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All The Tools There were more powerful hitters, flashier fielders and speedier runners, but nobody combined those skills as efficiently, elegantly and effortlessly as the Yankee Clipper

March 15, 1999
March 15, 1999

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March 15, 1999

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All The Tools There were more powerful hitters, flashier fielders and speedier runners, but nobody combined those skills as efficiently, elegantly and effortlessly as the Yankee Clipper

By Robert W. Creamer

Joe DiMaggio didn't look heroic on the ball field. Crossing the
plate after hitting a home run, he tended to tilt his head
diffidently to one side as though to say, Don't pay too much
attention to me. For a man who treasured acclaim (the roar of
the fans cheering him at Old-Timers' Games meant the world to
him), DiMaggio tried to appear above it when he was young. It
would have been unseemly to play to the crowd. England's Leonard
Woolf wrote, "There develops in nearly all arts, and indeed in
games like cricket, at various periods after an archaic, vague
or inchoate beginning, a classical style which combines great
power and freedom and beauty with a kind of self-imposed
austerity and restraint." Woolf could have been writing about
DiMaggio.

This is an article from the March 15, 1999 issue Original Layout

Unlike so many of baseball's stars, DiMaggio wasn't flamboyant,
bad-tempered, colorful, talkative or explosive. He was quiet and
efficient and marvelously skillful in all aspects of the game:
hitting, fielding, throwing, running the bases. Ted Williams was
a better hitter, but that was the only thing the Boston Red Sox
outfielder did superlatively. DiMaggio did everything
superlatively, without fuss. At the plate he locked himself into
his wide-legged stance, cocked his bat and waited without
moving, watching the pitcher, waiting for him to throw. When
DiMaggio swung, strength surged from his big thighs and muscular
back into his arms and wrists and bat. It was a beautiful swing,
rich with power, yet controlled. You almost never saw him strike
out. When he hit the ball a long way, as he so often did, he
didn't pause to watch it but rather took off running hard for
first, looking for an edge that would give him an extra base or
two if the ball didn't reach the seats. No wonder he hit so many
triples. (He averaged 10 a year.) Although the Clipper didn't
look particularly fast, Joe McCarthy, his manager from 1936 to
'46, liked to say DiMaggio "just knew how to run bases better
than anybody." He stole only 30 bases in his 13 seasons, but
McCarthy believed DiMaggio could have stolen 50 or 60 bases a
year if he had allowed him. And few, if any, players were better
at going from first to third, or second to home, than DiMaggio.

In the outfield that deceptive speed, combined with an
exceptional ability to position himself according to the batter
and the upcoming pitch, made fielding look easy for DiMaggio. He
had tremendous range, yet the admiring cliche was, No one ever
saw DiMaggio make a hard catch. In all the times that I saw
DiMaggio play throughout his career, I cannot recall ever seeing
him dive for a ball or crash against the outfield fence. Yet he
seemed always to be there when the ball got there, catching it
effortlessly.

DiMaggio's austere style was defined in a game I saw in the late
1940s between the Yankees and the St. Louis Browns at Yankee
Stadium. The Browns, losing by two runs, filled the bases in the
ninth inning with one out. The next batter hit a little looping
fly ball into right center, too far out for the second baseman
to reach and too far in for the outfielders. It seemed a certain
base hit, and the St. Louis base runners took off, the tying
runs racing toward home from third and second, the winning run
heading around second toward third. DiMaggio came loping across
from centerfield, and you wondered if, with his powerful arm, he
could get the ball on the bounce and throw to the plate in time
to cut down the tying run.

However, I was astonished, as were the Browns, when without
breaking stride, DiMaggio leaned forward, stuck out that long
arm of his and caught the ball no more than a foot off the
ground. It was a startling catch, but what he did next was
prototypically DiMaggio. Still in full stride, he straightened
up, threw the ball to the first baseman for the game-ending
double play and, without stopping, without saying anything,
without showing any emotion, continued across the rightfield
foul line, into the Yankees' dugout and out of sight, as though
it were routine, just the end of another day's work.

B/W PHOTO: AP [T of C]B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY CORBIS Singular Sensation DiMaggio, shown here rapping a single against the Washington Senators in Griffith Stadium in 1938, was a reluctant celebrity hounded by photographers off the field...and on (page 52). [Leading Off]TWO B/W PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CORBIS Although they'd been divorced for nine months, DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe were all smiles at the New York premiere of The Seven Year Itch on June 1, 1955. At Old-Timers' Day five years later, DiMaggio, perhaps the most popular Yankee of all time, was still the center of attention. [Leading Off]B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY AP DiMaggio displayed his usual impeccable form in sliding past Cincinnati Reds catcher Ernie Lombardi to score the tying run in the ninth inning of the fourth and final game of the Yankees' sweep of the 1939 World Series. [Leading Off]B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY CORBISB/W PHOTO: BASEBALL HALL OF FAME Pantheon Among fellow immortals--Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle--DiMaggio always seemed to draw the most unabashed admiration from his peers.TWO B/W PHOTOS: AP [See caption above]B/W PHOTO: RAY STUBBLEBINE/REUTERS Throwback The tradition of DiMaggio tossing the first pitch at the Yankees' home opener, which he did for the final time last year, provided a lovable link to past glories.