I came across this audiobook, Baseball Legend Joe DiMaggio, through the local library and spent my lunch break yesterday listening to it. Written and narrated by Geoffrey Giuliano, I wondered at first why this biography came only in audio format, with no hard copy or even ebook version. As I listened, however, the reason quickly became apparent.
The recording opens up with a broad, sweeping biography of DiMaggio, which takes up only about the first five or ten minutes of the hour-long book. This biography serves to set the foundation for the rest of the book, which turns out to be a sort of audio documentary of Joe DiMaggio’s life.
The audiobook features recordings of a variety of interviews, some with DiMaggio himself, others with broadcasters from both that era and the present day. Also included are snippets from actual radio broadcasts during that era. Giuliano provides the context for the various audio clips, which cover everything from DiMaggio’s early life to his war service, his 56-game hitting streak to his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, his relationship with his teammates to his life post-baseball.
Overall, I found it a fascinating experience to listen to the various clips. As I mentioned, the entire audiobook is only about an hour long, which made for an enjoyable lunch break. If you enjoy listening to old interviews and other audio clips, it’s worth checking out.
Ted Williams won the American League Most Valuable Player award on November 14, 1946. The award was bestowed upon Williams after having finished second to the Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio (1941) and Joe Gordon (1942). The Splendid Splinter missed the last three seasons due to serving in the military during World War II, but returned to baseball hitting .342 with 38 homers and 123 RBIs.
If you’re having a hard time waking up this morning, this song might help. The tune is quite peppy and the lyrics are pretty amusing.
This is the second day now that I do not know the result of the juegos he thought. But I must have confidence and I must be worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel.
~Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
I managed to watch PBS’s documentary on Ted Williams last night: American Masters – Ted Williams: “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived.” I found the documentary fascinating, even learning a couple things along the way.
The episode opens with Ted Williams’s return to civilian life after the Korean War. After seriously considering spending the rest of his life fishing after the war, Williams opted to return to baseball. Ted Williams, the documentary shows, was so obsessed with baseball, and especially with hitting, that his obsession permeated all aspects of his life. He also was infamous for his temper, often getting into it with reporters and refusing to tip his cap. These things combined made him, at times, a difficult man to get along with, even within his family.
The episode covered, briefly, some details of Williams’s youth, including his strained relationship with his parents. It also touches on many of the things you would expect a Ted Williams documentary to cover, including the 1941 season, his service in two wars, comparisons between him and Joe DiMaggio, and the final season — and at-bat — of his career.
Something I learned — which I was glad about, as I’m always happy to learn new things — was that Ted Williams was also quite the fisherman. According to the documentary, Williams is in two fishing halls of fame (which halls of fame was either not mentioned or I missed it). He was so meticulously detailed about this hobby that he would cut fish open to see what they ate in order to create baits that mimicked those foods. He would then keep a log to determine what worked and what did not work. It was the same kind of obsession and attention to detail that contributed to his success as a hitter.
The documentary includes interviews with Williams’s daughter, Claudia, and other family members, as well as with various baseball personalities: writers, historians, broadcasters, and former and current players. If there is a shortcoming, it is that the documentary seems to bounce around quite a bit, which made it feel somewhat scattered. I think part of this was due to the brevity of the show. One hour is hardly long enough to go into any real depth regarding any one man’s life, especially a man like Ted Williams.
On December 11, 1951, two weeks after his 37th birthday, Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio announced his decision to retire from baseball. DiMaggio lamented, “I can no longer produce for my ballclub, my manager, my teammates, and my fans the sort of baseball their loyalty to me deserves.” The Yankee Clipper finished his thirteen-year career with a .325 batting average and 361 home runs.
The Seventh Inning of Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns takes us into the 1950s in America. Subtitled “The Capital of Baseball,” this installment of the documentary revolves primarily around New York City and the three teams who dominated the baseball world during this decade: the New York Yankees, the New York Giants, and the Brooklyn Dodgers. For ten straight years (1947-1956) a local team always played in the World Series, and a local team won nearly all of them as well.
It was certainly a great decade for the Yankees under manager Casey Stengel. With Mickey Mantle in the outfield and Yogi Berra behind the plate, the Yankees were as dominant as ever. The way Roger Angell describes the atmosphere in New York during this period, where everything seemed to revolve around baseball, makes me wish this type of world would come back into existence. “Stengelese” became a thing, though I like how the discussion also revolves around Stengel’s baseball intelligence. Similarly, while Yogi Berra remains most commonly known for “Yogi-isms,” he was also a phenomenal ballplayer. After all, you don’t get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame just for speaking amusing phrases.
Jackie Robinson, released from his three-year vow of silence with Branch Rickey, began lashing out against those who slighted him. It’s an understandable reaction, especially considering how long he had to go without answering the racism he faced. His play just grew better with his anger, leading the Dodgers to some great seasons, including a World Series championship in 1955.
We get to watch the Giants’ Bobby Thomson’s ever-popular “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” during the 1951 playoffs against the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was an event that ignited a tremendous amount of excitement not only at the Polo Grounds, but also in fans’ homes as the game was televised across the country. I always get a kick out of hearing Russ Hodges’s excited screaming, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”
A good portion of the disc was devoted to Mickey Mantle, who essentially took Joe DiMaggio’s place with the Yankees. The attention he receives is well-deserved, as is the attention to his struggles with injury and his tendency to stay up all night partying. Given how well he was able to play in spite of being hurt much of the time, one can’t help but wonder what Mantle would have accomplished had he been healthy. Sadly, we’ll never know. Mantle himself doesn’t even touch on the subject in his own discussions of his playing days on the documentary.
While the breaking of the color barrier by Jackie Robinson in 1947 was undeniably a great thing for baseball, it did have an unfortunate downside. Attendance at Negro Leagues games fell as black fans flocked to watch Robinson and those who followed him play in the major leagues. On the positive side, players including Willie Mays, Curt Flood, Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron became stars in Robinson’s wake. We get to watch Willie Mays make “The Catch,” a play that seemed impossible until he pulled it off.
The other unfortunate events, besides the end of the Negro Leagues, that we see during this decade involved the move of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants to the west coast. In the case of the Dodgers, the move took place in 1957, not long after the team finally managed to win a World Series, which made the move all the more heartbreaking for its fans. The Dodgers’ last ever World Series in 1956 saw them lose to the Yankees in a Series that involved Don Larsen’s perfect game. These moves were great news for Californians, of course, but Dodgers and Giants fans left behind in New York found themselves at a loss. Brooklyn and the Giants weren’t the only teams that moved during this period. The Philadelphia A’s moved to Kansas City, and the St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles.
The subtitle for this Inning, “The Capital of Baseball,” proved itself undeniably fitting. We love to think of baseball as a game and a pastime, but in the case of professional leagues especially, it is first and foremost a business. Bill Veeck’s promotional stunt of sending Eddie Gaedel to the plate is one of many displays of the importance of commercialism in baseball. It makes for a hard reality check when your league is forced to fold or your favorite team moves to an entirely new city, and in the present day, we experience a number of miniature heartbreaks any time an impactful player becomes a free agent and moves on to other teams.