Happy Birthday Joe DiMaggio

During the summer of 1941, Joe DiMaggio established the benchmark for hitting streaks when he achieved the most treasured – and, arguably, unreachable – record in baseball history.  The same year that Ted Williams hit .406 for the Red Sox, DiMaggio compiled a 56-game hitting streak for the Yankees, shattering Wee Willie Keeler’s record of 44 games in 1897.  DiMaggio became a national hero, the successor to Babe Ruth in  the minds of Yankee fans.

From May 15 – July 17, DiMaggio batted .408, blasted 15 homers and drove in 55 runs.  On July 19, the day after Indians pitchers Al Smith and Jim Bagby Jr. held DiMaggio hitless, the Yankee Clipper started a 16-game hitting streak.  All told, DiMaggio hit safely in an unfathomable 72 of 73 games.

How remarkable was DiMaggio’s hitting prowess? In the past 70 years, only three players – Pete Rose (44 games), Paul Molitor (39) and Jimmy Rollins (38) – have come within 20 games of DiMaggio’s seemingly untouchable record.  There isn’t an active player in baseball whose two longest streaks, over an entire career, add up to 56 games

DiMaggio’s reputation and hitting exploits were established well before the magical 1941 season.   In 1933, the 19-year-old DiMaggio, in his first season with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific League, established the minor league record with a 61-game hitting streak, shattering the previous mark of 49 set by Jack Ness in 1914.  DiMaggio  finished his first professional season with the  Seals batting .340 with 28 homers and a staggering 169 RBI.  DiMaggio’s older brother Vice and younger brother Dominic also played for the Seals.

Like his hitting streaks, DiMaggio’s baseball cards are in a class of their own.  The first set to feature DiMaggio as a professional was the 1933-36 Zeenut Baseball Series.  Short on fact checkers and editors, the candy manufactures spelled the DiMaggio brothers surname as “De Maggio”  as did most West Coast newspapers chronicling Joe’s teenage exploits.

The Zeenut Series sporJDts two DiMaggio action photos, one batting and the other throwing.  The originals measure just 1 ¾” x 3 ½” with perforated coupons at the bottom.  The expiration dated on the coupons help determine the approximate year the series was released since no information was included on the cards.  Cards with the coupon are extremely rare.  A fully intact Dimaggio 1933-1936 Zeenut Baseball card graded PSA EX-5 has sold in excess of $33,000.

Another rare and highly coveted DiMaggio card is the 1937 V300 O-Pee-Chee, the key card from an extremely limited Canadian set distributed only in Canada. With our neighbors north of the border focused on hockey, few collectors or sports fans bothered to preserve the DiMaggio card and other cards from the series.  The black and white photo card is one of a few featuring DiMaggio’s early seasons with the Yankees.

High-graded cards from this set are extremely difficult to find.  Only three examples have been graded EX-MT 6 by PSA, the last one selling for over $5,200.  PSA NM-MT 8 versions have sold for as much as $15,000.  The O-Pee-Chee card is designed with a die-cut background that can be punched out and folded back, allowing each card to stand up.  Because of this unique design, most V300 cards are found in poor condition, often with the die-cut backgrounds entirely missing.

Printed in both English and French, the card back – boasting sharp, bold legible text – informs baseball fans that DiMaggio “will make up for some of the color lost when Babe Ruth retired.”

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