Pieces of Our Past - Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio Made Memories, Brought Smiles to Faces of Little Leaguers
Joe DiMaggio, Major League Baseball’s fabled slugger and centerfielder for the New York Yankees, spent some time with Little Leaguers. Photographs of DiMaggio and Little League team members are among those in the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum’s collection.
In 1976 when Mr. DiMaggio attended the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pa., he spent some time in the dugout with players from the Far East and the West prior the championship game. The team from Chofu, Tokyo, Japan, defeated the West team from Campbell, Calif., 10-3.
Years earlier, Mr. DiMaggio visited with a team at the Norfolk Naval Air Station Little League in Virginia on the league’s opening day. A photograph of the Kline Chevrolet team documenting the event was donated to the Museum by Capt. (Ret.) Sterling M. Brockwell Jr.
Mr. Brockwell, manager of the Kline team at the Naval Air Station, said his team was the league champion in 1958 and was scheduled to play the opening game of the 1959 season.
Mr. DiMaggio was working as a representative for a company that sold sporting goods to the Navy Exchange and agreed to throw out the first pitch on opening day.
“My players got the thrill of their young lives to take the field behind DiMaggio when he threw out the first pitch to Capt. Harvey Burden, USN, the commanding officer of the station,” Brockwell said.
The team remained in the field and Mr. DiMaggio, “went up to bat against my pitching ace, Mike Oxner, a 12-year-old who had been the league MVP the previous year,” the manager said. Brockwell said the count was 0-2 on DiMaggio before he connected with an Oxner pitch.
“We watched the ball disappear over a warehouse beyond the left field fence,” Mr. Brockwell said. “Mike was greatly disappointed. He had every intention of striking DiMaggio out.”
In the photograph taken by the Naval Air Station photographer, Oxner, No. 14, is standing next to DiMaggio.
Little League’s history with Mr. DiMaggio began a few years earlier, however. In 1942, Carl E. Stotz, the founder of Little League, organized a trip for players to Shibe Park in Philadelphia to see the Philadelphia Athletics and the New York Yankees play. During that game, DiMaggio was in the midst of making a record – at least one hit in 56 consecutive games.
Born in California, Mr. DiMaggio was the son of an Italian immigrant fisherman. He did not like the smell of fish and began a career in baseball when he was 17. He played 13 seasons with the Yankees before retiring in 1951.
“His superlative play on the baseball field enshrined him in the hearts of sports fans everywhere and made him a universal symbol of athletic grace and excellence,” according to his obituary in The Washington Post.
DiMaggio died in March 1999.
In addition to photographs, the Museum currently is displaying a baseball autographed by DiMaggio and his teammates who played against the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1950 Major League World Series. That ball and one autographed by the 1950 Phillies are on loan from James Armstrong. The balls were part of a brief appearance by the 2008 Major League Baseball World Series trophy won by the Phillies.
The World of Little League Peter J. McGovern Museum and Official Store, 525 Route 15 Highway, just south of Williamsport, is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The facility is accessible to the disabled.
Rates are $5 for adults; $3 for those 62 and older; $2 for children between the ages of 5 and 13. There is no fee for children 4 or younger. Group rates and tours are available.
For more information, call the World of Little League museum at (570) 326-3607; or visit www.LittleLeague.org/learn/museum.htm. Friend the Museum on Facebook, at: www.facebook.com/LittleLeagueMuseum or follow on Twitter, at: www.Twitter.com/LittleLeagueMuseum.