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Joe DiMaggio
by Asher B. Chancey, Baseball Evolution
March 11, 2006

Tony - Im not sure which one of you did the Yankees page for "team pages" but, why in the world do you think DiMaggio is overrated?

Asher - At the outset, just to make sure you realize that we here at BaseballEvolution.com do not lack perspective, I would like to say that Joe DiMaggio was, in fact, a great player. Just an amazing hitter, great fielder, terrific. He never struck, setting a career high for Ks with 39 in his rookie year. He hit homers, he hit for average, and he produced runs. Nevertheless, Joe D. was in fact quite overrated.

Our claim that Joe DiMaggio is the most overrated Yankee of all time stems from two things his title as "the greatest living ballplayer," and the perception that he was better than Ted Williams. But there is more to it than that.

In his later years, DiMaggio was known as "the greatest living ballplayer." This despite the fact that no fewer than ten players who were actually better than him were still alive, including Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds . . .

The comparison to Ted Williams is where the "Joe DiMaggio is overrated" analysis begins. DiMaggio won three Most Valuable Player awards during his career, in 1939, 1941, and 1947. In 1939, DiMaggio was truly terrific, truly outstanding. In 1941, he had his 56 game hitting streak, but at the end of the year, his OPS was over 200 points lower than Williams', he had fewer homeruns, fewer runs, an average 49 points lower than Williams, and walked about half as many times as Williams. DiMaggio had the inferior offensive season, but won the MVP. His 56 game hitting streak, while in and of itself remarkable and unlikely, is probably the most overrated accomplishment in baseball history, except possibly for Nolan Ryan's no-hitters (but I digress).

In 1947, DiMaggio won the MVP again over Williams, despite the fact that Williams won the Triple Crown. DiMaggio actually had a down year OBP under .400, 20 homers, 97 RBI, .315 AVG. Williams got on base half of the time .499 OBP hit .343, scored 125 runs, and dominated the league.

League domination is another reason DiMaggio is so overrated. DiMaggio is the one player whose name regularly comes up in "greatest player" talk who never dominated his league. Williams, Bonds, Ruth, Cobb, Mays, Mantle, Gehrig, Musial, Hornsby they all dominated their leagues for significant stretches. DiMaggio was the dominant player in his league once, in 1939. Joe Medwick, Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols, and ARod have all had more seasons of dominance than DiMaggio.

DiMaggio was a great player in his prime, and unfortunately missed three prime seasons to World War II, an excruciating reality that has deprived baseball fans of some brilliant individual performances Greenberg, Feller, Williams, DiMaggio, and others in their prime years. Nevertheless, while we give DiMaggio credit for the war, we also note that DiMaggio had a hard time playing full seasons after the war. He played his last full season in 1948 at the age of 33, and he played his last season in 1951, at the age of 36, his skills having significantly waned as he played mediocre ball for 116 games. In the end, DiMaggio played 13 seasons, which including the war brings his career up to 16 seasons. Amongst the all-time greats, this is a short career.

Yankees fans will point to DiMaggio's titles as an indication of his greatness, and this point has some, though not a lot, of relevance. Yankee dominance during DiMaggio's career was not novel they were dominant both before DiMaggio arrived and after he retired. For what it is worth, he was not Derek Jeter he hit a lifetime .271, 54 points below his career average, in 51 World Series games, with a 760 OPS. Not light'em stats.

Now, so far I have not provided any evidence that DiMaggio was not a great player. Like I said, he was in fact a great player. Neverthless, he is overrated because people generally consider him to be one of THE greatest players of all time. Remember, as recently as the 1990s, there were people who considered him the greatest living ballplayer.

Consider where DiMaggio ranks on various Top 100 lists. He is 6th on SABR's list, 6th on the MLB Mastercard All Century team, 12th on the Sporting News list, 13th on Bill James' list, 21st on Elliot Kalb's list, and 33rd on Total Baseball's list.

Now, consider this . . . we will ignore the additive stats (career homeruns, RBIs, etc.) because DiMaggio missed so much time due to war. Instead, we will only consider his per at-bat stats (AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, etc.) in comparing him to other players. For his career, DiMaggio hit .325, which ranks him 43rd all time. His career on-base percentage was .398, good for 63rd all time. His slugging percentage impresses, ranking 12th all time with a .579. His career OPS is 14th best all time at 977. His OPS+, or OPS relative to his era, is 155, which is tied with Hank Aaron and Mel Ott for 23rd all time. And, for you Bill James fans out there, Joe D averaged 36.11 Win Shares per 162 games, which puts him behind Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Honus Wagner, and Lou Gerhig. Don't get me wrong, that is mighty fine company, but that is only per 162 game averages DiMaggio's career Win Shares don't compare nearly as favorably.

So why is it that a player who ranks in many categories in the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 60s, without ranking highly in any additive categories is rated so high? I am not sure, but I know that his rating is usually based on romanticized recollections rather than hard facts. Bill James refers to him, in a subjective manner, as one of the five or six perfect players in Major League history. The Sporting News analyzes DiMaggio by making reference to his status as "an American Icon," a "genuine hero," and "a national symbol for Italian-American success." No real references to his actual playing ability.

Out of 13 seasons, DiMaggio played over 140 games five times. His skills had eroded by the age of 35. He didn't have a career on-base percentage over .400. To me, these three things alone prevent his placement amongst the upper echelon of Major League players. These various lists have DiMaggio ahead of, in varying instances, Cobb, Wagner, Mays, Speaker, Musial, Hornsby, Gerhig, and Foxx. None of this is justified.

For my part, I have DiMaggio ranked 28th, which is actually higher than Total Baseball, which is based on career statistics. The hitters I have ahead of DiMaggio are Ruth, Cobb, Bonds, Williams, Hornsby, Gerhig, Wagner, Mays, Speaker, Musial, Mantle, Foxx, Eddie Collins, Aaron, Schmidt, Henderson, Ott, Robinson, Greenberg, Lajoie, Morgan, and Joe Jackson. Of these, Greenberg and Jackson are probably ranked a bit high, since they weren't as good as DiMaggio on defense and like DiMaggio had their careers shortened, Greenberg by war and Jackson by expulsion from the league.

Joe DiMaggio was an American icon. He was slick and good looking, like he could have been a member of the Rat Pack. He married Marilyn Monroe, Simon and Garfunkel wrote a song about him, and he played for the greatest professional sports franchise of all time. This does not mean, however, that he was as great a ballplayer as the conventional wisdom would have us believe, and for that reason, we here at BaseballEvolution.com consider Joe DiMaggio to be the most overrated Yankee of all time. It is not because he was a bad player, it is because he is nowhere near the player people would have you believe he was.

If, however, you can think of another Yankee more overrated, please let us know, and we will consider a change . . .

Tony - I think Derek Jeter is one of the most over rated yankees in history, 2nd only to Rizzuto.

Asher - I am totally with you, of course, on Jeter. Great offensive shortstop, but one bloodied face on a dive into the stands a defensive shortstop does not make. People act like this dude is the Honus Wagner of this generation, when he is actually probably the fifth best shortstop currently playing.

Tony - Im referring to DiMaggio once again . . . On your list you have Joe Morgan ranked higher than DiMaggio, when I saw this I was shocked. After this i quickly logged on to baseball reference to compare the two closely just to make sure I would'nt make a fool out of myself. I came to two things. I'm guessing your not a big fan of the "what if" due to DiMaggio missed a few years in his prime or you're taking stolen bases a little to seriously. Morgan stole 680+ stolen bases, stealing 50 5 years in a row. Morgan was also a good fielding second baseman but wasn't a great one. His career range factor is 5.03 while the Leagues was 4.60. Morgan also was an above par hitter at most. he hit .327 and .320 back to back years but never hit .300 before or after that. His career low is .236 which is terrible considering he did have at least 500 Ab's that year. Morgan did score 100 or more runs 6 years in a row and 8 times overall in his career. Morgan also had a pretty good OBP of .392 over his career. He also had a career OPS of .819 and OPS+ of 132.

To me (i may be biased) DiMaggio is just a better player every way you look at it. DiMaggio is almost a member of the 3-4-5 club (just needing .2 OBP points) DiMaggio's rookie year is arguably one of the best ever, if not the best. He was a great run producer. drove 114+ every year up until the war and scored 93+ runs every year up until the war. his Career average is .325. It could of eaisly been lower since he only played 13 years but, it also could be higher since he missed 4 prime years. Every year up until the war he hit higher than his career average. he had a shot at 400 in 1939 but he had an eye problem that year and missed 40 games. DiMaggio also has one of the HR to SO ratio's of all time ( im sure you know) It would be unfair to compare these two's career numbers since Morgan did play 9 more years, but if you look at their 162 game average (although DiMaggio played 154 game seasons) it's no contest DiMaggio was the better player.

Asher - first things first - I'll take Ted Williams 1939 rookie season and Albert Pujols 2001 rookie season over DiMaggio's rookie year. it was still good, but not arguably the best ever.

on to Morgan . . .

a) by position rankings - I have Joe Morgan as the fourth best second baseman, while DiMaggio is the fifth best centerfielder and 14th overall outfielder. Offense at second base is more rare than offense at centerfield, so that contributes to Morgan's higher ranking.

b) I totally buy into the "what could have been," which explains why I love Hank Greenberg so much.

c) Morgan's average was pretty terrible, but his on-base percentage was 121 points higher than his average, which kind of makes up for it.

d) Era - Morgan's era was significantly less offensive than DiMaggio's era - check out the lgOPS for their respective careers. This goes quite a long way in explaining the run scoring difference.

e) Morgan's dominant seasons were 1975 and 1976, two of the best ever for second basemen. DiMaggio's dominant seasons were 1939 to 1941, and do not come close to being the best ever for an outfielder.

f) they were clearly different players - Morgan was not a power hitter. But he took a ton of walks and stole bases proficiently, and scored tons of runs.

g) consistency - you are absolutely right here - Morgan was as bad in his bad years as he was good in his good years.

You make very valid points about their head to head offensive stats - if they had played the same position, DiMaggio ranks ahead of Morgan. I think you also make a good point about DiMaggio's missed seasons at the end of his career balancing the years missed due to war. If not for war, DiMaggio is a 3-4-5-er, no doubt.

A note about average - Joe Morgan's league hit .260, while DiMaggio's hit .276. Another indication of the era difference between them.

In an interesting paradox, Joe DiMaggio may have been a better player, in the purest since, but I think Joe Morgan was more valuable, even though it seems like more valuable and better should be the same thing.

It is an interesting dilemma. I basically consider the three Joes tied at 26, 27, and 28, and their order could fluxuate.

Overall, I would say this is a pretty good catch. Keith has Morgan further ahead of DiMaggio than I do, while Scott has DiMaggio 6 spots ahead of Morgan. So maybe I should ask them to respond to your points.

As much as I hate to admit it, I may have ranked Joe DiMaggio lower than is fair because of my animosity toward him. I really hate to admit that.

Tony - You made some good points, I thought one of your reasons would be based the postions they played. I would like to point out one thing. You compared their averages, to their leagues. Morgan only hit 11 points higher than his league while dimaggio hit 49 points higher than his league.




Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher B. Chancey resides in Alexandria, Virginia, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.