This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … Joe DiMaggio.
Yeah, that’s right, DiMadge. The Yankee Clipper. Joltin’ Fucking Joe. I won’t deny that he was a great ballplayer. But his overrated, godlike status is due mainly to the fact that he played in New York, where the Big Apple-centric media and we’re-the-center-of-the-sports-universe fanbase take very good players and turn them into, well, Joe DiMaggios.
Again, I’m not asserting that DiMaggio was just average. He was very good, at times outstanding. His homerun to strikeout ratio is mind-boggling. (361 homers and only 369 strikeouts? Chew on that one, Reggie, Sammy and Junior.) The 56-game hitting streak is still one of the top five most unbreakable records in sports (edged out at no. 4 by “Asshole Moments by Roger Clemens”). He won nine World Series. He lost three prime years to military service. He was a right-handed hitter playing in a park with a left-field deeper than Jenna Jamieson’s twat. Joey D. was a stud.
He just wasn’t as great as many fans and media bozos want to believe. Many of the people that wax hard-on about Dimaggio never even saw him play. Those of us under the age of 70 have seen only the same five or six grainy clips they always show, and I bet most of the old people who get gooey balls over Joey D. never actually saw him play because games were seldom televised in those days. What we know of the man comes mainly from reading a glowing collection of half-truths churned out by the old-time myth-making journalists (fawning hacks), the made-up memories of full of shit fans (unthinking sheep) and an overrated Hemingway book (addled coot) where some stubborn old fisherman repeatedly refers to “the great DiMaggio”.
Of course, Joey D. himself had a lot to do with his elevated status. The P.R. genius would make official appearances only if he were introduced as “America’s Greatest Living Ballplayer.” First of all, what kind of a megalomaniacal, delusional fuckhead do you have to be to insist on that appellation in any field? Secondly, can you imagine how funny that must have sounded to far superior (and far blacker … hmmm) players like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron? Christ, until Mickey Mantle’s liver threw the Mick that final backdoor slider, DiMadge wasn’t even the greatest living Yankee outfielder.
DiMaggio should have called himself the Luckiest Living Ballplayer. He played in the era before pitchers mastered devastating sliders and splitters. He played for some of the greatest teams ever assembled, which meant constant protection in the line-up. He played in an era before almost every pitcher was a six-foot, three-inch, flame-throwing, cornfed behemoth from the heartland who can bring the heat at 96 mph on one pitch and then nip the corner with a 78 mph kneebuckler of a curveball with the next. Dimadge might have seen this type of pitcher once a month. Today’s players see this almost every night. (Or so it seems with the Pittsburgh Pirates.) He even benefited from the Lou Gehrig’s early exit from Earth Central. Had the Iron Horse not been so star-crossed (Dying of a disease with your own name in it? I mean, what are the odds! If I were Mets pitcher Bill Tuberculosis, I’d be a little worried.), even the vain Dimaggio wouldn’t have had the stones to call himself the Greatest Living Yankee, let alone the Greatest Living Ballplayer.
Another mystifying aspect of his legend involves how graceful he was on the ballfield. Who started this bullshit? In the few clips I’ve seen of him running, he looks rather gawky and slow, even for a white guy. He didn’t run; he lumbered. He didn’t lope; he plodded. I also get sick of hearing about how he never showed emotion on the ball field, how he was always in control. As a paying fan, I want to see some goddamn emotion from my stars now and then. I want to see George Brett blow a blood vessel at Yankee Stadium. I want to see Bobby Alomar hock a wad of phlegm in an umpire’s face. I don’t want to see Joey D., after being robbed in the pivotal play of a World Series, give just a “Boy, that was vexing” kick of the dirt near second base. (You know, like in one of those same six clips they always show.)
He also gets way too much credit for banging Marilyn Monroe, a used up, not-that-attractive, perpetually sedated casting couch wench who couldn’t act her way out of third period gym class with a fake sore throat. I’m supposed to think that Joey D. is a stud because he managed to be the 547th person to cop some of that used up Norma Jean snatch? Christ, the line to bang that empty-headed ditz was Katrina-like in length, and probably just as haggard-looking. I’ve read that the jealous, insecure prick treated her like shit. Way to be a real man, Mr. Gentleman Ballplayer. Christ, if it turns out that A-Rod really was banging a 50-year-old Madonna, we’d almost feel sorry for him, not laud him for bagging a pop has-been. Yet Joey D. is celebrity cocksman supreme for marrying a never-was.
I’ve read he was a rather aloof teammate, too. Mickey Mantle’s plaque in Yankee Stadium calls him “A Great Teammate.” There might not be a greater compliment for a superstar. But the pathetically insecure DiMaggio treated The Mick like shit when Mantle first arrived, fearing that the new Yankee stud was going to usurp St. Joe’s position as God of Yankeedom and All of Baseball. The surly, ungracious prick barely spoke to the affable rube.
Maybe I’m just a bitter Yankee hater looking for another reason to bash an obnoxious franchise, which creates phony legends and garners undeserved Hall of Fame consideration for above average ballplayers. (See: O’Neill, Paul … Mattingly, Don … etc.)
And while statistics don’t tell the whole story about a player’s value, they are useful when the discussion turns to the best of the best, which is what many will have us believe Dimaggio was. The great Baseball-Reference.com gives the lifetime stats of every player in Major League history. At the bottom of each player’s page, they provide a list of players who had similar lifetime statistics. On Joey D’s list, you won’t find players like Barry Bonds, Frank Robinson or Stan Musial. You’ll find the likes of Chipper Jones, Earl Averill and even Moises Alou. (Who, by the way, does show fire on a ballfield … just ask Steve Bartman.) Solid, above average ballplayers all, but not a one of whom has the balls to declare himself the Greatest Living Ballplayer.
Christ, even Ellis Burks made the list. Yes, Ellis Burks, a charter member of the Didn’t He Play for, Like, 13 Different Teams club. But no one gets misty-eyed talking about his grace, and he doesn’t have any cool nicknames, and blowhards like Bob Costas and Billy Crystal never repeat the same archived stories about him time after time after time. But I bet ol’ Ellis Burks is happy as shit with the way his career turned out, save for that elusive World Series ring. He’ll never have Joey D’s overly exalted status in the baseball world, but I bet he still goes to bed content every night. Because, even though I have no idea what she looks like, I guarantee that Mrs. Burks is a hotter piece of ass than Marilyn Monroe.
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.