Seventy-five years ago marked a landmark season in baseball history. 1936 was the rookie year of none other then New York Yankee outfielder Joe DiMaggio.
There was no Rookie of the Year Award then. It would be 11 years before Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman Jackie Robinson would win the first in 1947. And 13 years before the first American League Rookie of the Year Award was won by St. Louis Browns outfielder Roy Sievers. But if there had been an award for freshman there is a good chance DiMaggio would have won it.
In one of the great moves in baseball history DiMaggio was purchased from San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League for $25,000 and several minor league players in 1934. The Yankees expected great things from DiMaggio from the beginning. The team issued him uniform number five, because he was considered the next in line behind Babe Ruth who wore three and Gehrig who wore four. He would not disappoint as over a 12 year career that was interrupted by military service from 1943 to 1946 he would lead them to 10 World Series winning nine.
In 1936 the 22 year old joined a Yankee lineup that was one of the best in baseball history. Lou Gehrig was at first base, Tony Lazzeri at second base, Bill Dickey at catcher and George Selkirk in right field. Gehrig would lead the American League in home runs with 49.
If DiMaggio was intimidated by this group he didn’t show it. Playing in 138 games, he batted .323 with 29 home runs and 125 runs batted in. He finished third in triples with 15 and fifth in total bases with 367. On defense, he quickly began to earn his place in baseball history as one of the best outfielders ever by leading the league in assists with 22.
With the help of DiMaggio, New York won 102 games and ran away with the American League pennant as the Detroit Tigers finished a distant 19 and a half games back. The only thing left for him to prove was that he could handle World Series pressure. DiMaggio more than held his own as he batted .346 with three doubles, three runs scored and three RBI. His nine hits in the Series were second most on the team.
And 75 years ago when it was over Joltin’ Joe left them talking all winter about one of the greatest rookie seasons in baseball history.