Daily News rewind: Joe DiMaggio announces retirement in 1951

Exported.;Morgan, Fred The Yankee bench clears to greet veteran center fielder Joe DiMaggio after a home run in Game 4 of the 1951 World Series. The series against the New York Giants would be DiMaggio’s last.

(Originally published by the Daily News on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 1951; written by Dick Young)

The magnificent playing career of Joe DiMaggio is dead – killed two years before its natural time by night baseball. In officially announcing his retirement yesterday, the immortal Yankee Clipper flatly accused the increase of arc contests, with its resultant scrambling of a ballplayer’s living routine, as being responsible for the curtailment of his active career, “and that of other players.”

The 37-year-old outfielder, who plans to remain with the Yankee organization as a TV broadcaster, said: “I honestly believe night ball cut short my days by about two years. You don’t get to bed until two in the morning, or so, and wake up at 10. I found that wasn’t enough rest to get the aches and pains out of my system. I’d go to the park for an afternoon game the next day, and sometimes I wouldn’t wake up till the fifth or sixth inning.

IT SHOULD BE one way or the other; either all night ball or all days, so that a player can live normally. Maybe it doesn’t affect the young fellows that way, but there’s no question in my mind that it does at my age.”

DiMag was talking to a large assemblage of newsmen at the Yankee midtown offices. His retirement, after 13 seasons as a Yankee (with a three year break as a GI from 1943 through ’45), took on the appearance of a mob scene from Quo Vadis. Every hall and room of the Yankee suite buzzed with activity – flood lights for newsreel and TV cameras, still photogs and mere questions popping reporters.

THROUGH IT ALL , DiMag conducted himself with splendid poise. He was a striking figure of a man, dressed in a double-breasted grey sharkskin, and smiling pleasantly as reporters shot the questions at him.

No, he would not reconsider – ever. “I have always said, when I make the statement that I’m retiring, it will stick.”

He first considered retiring last Spring, he recalled, when he said that 1951 would be his last season.

“I never wavered in my decision,” Joe said, adding that he would have quit even if he had hit .350 last season instead of .263.

DAN TOPPING , Yankee prexy, and Del Webb, vice-president, had tried to dissuade Joe when, immediately after the World Series, he notified them of his intentions. Topping asked Joe to think it over during his barnstorming trip through Korea and Japan, hopeful that DiMag would reconsider. Joe agreed, but his decision remained unchanged.

“Until yesterday,” Webb told DiMag, “we had still hoped you would stay. But, since you didn’t change your mind, it’s a sad day, not only for the Yankees, but for all baseball as well.”

What were his immediate plans?

I HAVE SEVERAL offers – all in the same field: radio and television. I think I’m going to be around in the organization.”

At this point, lest it be construed that the offer of the Yankee TV job, formerly held by Dizzy Dean, had hastened his decision to retire, Joe added: “I want to make it clear that nothing or no one influenced me in my decision to retire. It is entirely my own doing.”

What was the major determining factor in his decision?

“INJURIES,” JOE replied quickly. “The old ones were catching up with me, and I’ve had some new ones. Mainly, it was my shoulders.” He touched his hand first to his right collarbone, then to the left saying: “It pained me right here, when I’d swing and when I’d throw. I’ve been having trouble with my right shoulder ever since 1939. In the last three years, I’d get off one or two good throws early in the game, and then I’d have nothing left. They knew it, and they were running on me. I threw a lot of them out, but a lot more of them made it.”

Joe also cited trouble with his right knee. “When I’d go down for a ground ball,” he said, “it would take me a trifle longer to straighten up and get the throw off, because the knee would stiffen.” Asked about his heel, which developed the famous calcium spur that necessitated surgery two years ago, Joe said, “No, the heels are fine. It’s the knee and shoulders that did it.”

Joe added that, “if I can’t do it right, I don’t want to play any longer.”

THIS WAS the sentiment expressed in a mimeographed statement distributed to the press prior to the personal interviewing. The formal statement read: “I feel that I have reached the stage where I can no longer produce for my ball club, my manager, my teammates and my fans the sort of baseball their loyalty to me deserves.”

The statement went on to say that “when baseball is no longer fun to play, it’s no longer a game,” and closed with:

“I WOULD LIKE to say that I feel I have been unusually privileged to play all my major league baseball for the Yankees. But it has been an even greater privilege to be able to play baseball at all. It has added much to my life. What I will remember most in days to come will be the great loyalty of the fans. They have been very good to me.”

During the course of discussing his future, DiMag was asked if he might “loaf for a year?”

“I’VE THOUGHT of that, too,” he said with a broad smile, “but I’m afraid I’m in no position to loaf.” This from a man who has earned an estimated $700,000 in salary and World Series slices.

Joe nominated Mel Harder, former Cleveland hurler, as the toughest pitcher he ever faced, and said that Ted Williams is “without a double” the best hitter he has seen.

As for his own reminiscences, DiMag singled out three high spots as his favorites:

(1) “THE DAY I returned to the line-up in Boston after missing the first 65 games of the season.” (Note: June 28, 1949, DiMag blasted a homer and single off Maury McDermott as Yanks beat Bosox, 5-4. Next day, he hit homers off Ellis Kinder and Earl Johnson as Yanks won, 9-7. Third day, he hit homer off Mel Parnell with two on, giving Yanks 6-3 win and sweep of the series.)

(2) “For a long span, I’d have to go with the 56-game hitting streak.” (Note: Hit safely in 56 consecutive games, May 15 through July 16, 1941, before being stopped by Jim Bagby and Al Smith of Cleveland.)

(3) “MY BEST FIELDING play, I’d say, was the catch I made on Hank Greenberg at Yankee Stadium; it was either in 1938 or ’39. There was a man on first, Averill. Greenberg hit to the flagpole, and as I took off for the ball, all I had in mind was to chase it down and try to hold him to a triple. I ran to the flagpole, a few steps in front of the sign that says 461 feet, threw up my hand, and there it was.

“I was so stunned, I thought there was three out, but there were only two, ran toward the dugout, and was halfway to second base when I woke up. By the time Averill, who had gone halfway to third base, got back to first.” Joe grinned and added, “So, the best catch I ever made, turned out to be a beauty of a [boner].

THERE WEREN’T many [boners]spotted through the career of the great ballplayer who came up to the Yankees as a 21-year-old “gamble” in 1936. Many other big league clubs had turned down the hard-batting kid from San Francisco because it was no secret to the industry that he had a “chronic” knee condition.

However, the Yankees, on the recommendation of two scouts, Bill Essick and Joe Devine, both of whom died recently, had DiMag examined by a Coast physician, who pronounced him sound. Prexy Ed Barrow then paid $25,000 and five ballplayers that never amounted to anything, and the Yankee destiny for the next generation was set.

JOE’S TREMENDOUS influence on the Yanks is reflected by the fact that, during his 13 seasons with them, the club won 10 pennants. He was named the AL’s Most Valuable Player three times – 1939, ’41 and ’47, and was picked for every All-Star Game during his career, although he did not play in the ’46 and ’51 games due to injury.

His batting achievements include a lifetime average of .325 and 361 homers, but figures alone cannot reflect the true worth of DiMag as a ballplayer. There have been few men in the history of the game who possessed the rhythmic grace and sure hands of DiMag in pursuit of a fly ball. And, despite the fact that he stole few bases, Joe is rated among the finest base-runners the game has known.

Perhaps Casey Stengel said it best yesterday when in tribute to DiMag’s greatness, he called Joe a “silent leader.” Stengel managed DiMag the past three years only, years in which the tremendous talents of the man were fading steadily, but Casey still called him “the greatest player I’ve ever managed.”

STENGEL, UNDER questioning, revealed that Mickey Mantle will get “first crack” at the center field job in Spring training.

“Whether the kid can do it or not, I don’t know,” said Casey. “He has speed, a good throwing arm, and he hits both ways, so he can be in there every day. But he’s very green. Remember, he has played only one year in the outfield.”

The name of Ted Williams was brought up, not as a potential center fielder, but as a possible trading target to supply the Yankees with the drawing card they lose in DiMag.

“I CERTAINLY won’t break up this club to get any player,” Stengel said. “Boston never offered me Williams, and I can’t go around talking about another club’s ball-players, but I know that in order to get a man like that you’d have to give up five or six of your own players. I’d weaken my team too much, so I’m not interested in that kind of deal.”

Stengel was asked about the rumor that he might be interested in Dom DiMaggio. There’s only one DiMaggio, Stengel observed, and that’s the one he’s losing.


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