Willie, full of youthful exuberance despite the fact that he was only two years away from reaching his 40th birthday, asked everyone but no one in particular, “Where is my idol?”
He was asked, “Who is your idol?”
An almost incredulous Say-Hey Kid quickly responded. “Joe D. of course, who else?”
At an awards dinner for the greatest of the greatest players, Joe DiMaggio was the star.
He had been named to the all-time outfield, living or dead.
He had been named to the all-time living outfield.
He had been named as the greatest living ball player.
During the announcements, the usually staid DiMaggio appeared to be emotionally shaken. His dazed look showed how he had rocked. He tried to make light of the awards but was overcome by his deep feelings. He tried, unsuccessfully to make light of the situation.
“I damn near got a Charley horse from those three long walks to get the awards.”
But when one looked into the eyes of the greatest living player, one could perceive the joy, pride, and gratefulness. The one thing that shocked him most of all was that he had been singled out among the greatest players over baseball’s first 100 years.
One incident has been viewed as illustrating why DiMaggio was considered the greatest.
The Yankees were playing the first exhibition game against the St. Louis Cardinals near the end of DiMaggio’s career. Heel spurs had hampered Joe for years. He was in the lineup for a meaningless spring game only to boost attendance, despite the fact that he was less than fully fit.
In his first at-bat, Joe hit a screaming line drive into to right field. He raced to first base as the Cardinals’ right fielder reached for the ball on the first hop.
DiMaggio made a wide turn around first base with his eyes glued on the outfielder. DiMaggio didn’t slow down. He beat the throw to second from the amazed defender. The crowd was aghast.
An indignant reporter who knew Joe well and who was one of his friends spoke to Joe after the game.
“Are you nuts? Here is an absolutely meaningless game and you play it as if it’s the World Series, stretching a single into a double. In your crippled state, you risked everything. You’ve gotta be nuts.”
The response from an almost sheepish Joe DiMaggio was simple, brief, and revealed how much he knew about the game.
“I couldn’t resist. When the fielder didn’t get in front of the ball and caught it on his glove hand side, there was no way he could have turned to throw me out at second. He gave me the opportunity. I had to take it.”
Despite the revisionist history that has attempted to twist reality to serve the purposes of certain individuals, Joe DiMaggio, like all complex individuals, exhibited great modesty and awe at the most significant moments.
“From a personal standpoint, the high spots of my career were the 56- game hitting streak, election to the Hall of Fame, and now this. I can’t believe it.?
Where is the arrogance?
By ARTHUR DALEY. (1969, March 7). Sports of The Times :Musings About Mantle. New York Times (1923-Current file),40. Retrieved October 21, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2007). (Document ID: 79948757).
By ARTHUR DALEY. (1969, July 30). Sports of The Times :Greatest Living Player. New York Times (1923-Current file),28. Retrieved October 21, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2007). (Document ID: 110094034).