No other player in baseball history combined all the skills of the game better than Joe DiMaggio. When coming up through the minors, sportswriters touted him as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Joe Jackson all rolled into one. He has become one of the most enduring symbols of athletic greatness and celebrity. What man would not want to be “Joltin’ Joe,” he played centerfield for the New York Yankees and married the sexiest woman in the world, Marilyn Monroe. From the time he retired to the time of his death, he had an image as America’s hero.
He was the eighth on nine children and was born to a family of Sicilian fisherman. DiMaggio’s dad wanted Joe to become a fisherman and it was only after his sensational play in the Pacific Coast League that his dad gave up on his dream of having Joe follow in his footsteps. In 1933, while playing for the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League, DiMaggio hit safely in 61 games. Called up to the Yankees in 1936, it wouldn’t be long before he would again find himself in the middle of another streak.
In the summer of 1941, with the dark cloud of World War II looming, a nation turned its lonely eyes to Joe DiMaggio. He would hit safely in 56 consecutive games piquing the country’s curiosity. During his famed hitting streak, the Les Brown Band recorded the song “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio.” On July 17, the Cleveland Indians, with thanks to two great plays by third baseman Ken Keltner, ended the streak. During the streak DiMaggio hit .408 with 15 homers and 55 RBIs. Although the streak had ended, DiMaggio continued his tear, hitting safely in another 16 straight games.
He made things look easy on the field, although he played most of his career in constant pain from a string of injuries. He was once asked why he played so hard every day, his response was almost poetic, “I always think, there might be someone out there in the stands who’s never seen me play.”
He was the most graceful player to ever play the game, only showing his emotion once, well, actually twice. Everyone remembers when after Al Gionfriddo caught the monster fly ball and DiMaggio kicked the dirt in the 1947 World Series, but few remember the day the idol charged the mound.
During the 1941 World Series DiMaggio charged the mound after Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Whitlow Wyatt threw at him. DiMaggio called Wyatt “the meanest guy I ever saw,” and DiMaggio’s comments were far from being unjustified. Wyatt had earned a reputation as a headhunter and the fact that Leo Durocher left money on the top of his locker for every batter he knocked down surely didn’t dispell the reputation.
DiMaggio played 13 seasons for the Yankees, helping lead them to 10 World Series, winning nine of them. DiMaggio won a total of three MVP awards during his career (1939, 1941, and 1947). DiMaggio was also a member of the All-Star team every year of his 13-year career.
Unfortunately, the prime of his career was cut short while he helped out with the ongoing war effort. DiMaggio lost three entire seasons (1943-45) before returning to the Yankees in 1946. Regardless, DiMaggio still hit 361 career home runs and posted a lifetime batting average of .325 before retiring after the 1951 season.
Despite a brilliant career, DiMaggio wasn’t a first-ballot Hall of Famer. At that time, there was only a mandatory one-year wait to become eligible, putting him up for election in 1953. However, rumors began to circulate that the Pittsburgh Pirates were going to sign him to a rich contract and make him a gate attraction, after being elected to the Hall of Fame. DiMaggio wasn’t enshrined until 1955. The rules regarding eligibility were changed, extending the waiting period to five years before becoming eligible.
In a 1969 poll conducted to coincide with the centennial of professional baseball, DiMaggio was voted baseball’s “Greatest Living Player.” Ron Swoboda put it best: “Joe DiMaggio is what you get when you build mystique on top of greatness.”
DiMaggio took great pride in his signature and despite its inconsistent nature, it remains beautiful script in any form. Although DiMaggio had several different variations to his signature, throughout his life his signature always remained legible. Spotting a genuine DiMaggio autograph is very tricky.
When DiMaggio first came up with the Yankees in 1936, his signature was very different than what it would later morph into. The signature itself was very basic with every letter spelled out neatly. Frequently on team-signed baseballs from 1936, his signature would read only “J DiMaggio” (See examples 1 and 2). Most examples of DiMaggio’s signature from his rookie year appear on team-signed baseballs. Depending on if the ball has Gehrig’s signature on it and the quality of the signatures, they generally sell for around $2,000.
After the 1936 season, DiMaggio’s signature became much larger with more flare. The “J” in “Joe” started to slant more to the right and the tail of the “J” had a triangle look to it (See Example 3). There were two other major changes that occurred in his signature, both the “D” and “M” in “DiMaggio” looked significantly different. The “D” retained its smaller size, but it came with an added sweep at the top. The “M” became slightly larger and wider. Also the first “i” in DiMaggio would sometimes connect and sweep into making the “M.”
DiMaggio’s signature would remain virtually the same all the way through the mid-1940s. Examples of DiMaggio’s signature from this era are hard to find, generally cuts and team-signed baseballs are the most common. A cut signature from this era carries a premium, usually selling between $200-$400, as opposed to the modern cut signatures of DiMaggio that can sell for $50 to around $100.
In the mid-1940s, DiMaggio’s signature underwent some minor changes that carried out through the 1960s. First, the tail in the “J” in became more rounded, abandoning the triangular look. The “D” in “DiMaggio” started to get a little larger and developed a bigger sweep on top. Finally, the tails on the “g’s” in “DiMaggio” began to become larger with an extending sweeping loop to the left (See Examples 4 and 5). Single-signed baseballs bearing this version of DiMaggio’s signature are highly desirable since it is a version of his signature that he used while he was still playing. A single-signed AL Harridge baseball with this style of his signature sells for around $800.
By the end of the 1960s DiMaggi o’s signature would evolve for the last time. The first part of his signature stayed the same, but the “DiMaggio” portion underwent several changes. The “D” lost the long sweep on the top and came to look like a standard cursive “D.” The “M” in “DiMaggio” also lost its big sweep and loop, looking like a plain “M.” Finally, the “g’s” in “DiMaggio” reverted back to a standard looking lowercase “g” (See Examples 6). DiMaggio’s signature at this point would not change significantly, except occasionally for a slight deviation.
When DiMaggio would do public signings his hand would often get tired, creating several different variations of his modern signature. He usually tried to separate the “i” from the “M” in “DiMaggio,” however, that was the first thing that would change as his signature broke down (See Example 7). The next noticeable change would occur with the “g’s” in “DiMaggio,” often as a signing dragged on, he would stop closing the top loop above the tail (See Example 8). The last letter variation that DiMaggio would change would be in the “D” in “DiMaggio.” The bottom loop in the “D” would disappear and the top sweep would be taller and larger (See Example 9). These changes were collective and progressive following in that order.
“Joltin’ Joe’s” signature has started to increase in value over the last year, expect to pay $400-$500 for a genuine autographed baseball. DiMaggio did sign some inscriptions, but they are not exactly in abundant supply like other signers. Some of the more common inscriptions DiMaggio would sign include: “Best Wishes,” “HOF 55,” “#5” or “5” circled, and the desirable “Yankee Clipper.” Genuine baseballs signed with either the “HOF 55” or “#5” inscription sell for around $600. The majority of the signed baseballs inscribed “Yankee Clipper” are on photo-balls, selling for between $400-$500. However, there were a limited amount of Official AL baseballs that he signed with his well- known moniker that sell for nearly $2,000.
Throughout all the changes DiMaggio’s signature underwent throughout his life, there is one characteristic that virtually never changed. The tail of the “e” in “Joe” almost always pointed to where the “D” in “DiMaggio” starts. Occasionally the tail of the “e” will drag all the way to the start of the “D.”
He also signed a handful of DiMaggio Day baseballs during his final days. The signatures that appear on these baseballs still exhibit the same basic form of his signature, but are clearly evident of the man’s deteriorating condition. These signatures are far smaller and very shaky. In auctions, these balls generally sell for $800.