DiMaggio joined his brother, Vince, in the Pacific Coast League, playing for the San Francisco Seals in 1932. After a 61-game hitting streak, he led the Seals to winning a PCL title in 1935 and was named the League’s Most Valuable Player. He was sold to the New York Yankees and made his major league debut batting behind Lou Gehrig in 1936. He was soon nicknamed the “Yankee Clipper” for his speed and range in the outfield. During his career, he was a three-time MVP winner and was selected to play in the All-Star Game every year of his 13-year career. He also helped the Yankees to win ten American League pennants and nine World Series championships. His biggest claim to fame is his MLB 56-game hitting streak (May 15 – July 16, 1941), a record he still holds today.
DiMaggio signed a record contract of $100,000 ($981,000 today) in 1949, and became the first baseball player to surpass $100,000 in earnings. Within the next few years, however, DiMaggio’s body began to fail him. He suffered from injuries constantly due to his predisposition to play through the pain. DiMaggio played poorly during his 1951 season because of his recurring ailments, and towards the end of the season a scouting report about DiMaggio written by a Brooklyn Dodgers scout was leaked and published in LIFE.
While the report did not paint DiMaggio’s playing abilities in the best light, most of the report was accurate. It reported that he “could not stop quickly or throw hard,” that runners could steal bases on him easily, and his reflexes had slowed. Even with his physical setbacks, DiMaggio still helped the Yankees win another World Series, hitting a home run in the fourth game. DiMaggio had already accepted that this was the end for him, and many of his teammates brought him bats and balls to sign during what they all knew was his last game.
Going out on a World Series win, DiMaggio held a press conference on December 11, 1951 in which he plainly read a short press release announcing the end of his career. He ended it by saying, “When baseball is no longer fun, it’s no longer a game, and so, I’ve played my last game.” He answered questions, posed for pictures, and when a fuse blew and the Yankee offices went dark, he quietly slipped out.
Joe DiMaggio has been remembered in many ways, including being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955, and his number (5) being retired from the Yankees. He has also been referenced in a number of songs, movies, books, and works of art.