Joe DiMaggio Loved His Fans

Harold FriendChief Writer IJuly 4, 2010

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 11: A general view of the Joe DiMaggio plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium on September 11, 2008 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The 85 year old ball park will be closed after the 2008 season as the New York Yankees move to the new Yankee Stadium to begin the 2009 season. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

After the 1950 season, Joe DiMaggio was asked to select his greatest game. DiMaggio explained that he had to choose two games because each involved the fans.

"I will compromise and pair two thrills as my greatest. They have one thing in common: both were given to me by the fans."

DiMaggio selected the penultimate game of the 1949 season played on Oct. 1 against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, and the final game of the 1948 season on Oct. 3 against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

October 1, 1949 was Joe DiMaggio Day at Yankee Stadium. Fans used to give players a "day" as a token of appreciation. Of course, many gifts, often including a new car, were part of the deal.

The fans gave Joe more than 100 presents in ceremonies before the game the New York Yankees had to win. They trailed the Sox by a single game with two games remaining.

Joe was impressed by the presents, but the always classy Yankee was more impressed by the love the fans expressed. He was quite concerned that the long delay might affect his teammates negatively.

"I could not help thinking, too, of my teammates. I knew every man was waiting impatiently for the game to begin. There must have been times when they thought 'Come on, give the guy his presents and get on with the game. There is a pennant to be won.'"

The Yankees did win, thanks to a stellar relief effort by Joe Page, who by today's standards would be the Yankees closer, but there were no closers in 1949.

Page worked six and one-third innings, the Yankees won the next day, and then beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series.

DiMaggio expressed his gratitude to the more than 70,000 fans who honored him, and then referred to a statement Ted Williams had once made.

Williams would rather win the batting title than the MVP award because the batting title was something that a player earned himself, while the MVP award was something given to a player.

DiMagio said that he would rather win the MVP.

"I'd have to consult the record book to tell you when I won the batting title. But I'll never have to check the book to tell you about those 70,000 fans who came to Yankee Stadium that October afternoon for the express purpose of honoring me."

Joe's other choice involved a game in which the Yankees had been eliminated from the pennant race in 1948.

The Red Sox, who trailed the Cleveland Indians by one game with one game left, hosted the Yankees. The Indians were playing the Detroit Tigers.

The Yankees wanted to win the game for obvious reasons. They believed, down to a man, that they were better than either the Sox or the Indians, but they would not be going to the World Series.

The DiMaggio family was in the stands, rooting for the Red Sox because Dom DiMaggio, Joe's brother, was the Boston center fielder.

The Tigers beat the Indians and the Red Sox beat the Yankees, forcing a one-game playoff that the Indians won. Joe got four hits despite having charley horses (pulled muscles) in both legs.

When Joe singled in the ninth inning, Steve Souchock was sent in to run for him. As Joe limped to the dugout, he experienced one the great moments of his career.

"I'll never forget that crowd. It was standing and roaring—like one man. I tipped my cap but it didn't stop. I looked up at the stands and I never saw a more wonderful sight. There were 31,000 people giving an ovation to a guy who tried to beat them."

Yes, there used to be a time when fans and players had real class.

As an old Russian song popularized by Mary Hopkin and produced by Paul McCartney lamented, "Those Were the Days."



Reference:

DiMaggio, Joe. "My Greatest Game," Baseball Digest . Jan. 1951, p.73.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like