Joe DiMaggio, one of greatest baseball players of all time, sets record for hitting safely in 56 consecutive games.

Decades after his career ended the DiMaggio name continued to be magic. Arguably the greatest player of his time Joseph Paul DiMaggio (1914-1999) was born one of nine children in Martinez, California, the son of parents who migrated from Isola delle Femmine, Sicily in 1902. His father and some of his brothers were fishermen, part of thousands of transplanted Sicilians who fished for a living. Much to the consternation of his father, Joe, like many of his ethnic ilk in the San Francisco milieu of the era, eschewed fishing to play baseball. Beginning in 1933 with the New York Yankee minor league franchise, the San Francisco Seals, he instantly excelled in batting, fielding, and base running, all with impeccable style that would become his trademark. The Pacific Coast League's greatest player ever because of a 61 game hitting streak, he joined the Yankees in 1936, where he was heralded as the most anticipated major league rookie since Ty Cobb, and rapidly became a star player and worthy successor to immortals Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

Joe was an instant hero to New York's Italian Americans --the largest in the nation -many of whom traveled for miles to see him play. "Subway guards as far away as Coney Island were accosted by recent immigrants who wanted to know 'Which way da Yankee Stadium?' When DiMaggio made a hit, huge Italian flags, smuggled into the bleachers by his admirers, were unfurled and shaken." A stellar batting average in his first three years set the stage for winning three Most Valuable Player awards. 1941 saw Joe re-write baseball history by hitting safely in 56 straight games --arguably baseball's greatest feat. Joe's eminent talent, moreover, was matched by peerless grace, gentlemanly demeanor, and admirable dignity --legendary attributes whose relative absence in contemporary sports is lamented. Entering the Army in the Second World War, Joe resumed his baseball career after the war enjoying a superb season in 1948, finally ending his playing days in 1951.

Although Joe was an especially private individual, his sports exploits and marriages were bound to thrust him into the limelight. This was especially the case after his first marriage ended in divorce and his short-lived marriage to legendary movie star Marilyn Monroe. He continued to remain in the public eye in baseball as a batting coach for the Yankees, as vice-president of the Oakland Athletics, and through his many commercials. The esteem with which he was regarded is evident by a 1969 White House award when he was named the Greatest Living Baseball Player.

At the top of his game, he also became a folk hero and won the esteem of baseball colleagues who regarded him as the "yardstick of success." These winning attributes were significant for Italian Americans affronted by decades of being held in low esteem as superstitious, ignorant, buffoons, or gangsters. First generation Italian Americans, although ignorant of the baseball, nevertheless, boasted of DiMaggio as one whose intrepid performance on the field contradicted prevailing stereotypes and brought them pride. Even more meaningful to the second generation in the teeming cities, DiMaggio was one with whom they identify -one that commanded respect and validated their own Americanism. He was their undisputed hero. DiMaggio was of course, not the only Italian American to excel in the sport; one can cite among many others, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Sal Maglie, Carl Furillo, Joe Torre, Jason Giambi, and Mike Piazza.

DiMaggio throws out the first ball of the 1993 Italian baseball season in Rome

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