When baseball legend Joe DiMaggio died a number of writers from major sports publications, such as Sports Illustrated, made the case that he was the best to ever play the game. Others wrote that DiMaggio was also the shining example of an All-American. To date, many regard the late slugger as an icon and a gentleman of the sport that he dedicated himself to. Yes, the man was blessed with many great attributes and athletic abilities. However, I would argue the case that he was the best to ever play the game, and here is why.
In 1884, the first African-American baseball teams were formed as a result of increased pressure from segregated teams. While a handful of black players found an opportunity to play on white professional teams until 1900, the trend was to keep baseball teams exclusively white. In 1887, the first baseball franchise for African-Americans was formed. They were called the Union Giants, and these players were blessed with exceptional baseball talent because they had been playing the game since they were old enough to understand the basics. Many of them lived and breathed the sport, but they were denied any chance to showcase their remarkable skills because of the horror that was racism.
As far as I’m concerned, and some of you may agree, in order to be considered the best you would have to face someone of equal or far greater status in any given sport. DiMaggio had indeed faced some of the greatest of his time, but they were predominately white! Imagine what the outcome would’ve been had DiMaggio faced some of the greatest shunned Black talent of that era. Would his career numbers have been as stellar? It depends who you ask. I’ve read stories about the Negro League players, and a number of them boldly proclaimed there were hurlers that could strike DiMaggio out in three pitches! The Italian community, along with a majority of white America, will tell you that “Joltin’ Joe” was simply the best. The bottom line is we will never know because, as usual, that which divides us keeps us from experiencing some of life greatest moments. Racism is a bitch!
Joe DiMaggio deserves his place in baseball history as much as Pete Rose or Hank Aaron. There is no arguing the stats. Still, there were so many that never got the opportunity to compete in an integrated environment, and their greatness and remarkable ability will never be known. We often honor and reflect on the lives of great players like Ruth, Cobb and DiMaggio, but I feel it is equally important to pay tribute to the players of the Negro League. As proud Americans, I’m sure they cheered for DiMaggio. They probably respected and admired him a great deal, and they were probably just as good, if not better.