Year Inducted: 1955 (BBWAA, ballot #4, 223/251)
The Yankees have elevated several players to a status well beyond their numbers. Players like Phil Rizzuto and Herb Pennock became Hall of Famers primarily due to the Pinstripes, but players like Whitey Ford and Bill Dickey are rightly recognized as legitimate legends. There are two players, however, that are absolutely great players but their place in history can sometimes get overblown by fans and media. One is, of course, Derek Jeter. Jeter was a fantastic player, but not the greatest shortstop ever, and certainly not deserving of four Gold Gloves. The other was a center fielder who, upon his retirement, had to always be referred to as the Greatest Living Player. That was of course, Mr. Coffee himself, Joe DiMaggio.
DiMaggio patrolled center field in the Bronx for 13 seasons. In that time, Joe D hit .325/.398/.579 with a wRC+ of 152. DiMaggio collected 361 homers, 389 doubles and 131 triples while playing in Yankee Stadium at a time when right handed hitters were at a major disadvantage with a deep power alley in left-center field. DiMaggio drove in 95 or more runs in every season he played with two exceptions. In 1949 when he played in 76 games, DiMaggio only had 67 RBI and in 1951 (his final season) he managed only 71 RBI in 116 games. DiMaggio was not a fast player, but had a long stride to help him glide on the bases. DiMaggio, however, only stole 30 bases and was an average runner overall despite scoring over 1300 runs in his career. Offensively, DiMaggio was a beast and one of the best players of his time.
Defensively, DiMaggio was a smooth fielder, seemingly gliding to every baseball hit to center field. That’s how a lot of articles and players described it. The numbers tell a similar story, with him being worth +49 fielding runs in center field, a solid total for only 13 years with an interrupted stretch due to WWII.
DiMaggio was one of the best players of all-time. But at no point was he the Greatest Living Player. Upon his retirement, among all center fielders, DiMaggio ranked 1st in HR, 3rd in fWAR, 2nd in RBI and 3rd in wRC+. He was the third best center fielder ever at his retirement (and was going to be knocked down to fifth within 15 years with Mays and Mantle blowing by him), and was walking the earth at the same time as Stan Musial, Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson, much better players than DiMaggio.
In 1951, the BBWAA changed their balloting procedures for the Hall of Fame. Instead of a player being placed on the ballot after a year of retirement, they’d have to wait for five years of retirement. However, with DiMaggio retiring before that decision, he was grandfathered in on the ballot in 1952. The writers, however, were slow to induct DiMaggio due to the confusion of the new rule, forcing DiMaggio to wait for four ballots to gain induction. Despite the wait, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that DiMaggio was one of the best players to wear a uniform.
Stay tuned for the next updates.
On deck 12/7/16:
#27- From one Yankee great to another, we take the fork in the road.
#26- The most superstitious player in the Hall of Fame.