During the recent World Series, won in seven games by the long suffering Chicago Cubs (hoorah!), the conversation, as it often does, came around to the greatest baseball players of all time.
Discussions like that are exasperating and always incomplete—especially when the discussants represent multiple generations. Evaluating baseball players from different eras is a hopeless, unremitting endeavor. So I am not going to go there.
What I will do, however, is share with you a story I wrote for the Chicago Tribune on the occasion of Joe DiMaggio’s 65th birthday, November 25, 1979. Joe died 20 years later on March 8, 1999, eight months before his 85th birthday.
Now, I realize there may be some (but only some) who may not know who “Joltin Joe” DiMaggio was. Let’s just say that along with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Alex Rodriquez, Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford, Joe DiMaggio, also known as the “Yankee Clipper,” resides in the pantheon of New York Yankee greats. His career spanned 15 years from 1936 to 1951, with two years away (1943-45) in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War Two.
During his career, he was a three-time Most Valuable Player winner, but he is best known for his 56-game hitting streak in 1941—a record that still stands today. He compiled a lifetime batting average of .325. He was twice the American League batting champion—hitting .381 in 1939 and .352 in 1940. He also led the American League in home runs with 46 in 1937 and 39 in 1948.
DiMaggio was known for his grace in center field and was considered, along with Willie Mays, one of the best center fielders of all time.
But he is also known for something else. Many considered him the symbol of an era in
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