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On This Day In History | 1955

Dec. 1941 | DiMaggio and his signature bat (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress)

Dec. 1941 | DiMaggio and his signature bat (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress)

On this day 58 years ago the immortal Joe DiMaggio was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America.  Incredibly, after a career in which he slugged 361 home runs, batted .325, won 3 MVPs, and recorded a 56-game hitting streak, the Yankee Clipper was enshrined in his third year of eligibility.  His deferment can be partially explained by the fact that during the early fifties there was such a bottleneck of greats that even transcendent players like DiMaggio had to wait their turn.  For example, the 1950 ballot famously included Mel Ott, Bill Terry, Jimmie Foxx, Paul Waner, Al Simmons, Harry Heilmann, Dizzy Dean, and Bill Dickey, yet that year Cooperstown opened its doors to no one.

In 1953, DiMaggio’s first eligible year, he received just 44.32% of the required 75% vote for admission.  In 1954 he received 69.44% of the vote, but Rabbit Maranville, Bill Dickey, and Bill Terry were the only ones elected.  Now, before we storm the ivy-covered walls of Cooperstown over DiMaggio’s snubs, the Hall enacted a special “DiMaggio Rule” in 1954, the same year they installed the 5-year waiting period before retired players could be eligible.  Out of respect for the Clipper, they allowed him to remain on the 1955 ballot while his contemporaries had to wait the requisite five years.  He was admitted on the 1955 ballot, becoming the only player from the 1950s to also be enshrined in the 1950s.  Here is the 1955 ballot:

  1. Joe DiMaggio | 88.84%
  2. Ted Lyons | 86.45%
  3. Dazzy Vance | 81.67%
  4. Gabby Hartnett | 77.69%
  5. Hank Greenberg | 62.55%
  6. Joe Cronin | 53.78%

DiMaggio found out about his greatest honor in an unceremonious way.  While entering the Bronx on a return trip from Boston, a truck driver beside DiMaggio yelled out, “Congratulations,” and added something about the Hall of Fame.  As DiMaggio remembered, “I didn’t know what to believe, so I turned on my car radio and sure enough, it was true.”

He was enshrined on July 25, 1955 in front of the biggest crowd since 1939.  In his induction speech Joltin’ Joe famously said, “Now I’ve had everything except for the thrill of watching Babe Ruth play.”  The humbled hero added, “I’m proud indeed to be put alongside Lou, Bill Dickey, my other old teammates, and those other great players of my time and before.”

The Milwaukee Journal recounted the day in an article on July 26, 1955:

Joe DiMaggio stole the spotlight here Monday when he and five other former baseball stars were inducted into the Hall of Fame.  The former New York Yankee outfielder received a long ovation when he was introduced by baseball commissioner Ford Frick.

“This is a happy day for me,” DiMaggio said after he was presented a replica of the plaque which will hang in the Hall of Fame.  DiMaggio, 40, told the crowd he had tried to pattern himself after the late Lou Gehrig.

“I watched every move Lou made on and off the field,” Joe said.  “Also I’d like to thank Joe McCarthy, my first manager, for the early training he gave me.”

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