The song "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio" came about in 1941 as a result of the streak. It was introduced by Les Brown and His Orchestra, vocal by Betty Bonney, and became a best-selling record.
After the season, DiMaggio won his second MVP award, though outfielder Ted Williams of the Red Sox--his only contemporary of equal magnitude--hit .406, the last player to hit above .400. When DiMaggio left for the Army Air Corps, Red Sox Manager Joe Cronin said, "I do believe he is the greatest all-around ballplayer of all time."
Branch Rickey, the architect of the great Brooklyn Dodger teams, echoed Cronin: "In my lifetime I never saw a ballplayer superior to him, and that goes for Ty Cobb and all the other great ones."
And Williams, known more as a great hitter than a stylish player, said, "DiMaggio even looks good striking out."
Which he didn't do often.
One of DiMaggio's least known statistics is probably most telling of his proficiency with the bat.
In seven of his 13 seasons, he had more home runs than strikeouts, including one year, 1941, when he had 30 home runs and only 13 strikeouts. For his career, he had 361 home runs and only 369 strikeouts, almost a 1-1 ratio.
Today, it isn't uncommon for a major league hitter to strike out 100 times or more in a season. DiMaggio never struck out more than 39 times in a season.
During the 56-game hitting streak, in 223 at-bats, he struck out seven times.
No power hitter in baseball history (and possibly no hitter at all) ever achieved more consistent contact with the ball.
DiMaggio's own feeling was that he played the game the way it should be played--hard and efficiently. Asked about his no-nonsense approach, DiMaggio coolly answered: "I'm a ballplayer, not an actor."
But during the 1947 World Series he made a rare public show of emotion to be treasured forever by those in the ballpark and celebrated to this day in World Series highlight films.
The Dodgers' Al Gionfriddo made a spectacular, circus catch of a DiMaggio drive at the wall in left field to end a rally.
No one thought the ball was catchable when DiMaggio made contact. But as the Yankee Clipper looked up while nearing second base and saw Gionfriddo glove the ball, DiMaggio gave a disappointed kick at the infield dirt.
DiMaggio's frustration was captured for all time by broadcaster Red Barber, and the next day it was illustrated in newspaper pictures nationwide.
"I think I was entitled to that one," DiMaggio sheepishly told reporters. Later, he privately said the catch had offended his sense of baseball purism:
"He was playing me wrong. If he hadn't been playing me so shallow it wouldn't have been a tough catch."
Baseball's First $100,000 Player
Like many of his contemporaries, DiMaggio lost three prime years to the service during World War II, serving in the Army Air Corps. Though he came in for some criticism for not seeing combat, DiMaggio was often sick during that period and was hospitalized for ulcers. A different DiMaggio returned to the Yankees after the war, and he put together only one season uninterrupted by injury.
After a disappointing return in 1946--he batted what was then a career-low .290 and the Yankees failed to win the pennant--DiMaggio responded with his third MVP season in 1947, then had his last big season in 1948, leading the American League with 39 home runs and 155 runs batted in.
As befit America's top athlete, that year he became the first player to sign a $100,000 contract.
In 1949 he missed more than half the season after surgery for bone spurs on his right heel. When a photographer snapped his picture at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, the frustrated DiMaggio unleashed a rare verbal outburst.
Later, during his convalescence, he called the reporters together and said: "You guys are driving me batty. Can't you leave me alone? This affects me mentally, you know."
In mid-July DiMaggio made a remarkable comeback, hitting four home runs in a three-game series in Boston. The Yankees surged back into the race, tied Boston on the final day of the season and won a one-game playoff to claim the pennant.
By then DiMaggio knew his career was on the downside. Casey Stengel had taken over as the Yankee manager, and they had a cool relationship. DiMaggio's pride was stung when Stengel tried to shift him to first base--an experiment that lasted one game--and dropped him out of the cleanup spot to the fifth position in the batting order.
DiMaggio grew moodier as he battled more injuries. In his final season, 1951, when he hit .263 and knew it was time to leave, DiMaggio had a big game one day and reporters jokingly asked if he was trying to prove them wrong. DiMaggio responded with feeling, "You're darn right I wanted to make you writers look bad. . . . Some of you guys are the ones who washed me up in 1946. But here I am, five years later. I don't want your pity."