WHERE HAVE YOU gone, big-league baseball stars? Our nation turns pandemic eyes to you. Woo-woo-woo.
This lyric update of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” might capture the mood of diamond fans who, because of a season stalled by the coronavirus, have been left with visions of the past.
One such apparition is Joe DiMaggio. Some call him baseball’s best. He also could be the most fabled, not just because Paul Simon enshrined him in song.
DiMaggio’s 13-year big-league career — topped by a 56-game hitting streak in 1941, never equaled in the majors — came in New York Yankees pinstripes, after three stellar seasons with the Pacific Coast League San Francisco Seals.
So why, in our “Then” photo, is DiMaggio in uniform for Fort Lawton, the longtime Army post on Magnolia Bluff that Seattle transformed into Discovery Park in 1973?
The answer lies in World War II patriotism. Like other stars facing a new draft, DiMaggio enlisted instead. He played in Army Air Forces exhibition games in 1943-45 to entertain troops in California, Hawaii and New Jersey.
En route to Honolulu in early June 1944, the elegant outfielder played at least two games at Fort Lawton. He arrived May 16, four days after finalization of a divorce from his first wife, movie actress Dorothy Arnold, and soon suited up for the fort.
Coverage of his Seattle stint was cryptic. “A team of soldiers which could probably win the World Series played a baseball game here yesterday, civilians barred,” stated a May 25 blurb by Royal Brougham, Seattle Post-Intelligencer sports editor. “Price of admission to the diamond performance by Joe DiMaggio … etc., was an Army or Navy uniform. There are times when being a G.I. isn’t so bad.”
The wartime games were not DiMaggio’s sole Seattle stops.
For the PCL Seals in 1933-35, says historian Dave Eskenazi, DiMaggio hit .411 (30 for 73) against the Seattle Indians at grassless Civic Field, site of today’s Seattle Center. In 1933, at just 18, he played there in eight games while compiling a 61-game hitting streak, still the second-longest in pro baseball history. (The longest: 69 games by Joe Wilhoit of the Western League’s Wichita Jobbers in 1919.)
In retirement, the Yankee Clipper often revisited our city. He lunched with Seattle baseball legend Fred Hutchinson in 1959, coached for the Oakland A’s against the Seattle Pilots in 1969, dedicated the “Hutch” cancer center in 1975, golfed in a 1980 tourney and tossed out first pitches for the Mariners at the Kingdome in 1978 and 1985.
What’s that you say, local baseball fans? Joltin’ Joe was never far away. Hey-hey-hey.