It is only fitting that on this Independence Day, we honor Joe DiMaggio, also known as “Joltin Joe”, for his service. He chose to sacrifice a $43,750 salary for a payment of $50 a month to enlist in the Army Air Forces and serve his country during World War II. He demonstrated his integrity by insisting that he receive no special treatment during his service.
DiMaggio was born to Sicilian immigrants and dropped out of high school to play baseball in a dairy-wagon parking lot, a place where milk drivers parked their horses and wagons near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. He was quickly picked up by a team sponsored by a local olive oil distributor. His older brother, Vince, played for the San Francisco Seals, and when they were in need of a shortstop during the 1932 season, Joe stepped up at the recommendation of his brother and made his professional debut.
In November 1934, he was sold to the New York Yankees but did not make his debut with them until 1936 due to a knee injury. He hit .323 with 29 home runs during his first season. In 1939 he was the Most Valuable Player and captured the attention of the nation in 1941 with a 56-game hitting streak. DiMaggio had their attention again in 1942, when he was holding out for a pay raise from the Yankees. A group of soldiers at Camp Blanding, Florida sent him a message saying, “In event the Yankees don’t kick in with more than $47,000, we cordially invite you to a tryout with the 143rd Infantry, 36th Division, the fightingest regiment in this man’s Army.” During February 1943, DiMaggio did just that, trading in his high paying salary to enlist in the Army Air Forces and reported to duty at the Santa Ana Army Air Base.
He was assigned to Special Services with the Army Air Force and was also a huge addition to the Santa Ana baseball team. He played with Glen Gabler, Jack Jacobs, Bob White, Dick and Bobby Adams, Jack Hanson, Kenny Andrews, Merle Hapes, Lee Trim, Bill Waller, and former pro football player, John Biancone, was the manager. They were a team made up of baseball stars across the major leagues, semi-pro leagues, and at the collegiate level. DiMaggio also played for the team of Armed Forces All-Stars, which was managed by Babe Ruth.
DiMaggio was transferred to Honolulu, Hawaii in 1944, but his baseball career continued there on the Seventh Air Force’s baseball team. He played with Red Ruffing, Johnny Beazley, and Joe Gordon, and they faced many other stars like Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Mize, and Joe’s brother Dom on the Navy’s team. DiMaggio’s team ended up losing to the Navy’s team despite his home run.
DiMaggio was hospitalized in August with stomach ulcers and was transferred to multiple hospitals for help until he was discharged on September 14, 1945. When he returned home, he believed that the war had robbed him of some of his best baseball playing years. His thoughts were initially confirmed when he first returned to the Yankees in 1946, as his stats from his first season back were not as good as his stats before his enlistment. However, DiMaggio remained resilient and led the Yankees to nine World Championships and was an American League All-Star thirteen times. He retired from his playing career in 1951 and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955, with a lifetime batting average of .325 and 361 home runs. DiMaggio received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977.
The Foundation honors DiMaggio for the grit he exemplified while serving in World War II. He was dedicated to the war effort, served with the values upheld by Bob Feller, and helped grow the game of baseball before and after WWII.