On the first Joe DiMaggio Day, in 1949, DiMaggio thanked God for
making him a Yankee. Yesterday, the Yankees paid the highest earthly
compliment they could to their late legend, dedicating a monument to
DiMaggio, who died March 8 at 84 of complications from lung cancer
DiMaggio's likeness will grace Monument Park at Yankee Stadium just as
he graced its centerfield for 13 seasons. The Yankee Clipper joins Babe
immortalized in this fashion. Former manager Miller Huggins also has a
monument, and 17 other players, managers and team officials have
plaques. One former Yankee who has a plaque - but not a monument -
thinks that's the way it should be.
"I was a good player," said Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford, "but I
wasn't a Joe DiMaggio or Mickey or a Babe Ruth."
Ford was one of six teammates on hand from DiMaggio's final season
(1951). The pregame ceremony opened with the introduction of five former
Yankees who played in DiMaggio's last game, the sixth game of the 1951
World Series: Jerry Coleman, Gil McDougald, Hank Bauer, Phil Rizzuto and
Yogi Berra. The 51,903 on hand for the Yankees' 4-3, 11-inning win over
the Toronto Blue Jays saved their biggest non-DiMaggio ovation for
Berra, who returned to the Yankee Stadium field for the second time
since the end of his longtime feud with owner George Steinbrenner. Berra
missed the most recent Joe DiMaggio Day, last Sept. 27, when DiMaggio
made his final appearance at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees had hoped DiMaggio would throw out the first ball at Game
1 of last season's World Series, but his illness did not allow that. An
entire generation knows DiMaggio from those appearances, the game's
"Greatest Living Player" coming out of the first-base dugout in a suit
and tie, slightly stooped, waving both arms, never showing much emotion,
a most private public figure. The DiMaggio mystique was discussed much
after his death, and it was a topic again yesterday for teammates from
nearly 50 years ago as well as admiring Yankees of today.
"I thought he was God," said Bauer, the 77-year-old former
rightfielder. "He was the greatest ballplayer, to me, that I ever saw in
Yankee Stadium. I never saw Ruth or Gehrig, but I saw Joe. If you made a
mental mistake he'd just look at you and you got the message. We
respected him very highly."
"There's more of a mystery to Joe DiMaggio than other players,"
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "I think everyone puts him on kind
of a pedestal. You have to."
Perhaps the greatest evidence of that was the presence of songwriter
Paul Simon in centerfield yesterday, singing his 1968 song "Mrs.
Robinson," with the famous lyrics that also stand as a monument to
DiMaggio. The crowd cheered when Simon, playing his guitar on a patch
of grass halfway between second base and the 408-foot sign on the
centerfield wall, sang his famous lines:
"Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Joltin' Joe has left and gone away."
Simon's song was followed by a four-minute video tribute as the
Yankees and Blue Jays lined up on the baselines. Then, at 1:55 p.m., the
monument was unveiled when a white cover with a Yankee logo was removed
by DiMaggio's granddaughters, Kathie DiMaggio Stein and Paula DiMaggio
"Joseph Paul DiMaggio," it begins, "The Yankee Clipper, 1914-1999."
And later: "A baseball legend and an American icon. He has passed, but
he will never leave us."