debate that centuries-old dilemma: who really is the greatest baseball
player to ever trod the earth?
Babe Ruth was famous for his power-hitting (and power-living), Ty Cobb
had the best career batting average, and pitcher Cy Young won over 500
games in his long and storied career. We youngsters might put our vote
in for Alex Rodriquez, Barry Bonds, or Roger Clemens.
Though I never saw Joe DiMaggio play, my generation always considered
him the greatest living ballplayer until he died in 1999. My most
vivid images are of a smiling, older gentleman pawning off
coffeemakers for decades on TV commercials, not a contender for the
absolutely best player in history.
Ironically, after reading the disturbing account of Joe DiMaggio: The
Heros Life by Richard Ben Cramer, I came to realize the Yankee
Clipper was the greatest baseball player of all time. Before reading
Cramers controversial book, I would have taken Ruth or Cobb as my
The Heros Life is tirelessly researched looking behind Joe D.s
public image as the wholesome son of a poor fisherman. Cramers book
concludes that DiMaggio was a cruel, selfish, and vindictive man,
especially toward his own friends and family. He may have even
physically abused Marilyn Monroe. Though he earned huge salaries for
his playing era and millions after his baseball career was over,
DiMaggio expected everyone else to pay his tabs because he was well,
Though the book accuses DiMaggio of being personally flawed in the
extreme, Cramer also illustrates why he was the best baseball player
in history. He hit for average and power. He played center field
without equal in the cavernous Yankee Stadium - with a powerful
The Yankee Clipper was also fleet afoot and driven to win the nine
World Series titles he won were more than any player in history except
Yogi Berra (10). While Berras accomplishments were spread out over 19
seasons, DiMaggio played only 13 years - missing three baseball
seasons 1943 to 1945 while serving in the military during World War
In 1941 Joltin Joe set one of sports most famous records that may
never be broken: 56 consecutive games with at least one hit.
Amazingly, after going hitless in the 57th game, DiMaggio immediately
had another hitting streak of 16 straight games.
The Yankee Clipper s personal accomplishments are impressive, but a
few others were able to rack up gaudier statistics overall. However,
if the goal in professional sports is to win titles (and it is), Joe
DiMaggio was the best. He was the best player on the best team of his
era a time when the New York Yankees dominated baseball.
In his nine championship seasons, Joltin Joe put the team on his back
and carried them into the Series almost single-handedly. He rose to
the pinnacle of his profession while often injured and under the
intense scrutiny of the New York press, the center of the sports
universe in the 1940s. Joe DiMaggio was the greatest hero of the
Paul Simon might have decided baseballs greatest player when he
wrote, Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely
eyes to you (woo woo woo).
If you dont agree, maybe you just had to be there.