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Action Replay: when Joltin’ Joe stepped up to bat

This week’s retrospective looks back to 3 May 1936 and Joe DiMaggio’s debut for the New York Yankees.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you – woo, woo, woo.
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away – hey, hey, hey.

75 YEARS AGO today, Joe DiMaggio, a man widely regarded as one of the  iconic sports stars in the history over American sports, stepped up to the plate for his Major League Baseball debut.

Unfazed and untroubled by his first foray into professional baseball, the 21-year-old scored three hits during his first game at bat – and so he began to create one of the most enduring sporting legacies of the 20th century.

By the time the man affectionately known as “the Clipper” announced his retirement from the sport 16 years later, he had little left to prove. His most notable professional achievement, a remarkable streak in 1941 in which he recorded at least one base hit in 56 consecutive games, remains untouched to this day with the great Pete Rose’s 44 game streak in 1978 the nearest which anybody has come since.

DiMaggio, however, was not always destined to be an American sporting hero. In fact, were it not for the persistence of Yankee’s Bill Essick who assured the team’s management that DiMaggio would recover fully from a knee ligament tear which he had suffered while a Minor League player, there is a very chance that he might have ended up following a completely different career path.

A fisherman, perhaps, following in the line of his father Pepe who trawled the San Francisco coast when Joe had been a child.

Joe, however, was more interested in pursuing the daily routine which his older brother Vince had. Two years his brother’s senior, Vince was playing with minor league side the San Francisco Seals, and it his persistence and finagling that landed Joe an audition at short-stop in 1932.

The following season, DiMaggio smashed the league record by racking up 61 consecutive hits at bat. The Yankees came sniffing, Essick persisted until he got his man, and one of baseball’s superstars was born.

This week in sports history

  • Diane Crump becomes the first female jockey to ride in the Kentucky Derby (2 May 1970).
  • Arsenal beat Parma 1-0 to win the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup (4 May 1994).
  • Lennox Lewis KOs Phil Jackson to retain the WBC Heavyweight title (6 May 1994).

Read Gay Talese’s excellent profile of DiMaggio, The Silent Season of a Hero, published in Esquire Magazine in July 1966 >

About the author:

Niall Kelly

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