Joe DiMaggio makes his big league debut, recording three hits in the Yankees’ win

Written by: Alex Coffey

Joseph Paul DiMaggio spent his childhood years selling newspapers around the San Francisco Bay area to help support his family. The son of a fisherman, and one of nine children, he had a relentless work ethic and an intense focus toward accomplishing anything he set his mind to.

That focus shifted to baseball during his teenage years, and by the age of 21, newspaper headlines all over the country were beginning to prophesize the next Yankees legend.

“N.Y. Sees Joe, Likes Him” read the Oakland Tribune, “DiMaggio is Star in his Debut” proclaimed the Corpus Christi Times. The rookie couldn’t be confined to one media market. After four seasons in the Pacific Coast League, during which he averaged .325 and a .572 slugging percentage, the whole country wanted to know the story behind the new face of the National Pastime.

On May 3, 1936, he gave the people what they wanted. In his debut at Yankee Stadium against the St. Louis Browns, the “$75,000 rookie” recorded a triple and two singles in six plate appearances, showcasing that consistently sweet swing that fans would come to know and love. He was the only Yankees player to get a hit off of Browns’ relief pitcher Russ Van Atta that day, as New York defeated St. Louis, 14-5.

“He came through like a real money player,” said Yankees manager Joe McCarthy after the game. “He lived up to my expectations. I’m certain Joe will be an important factor in our pennant drive. He’ll certainly take up a lot of slack in our club.”

Take up the slack he did. Joltin’ Joe totaled 206 hits, 125 RBI, a .323 batting average and led all of baseball with 15 triples that season. He fared even better in the postseason, batting .346 in the 1936 World Series, notching nine hits to help lift the Yankees over the New York Giants.

The center fielder was compared to everyone from Tris Speaker to Babe Ruth. But what was almost as remarkable as his natural talent was that he wasn’t affected by the pressure.

“I marveled at Joe’s coolness under fire,” said Yankees teammate Lou Gehrig after DiMaggio’s debut. “He certainly was on the spot today. If I were in his shoes, I know I would have been plenty nervous – and I’m supposed to be very calloused and unemotional. But he came through like a champion. He’s going to be a great help to our club.”

Thirteen seasons later, it was abundantly clear that the hype around DiMaggio’s debut was deserved. He would go on to hit safely in 56 consecutive games, total 51 appearances in World Series games, win the AL MVP in 1939, 1941 and 1947 and average .325 for his career.

"The black-haired quiet lad who came up from the Pacific Coast heralded as the find of a decade,” said the Associated Press. “He has been accepted into baseball's upper crust after a debut that was as impressive as his lavish advance notices."

Alex Coffey was the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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