Updated: Oct 13, 2020
Giuseppe and Rosalia DiMaggio had a vision for their family. They envisioned a wonderful life in America, filled with hard work, full bellies and realized dreams. They immigrated from Isola delle Femmine, Sicily and eventually settled in San Francisco, California. Giuseppe worked as a fisherman and hoped that one day his five sons would take up the net and follow in his steps as a fisherman.
That particular dream would not be realized as the National Pastime beckoned for three of his sons. Together, they traveled the country in pursuit of their own American Dream; each making a name for himself as a Major League center fielder.
The DiMaggio baseball trio began with the oldest brother, Vince. As a youth, despite his father’s strong urging to join the family fishing business, he aspired to be either a baseball player or a singer. Eventually, he chose baseball as his life’s ambition. He began his baseball career in 1932 with the Tucson Lizards, a Class-D team in the Arizona-Texas League. He played well in Tucson, hitting .347, 25 home runs and 81 RBI in 94 games. He signed with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League later that year. He batted .270 while hitting six home runs in 59 games.
Meanwhile, back home in San Francisco, Vince’s younger brother Joe was struggling in school. Joe DiMaggio ultimately dropped out of San Francisco’s Galileo High School and shuffled around town, working odd jobs such as hawking newspapers, stacking boxes at a warehouse and working at an orange juice plant. Joe’s life was in a rut and he needed help. Vince put in a good word with his coach at the San Francisco Seals in 1932. Unfortunately for Vince, Joe took his job at center field and the trajectory of two baseball careers was put into motion.
At the tender age of 17, Joe DiMaggio’s legacy as one of the greatest baseball players of all time was beginning to form. In 1933, his first full year in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) he recorded a hit in a league record 61 straight games. It was a foreshadow of one of his greatest achievements while with the New York Yankees.
Joe played well enough with the Seals to be noticed by the Yankees and signed with New York in 1936. He was sensational as a rookie; hitting .323, 29 home runs and 125 RBI. In his first four years the Yankees won four World Series while cementing their status as the most iconic baseball organization in the world. He was named league MVP in the last of those championship years; hitting a career best .381, 30 home runs and 126 RBI.
Meanwhile, Vince made it to the Major Leagues a year after Joe, signing with the Boston Bees in 1937. In his two years with the Bee’s, Vince hit 27 home runs while striking out an exceptional 245 times. Striking out would turn out to be the story of a career overshadowed by his younger brothers.
After a brief stop in Cincinnati, Vince signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1940. It was here where he finally realized his potential as a ballplayer. The first couple of years were rough but he made the All Star Game in 1943 and 1944 when his brother Joe was serving in the military. He struck out 126 times in 1943 and another 83 times in 1944. He hit 24 home runs over the course of those two seasons. Like many Americans of the era, he did his part to aid the country during WWII by working with the California Shipbuilding Corporation.
While Vince was making his way through Pittsburgh, Dominic “Dom” DiMaggio, the youngest of the three brothers, was becoming a star in Boston. He signed with the Boston Red Sox in 1940. After scoring 81 runs and recording 126 hits as a rookie, he became an All Star in 1941. In that first All Star year he recorded 117 runs and 165 hits. He recorded a career high 14 home runs the following year as he was invited to another All Star Game.
While Dom’s star was rising in Boston, Joe’s legacy was going high into the stratosphere of icons. He recorded the longest hitting streak in MLB history with 56 straight games with a hit. Partly due to the hitting streak he earned his second AL MVP that year. Joe also added 30 home runs and a .357 hitting percentage during that historic season. The Yankees ended the year winning the World Series, Joe’s fifth world championship in his first six years.
Joe DiMaggio played one more year before he was called to military service. He was out of baseball from 1943 to 1945. Joe rose to the rank of sergeant and went to places such as Hawaii, Santa Ana and Atlantic City. His main duty was a physical education instructor and spent much of his time playing baseball on different bases. This was not uncommon during WWII as other professional athletes performed similar tasks during the war as it helped boost moral within the military.
Dom also served during the war but he served overseas in Australia and the Philippines. He still found time to play some baseball, playing in the 1944 Army-Navy World Series and for the Norfolk Naval Training Station team. He rose to the rank of chief petty officer before being discharged when the war ended in 1945.
Dom and Joe returned from the war in 1946, just in time for Vince’s final year in the Major League. In that final year he played for both the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Giants. Between those two teams, Vince hit four times, struck out seven and didn’t hit a home run. During his career in the MLB, he led the majors in strikeouts six times. He set the NL single season record for most strikeouts in 1938 with 134. He returned to the minors the following year; playing for the Oakland Oaks, the Stockton Ports, the Pittsburgh Diamonds and the Tacoma Tigers before finally retiring following the 1951 season.
When Dom came back from the Navy, the Red Sox were in prime position to return to the World Series for the first time since 1918. It was a magical year and the Red Sox were able to overcome the hated Yankees. Dom played well too, recording 169 hits, 73 RBI and seven home runs while being invited to another All Star Game. The Red Sox lost the World Series to the Saint Louis Cardinals in seven games. Dom continued to play well the rest of the decade and even had a Red Sox record 34 game hit streak which was ironically ended by his brother Joe in 1949.
Joe won the World Series the following year and was named AL MVP for the third and final time of his career. He was excellent that year collecting 168 hits, 97 RBI and recording a .315 hitting percentage. The Yankees couldn’t overcome the Cleveland Indians, in 1948 but starting in 1949 they started an unprecedented streak of five straight World Series championships. It was during this stretch when Joes skills began to wane and the Yankees brought in new pieces of their greatest decade. Players such as Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Billy Martin were all brought in during this period. The Yankees also signed Mickey Mantle, the heir apparent to Joe’s status as centerfielder of the New York Yankees.
Mantle signed with the Yankees in 1951, Joe’s last year in baseball. Though Joe’s skills had degraded and his speed had slowed, his intellect was still crisp and he was named to the All Star Game for the 13th and final time of his illustrious career. His stats his final year were good; in 116 games he recorded 109 hits, scored 72 runs, hit 12 home runs and .263 hitting percentage. Following a World Series triumph over the New York Giants, Joe knew it was time to call it a career. Over the course of his 13 year career in New York, Joe was invited to the All Star Game every year of his career. He recorded 2,214 hits, 361 home runs and a .325 hitting percentage. He retired with an incredible nine World Series Championships and a place within New York Yankee lore which has yet to be duplicated.
Dom played a little more than a year after Joe’s retirement. The 1952 season was his last full year in baseball and in that year he recorded 143 hits, 33 RBI and six home runs while being invited to his seventh and final All Star Game. Though 1953 was technically his final season, he only appeared in three games. He retired with 1680 hits, 87 home runs and a .298 hitting percentage.
Vince DiMaggio led a fairly quiet life after baseball. He worked for the family restaurant, DiMaggio’s Grotto located on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, and there he could use his singing abilities to sing opera in his tenor voice. He also drove a milk truck and even took up fishing as a hobby but never as an occupation. After years of bouncing from job to job he settled in Los Angeles and worked as a bartender and liquor salesman. In 1971, after watching a Billy Graham Crusade on television, Vince had a spiritual awakening and until the day he died his life suddenly had meaning, purpose and fulfillment. Despite the varied successes of his brothers, Vince never capitalized on his last name and was working into his seventies. He passed away on October 3, 1986 at the age of 74 from colon cancer.
Joe’s entire life after baseball was based on the marketability of his name. Shortly after his retirement, he met and married Marylyn Monroe. They were married for less than a year and when she died less than a decade later, Joe had roses sent to her grave three times a week for the next 20 years. He remained a bachelor for the rest of his days. He lent his famous name to numerous products throughout his retirement. He also was a part of the early days of memorabilia collecting, signing his name to a large number of baseballs, baseball cards and various other products. He passed away on March 8, 1999 at the age of 84 from lung cancer.
Dom’s name was never as famous as Joe’s but he was a wise investor. He built a very successful manufacturing company in Boston and became rich enough to become one of the original owners of the Boston Patriots of the American Football League. He twice tried to buy his beloved Red Sox but was rebuffed both times. He passed away on May 8, 2009 at the age of 92 from pneumonia.
Like most parents, Giuseppe saw big things for his sons. However, his focus was on work not play. While the fishing business afforded him a modest lifestyle, the money players made from baseball in those days was a mere pittance of what they can make today. Giuseppe was unable to see the future of the sport but he meant well. He wanted what he thought was best for all of his sons but three of them chose baseball as their avenue to the American Dream. In the end, the sons proved their father wrong and yet brought him much pride and joy as each of them realized their American Dream.