Where You Have Gone, Joe DiMaggio

Article excerpt

It is both simple and impossible to reflect on Joe DiMaggio.

He never was a personality shoot, not even personable off the field. Once asked to explain, he said, simply of course, "I'm a ballplayer, not an actor."

When a young and definitely no hero-worshipping sportswriter was asked in the lobby of a New Jersey hotel if he'd like to meet DiMaggio, the writer's hands got sweaty. DiMaggio said, "Hello." The writer said, "Hello." Then awkward silence. That was it. Conversation over. It was, for the writer, his most memorable conversation ever. Mr. DiMaggio, who died Monday, was America's greatest sports hero. Bigger than Ali? Absolutely. What Joe DiMaggio brought to us in his 13 years in baseball's major leagues was an excellence that made us gasp, a talent that made us envy-green, a presence that made us clutch at our hearts. When DiMaggio walked into a room, time stopped and jaws dropped. Others who thought they were famous suddenly weren't. DiMaggio had it all, a lot more than Bogey and Bacall. He was the human equivalent of the most extraordinary sunset ever seen in Bali. Name the best thing you can think of - person, product, place - and DiMaggio was at least equal. Arguments have raged over who was the better center fielder, Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays. It's about 50-50. Nobody even discusses who was the best ever center fielder, which was DiMaggio. Hands down. Everybody else is competing for second. His statistics are numbing. In 13 seasons with the Yankees, he played on teams that won nine World Series. He once hit safely in 56 straight games, was thwarted, then delivered in 16 more in a row. If there is one record in sport that seems likely to go unbeaten, and probably even unchallenged, it's this one. He led in hitting, homers, everything. But all this was secondary, really, to the essence of the man. He always, always, always tried. There's a lesson there, boys and girls. Asked once how he could keep striving when he had stood atop all mountains, he said, "There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time or last time. …

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