Your Eminence John Cardinal O'Connor, the DiMaggio family and close friends,
George Steinbrenner, principal owner of the New York Yankees, Dr. Bobby Brown,
Dr. Kissinger, all the Yankee teammates who are here, particularly Yogi Berra,
Phil Rizzuto, and all of those who knew Joe DiMaggio and the many more who admired
I'm sure all of us here can remember the first time we went to a baseball field to see our first professional game.
For a young boy from Brooklyn, I remember it like it was yesterday. My father took me all the way from Brooklyn to Yankee stadium, to watch the Yankees play the Red Sox. Joe DiMaggio was playing center field for the Yankees, and his brother Dominick was playing centerfield for the Red Sox. They hit singles to each other. I found it very odd that brothers would be on different teams. Since then I've been to many, many baseball games, too numerous to really count, but I know I will never see a more graceful ball player, or a greater leader of his team, than Joe DiMaggio was.
For as long as baseball is played - whether it's in the grand new retractable domes, the sand lots of Brooklyn, or on the little league fields that now adorn our nation, and all the world now- Joe DiMaggio will always be remembered for what Dr. Bobby Brown so eloquently described as his high standard of excellence. Young boy baseball players, with the skill and pace to make difficult plays look easy, will be compared to Joe DiMaggio. "There's another Joe DiMaggio," they'll say. But for those of us who saw Joe DiMaggio play, who were luck enough to see him play, we know there will never be another Joe DiMaggio. As professional ballplayers hitting streaks reach, 30 and 40 games, DiMaggio's streak of 56 in 1941, will be remembered again. Probably those ball players will fall short before they hit 50. And if perchance they should ever equal 56 - and I doubt it - then they had better hit in another 16 games in a row right after that, if they want to equal DiMaggio's consistency. If they want to measure themselves by the highest standards of their profession, which are the standards set by Joe DiMaggio.
361-life time homeruns and 1,537 runs batted-in which becomes even more impressive
when you consider he struck out only 369 times. Joe DiMaggio combined power
with tremendous discipline.
And we should remember that those impressive numbers are even more impressive since Joe DiMaggio lost probably the three most productive years of his career to fight for his country in the Second World War.
But the greatness of DiMaggio's gifts was team leadership. 9 World Series Championships and 10 American League Championships in just 13 years of play. There is something he added beyond his own ability that made, required others to reach for his standard of excellence.
I believe that it was described best to me a few years ago when I heard his teammate Phil Rizzuto tell a story to a group of people at a dinner and it's always described to me what special athletic leadership is all about like a Bill Russell or maybe some of the other sports legends. Phil said that even when the Yankees were losing by 8 runs in the 8th inning, when he ran out to short stop in the bottom of the 9th inning, and he looked to centerfield and saw DiMaggio standing there and say to himself - "we're going to win". It was the special ability to lead by example.
But off the field Joe DiMaggio set a standard of excellence that was even greater than the standard of excellence he set upon the field.
He was always a gentleman. He always had a very special style, class and dignity. He was always acutely aware of the responsibilities that had been thrust upon him by becoming the great sports figure and ultimately the great figure that he was.
Joe DiMaggio was a powerful figure to Italian-Americans at a time when discrimination was still commonplace for them. And in his success on the baseball field, and in the way he carried himself, he became a symbol for them as to how they could progress and how they could act.
I can't tell you what Joe DiMaggio meant to Italian-American families in the 1940's, as the nation of their background and heritage was at war with the nation of their choice and their home, America. Americans of Italian origin during that difficult time had Joe DiMaggio to look up to, to give them pride and to reaffirm through his actions and theirs, their allegiance to this great nation, America, which after all, gave him the opportunity for such great success and could give them the same thing.
But beyond his own community, Joe DiMaggio transcended. He played his entire career as a Yankee and as a New York Yankee. He helped to create and build the pride of the Yankees and he helped to create and build the unique spirit of New York City.
Of course, Joe DiMaggio ultimately transcended even the Yankees and New York City. He became the symbol ultimately not of a specific team or city or place, but of what we perceive to be a simpler America.
Paul Simon wrote toward the end of the tumultuous 1960s, "where have you
gone Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you
The New England poet Donald Hall, a Red Sox fan, once said "Joe DiMaggio batting . . . sometimes gave the impression that the old rules and dimensions of baseball no longer applied to him and that the game at last had grown unfairly easy."
The greats often make things look easy. But of course, the struggle is constant. DiMaggio, especially in his later career, would play through great pain. A friend once asked him why he continued to play so hard, and Joe DiMaggio replied, "There might be somebody out there who's never seen me play."
Too often we wait until occasions like this, when our heroes have passed away to express our love and appreciation for their efforts.
I'm proud that the Yankees as a team and New York as a city showed its admiration for Joe DiMaggio in many ways over his lifetime.
Just like I will always remember the first time I saw Joe DiMaggio, in the bright sunlight of center field at Yankee Stadium, I will always remember the last time I saw him, at last years Old Timers Day. I remember the tremendous applause that demonstrated once again the love that the people of the City, the Yankee fans and all of us had for Joe DiMaggio. I remember the dignity of that day and every day - that was shown to Joe DiMaggio by George Steinbrenner and the Yankees. And I remember - as my last memory - Joe explaining as I sat next to him on a stoop, like a little boy, how he had convinced the Yankees in the late 1940's to trade with the Cleveland Indians to obtain Allie Reynolds rather than another pitcher, because he had a more difficult time hitting Reynolds than other players on that team. And then he said to me, just think of what that pitching staff- Reynolds, Raschi, Lopat and then a young Whitey Ford. They were able to carry 5 World Series Championships in a row even through the transition. The transition meant when Joe DiMaggio left the Yankees.
To a kid who grew up in Brooklyn, as a Yankee fan, that was a bigger dream come true than even becoming Mayor of New York City.
The man who was called the greatest living ballplayer will live forever in the hearts and minds of all New Yorkers. He graced our city with 9 World Championships, but more important than that, he graced our city with a style and a dignity and a class that made New York City better than it actually is.
I believe today that we all know the answer to the question "Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio" "You've gone home."
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