DiMaggio put up impressive numbers. He was a three-time MVP. He led the league in home runs and batting average twice. In 1941, he got a hit in 56 consecutive games—widely considered the most unbreakable record in professional sports.
And he was a winner. In his 13 seasons with the Yankees, they won 10 Pennants and 9 World Series.
When it came to baseball, Joe DiMaggio was it. He was the peak; the pinnacle; as good as it got. And he knew it.
Pride and vanity can certainly be negative traits, and they were traits that DiMaggio possessed in abundance, but in his case, they spurred him to greatness. He liked the legend he had created for himself, and he was absolutely determined to live up to it.
He did so by playing incredibly hard, while still making it look like everything he did on the field was effortless. The graceful way he played earned him the nickname, “The Yankee Clipper.”
DiMaggio always battled injuries, and late in his career, it got harder and harder for him to stay in the lineup and put up the impressive numbers that everyone was used to.
Finally, in 1951 at a relatively young 36 years of age, DiMaggio walked away from the game, not content to just be an average player. As teammate Lefty Gomez put it, he retired because “he couldn’t be Joe DiMaggio anymore.”
There’s a lot to be said for setting high expectations for yourself and not settling for anything less, and in a time when our heroes seem to let us down all too often, it’s comforting to think about a guy like Joltin’ Joe, the hero who never did.
Once, late in a season when the Yankees had already clinched the American League Pennant and were just finishing out the rest of the season, one of Joe’s teammates asked him, “Why do you play so hard in a game that means nothing for your team?”
He replied, “Because there’s at least one person in the stands that has never seen Joe DiMaggio play before.”
I love that quote, and the idea it represents.