Any player/Any era: Joe DiMaggio

What he did: In 13 seasons between 1936 and 1951, all with the New York Yankees, the Hall of Fame centerfielder hit .325 with 361 home runs and three American League Most Valuable Player awards. Had DiMaggio not lost three prime years to World War II, battled injuries, or retired at 36, he may have had 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. Regardless, he’s an all-time great.

Era he might have thrived in: DiMaggio probably would have thrived playing whenever. In fact, he may have been good enough to succeed where few did: Candlestick Park in the 1970s and ’80s, with his hometown San Francisco Giants.

Why: I was motivated to write this column after the Giants clinched their first World Series since 1954. A reader recently sent me an email with the header, “Joe DiMaggio Lucky to be a Brownie,” suggesting DiMaggio could have raked on some abominable, but good-hitting St. Louis Browns teams of the 1930s and ’40s. I agree DiMaggio could have boosted his lifetime numbers playing for bottom-barrel clubs in St. Louis. In San Francisco, though, he may have helped toward a greater good.

I’m preparing something for Friday on players and personnel affiliated with the Giants near-miss clubs over the years, and on Wednesday, I talked to Hank Greenwald who broadcast for San Francisco from 1979 through 1986 and again from 1989 through 1996. I asked Greenwald what kept the Giants from a championship, and he suggested Candlestick, saying the park factors cost the team a few wins a season.

With its fierce winds, persistent chills, and vast confines, Candlestick surely got the best of most Giants hitters with few exceptions. Essentially, from Willie Mays’ departure in 1972 to Will Clark’s arrival in 1986, Candlestick was the place would-be successors went to die. DiMaggio might have been the bridge. I ran some conversions, and if DiMaggio played his entire career in San Francisco, say 1975 through 1990, it would have been fairly similar in trajectory and lifetime numbers to Jim Rice, another star who struggled with injuries and retired at 36.

Here’s a chart with DiMaggio’s converted numbers and Rice’s actual stats:

DiMaggio 8091 1415 2423 426 142 399 1569 34 869 447 .299
Rice 8225 1249 2452 373 79 382 1451 58 670 1423 .298

Since the Baseball Writers Association of America inducted Rice on his fifteenth try, I’m guessing DiMaggio would make it sooner. He wouldn’t be a first-ballot pick, but then, he wasn’t in real life.

On a side note, I gave DiMaggio credit for the 1943-45 seasons he lost playing in World War II and used those for his 1982-84 years with the Giants. I took DiMaggio’s 162-game averages if he’d played every year of his career on the 1982, 1983, and 1984 Giants and then converted the stats to 117-game seasons, the average number of contests DiMaggio got in during his actual career. My method isn’t perfect, I realize, but it gives a general idea of how DiMaggio may have fared and what those years may have added to his lifetime totals.

The big winner here is the Giants, who get good work from DiMaggio at the right times (plus excellence at plenty of rotten times– his 1941 season converts to 28 home runs, 108 RBI and a .330 batting average for the 75-86 1980 Giants.) DiMaggio’s 1948 season, which I used for San Francisco’s 1987 NLCS club would equal 39 home runs, 150 RBI and a .309 batting average, good perhaps for a Giants’ championship and a DiMaggio MVP. He’d decline in 1988, along with his team, but rebound in 1989; his 1950 season converts to 29 home runs, 100 RBI, and a .271 batting average. Clark and Kevin Mitchell would be the bigger stars by then but it would be a great final year in the sun for DiMaggio, perhaps enough for the Giants to beat the A’s in the Battle of the Bay.

DiMaggio’s numbers drop again in San Francisco for his possible final season, 1990, but in this era, he might capitalize on his ’89 season and go to the American League as a free agent to DH another few years. Perhaps DiMaggio would get 3,000 hits and close to 500 home runs. DiMaggio might not have the reputation he still enjoys, even in death, but he’d be a player worth celebrating– perhaps more so.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Albert PujolsBarry Bonds, Bob CaruthersDom DiMaggioFritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon KillebrewHome Run Baker, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Nate ColbertPete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe JacksonThe Meusel BrothersTy Cobb

4 Replies to “Any player/Any era: Joe DiMaggio”

  1. Very interesting. In effect, he becomes kinda, sorta, an upscale Jack Clark, during his Giant tenure but with more sustained consistency and fewer injuries.

  2. Joe DiMaggio’s would-be 1980 season that you mention would replace Bill North’s actual 1980 season. As the Giants’ regular centerfielder in ’80, North batted .251 and hit 1 HR in 128 games. In the 16 seasons from 1975 to 1990, the Giants had eight different seasonal leaders in games played in centerfield, so if nothing else DiMaggio would have lent stability at a key position in the lineup. Of course, Joe D’s batting would have been a consistent upgrade in average and power compared to those other CFs, as only Von Joshua (1975), Dan Gladden (‘84), and Brett Butler (’90) had seasons batting greater than .300, and only Chili Davis (’82, ’83, and ’87) hit more than 10 home runs in a season.

  3. I would have loved to see Dimaggio in a small park like Ebbets or Wrigley Field. Joe D. had great power considering where he played. He many have had some amazing homerun season in any post deadball era in a better ball park.

    The most amazing thing about Joe D. aside from his many, many skills is his sheer home run to strike out ratio. He had more home runs than strike outs in 7 of his 13 years in baseball. That has never happened with a power hitter before or since. I think that is the most amazing hitting stat in baseball– a power hitter who stikes out less times than he hits home runs, amazing!

    Not even Ted Williams could come close to that mark in a much longer career. Ted Williams accomplished that feat in only 3 of his 19 years, and in one case it was the year he’d been in Korea and had played in only 37 games.

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