Joltin' Joe DiMaggio; Enduring star: Baseball isn't life, but sometimes it really is, and then heroes help.


JUST THINK what Joe DiMaggio would have accomplished if he'd played more than 13 seasons in the Bigs.

World War II came along. Like Ted Williams and other stars of his generation, he served his nation as a soldier. Exploiting his exceptional skills, earning the adoration of multitudes, entertaining a nation, would wait.

Even missing three seasons that could have been his best, Joe DiMaggio compiled a lifetime batting average of .325, led the American League in home runs twice, in runs-batted-in twice, in batting average twice and was its most valuable player thrice.

He batted-in more runs than there were games in 1948. He joined the immortals in 1941 by hitting safely in 56 consecutive games, which no one did before or after. He was named to the American League All-Star team as many years as he played. Comparative mediocrities today demand five-year contracts at $10 million per.

Yet the loping center fielder -- who covered the vast terrain of Yankee Stadium without seeming to rush -- was as graceful off-field as on. Always quiet, never complaining, ever humble.

He married the movie star Marilyn Monroe and didn't even brag about that. Though divorced at her death, his private grief was a lasting image from that time.

In a wartime when Italy was an enemy, when patriotism too easily slopped into bigotry, it helped to have as a national hero a second-generation Italian-American high school dropout, who personified the war effort.

In his 13 Major League seasons, Joe DiMaggio's Yankees won ten pennants and nine World Series. For that, people outside the Bronx hated the Yankees, the overdogs. But no one ever hated Joe.

As graceful and humble a celebrity ever after as he had been a player, Joe DiMaggio even served as a role model on how to be an ex-ballplayer.

The last words written by the great sports writer Red Smith in his final column were, "I told myself not to worry. Some day there would be another Joe DiMaggio."

Upon Joe's death at 84, we are still waiting.

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