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This Day In Sports: Joltin’ Joe signs for the big bucks

1949: Despite missing three seasons due to World War II, Joe DiMaggio returned and continued to dominate baseball. He was rewarded with an ‘enormous’ salary.
Credit: AP File Photo
Joe DiMaggio singles against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on July 2, 1941, to tie MLB’s consecutive hitting streak record at 44 games. The streak would last 12 more games.

BOISE, Idaho — THIS DAY IN SPORTS…February 7, 1949:

Joe DiMaggio signs a contract with the New York Yankees making him the first $100,000-a-year baseball player. That was a lot of money in those days, but even inflation wouldn’t bring it remotely close to the $27.5 million Alex Rodriguez was getting when he finished his tarnished career with the Yanks in 2016. A-Rod’s haul was nothing compared to what’s going on now, though. DiMaggio was happy with what he had, although he would play just three more years, retiring after the 1951 season.

I went to a “what is it in today’s dollars” calculator and found that DiMaggio’s $100,000 back then would be worth $1,247,046 today. The average — that’s average — Major League Baseball salary last year was $4.41 million, almost four times the value of the sport’s largest salary 74 years ago. The highest salary slated in 2023 is more than $43.3 million, a wage to earned by pitchers Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, both now of the New York Mets. The Yankees’ Aaron Judge is going to make $40 million this year. Those are numbers to make your jaw drop (and in some cases, throw up).

Back to DiMaggio: he was born in the Bay Area and moved with his family, immigrants from Sicily, to San Francisco’s North Beach community when he was a toddler. His dad, Giuseppe, was a fisherman, and DiMaggio couldn’t stand the smell of dead fish on his father’s boat (speaking of throwing up). Baseball was his escape, and by the age of 17, he had made his pro debut with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. DiMaggio became a Yankee in 1936 and set a franchise rookie record with 29 home runs. That mark stood for 81 years until Judge shattered it with 52 in 2017.

The Yankee Clipper’s most famous feat was his amazing 56-game hitting streak in 1941. It’s considered an unbreakable record. The streak lasted from May 15 until July 16. Anyone with designs on toppling it would have to display stamina uncommon in today’s game. DiMaggio played every day during his run — in fact, he played in seven doubleheaders. In the end, DiMaggio played 13 seasons for the Yankees (he missed three years during World War II), winning 10 American League pennants and nine World Series. Despite a relatively short career, he was fifth on MLB’s all-time home run list with 361 when he hung up his cleats in 1951.

DiMaggio stayed in the spotlight after his retirement, most notably through his marriage to Marilyn Monroe. The couple’s time together was tumultuous — DiMaggio was jealous, controlling and sometimes abusive, and they divorced after only nine months. DiMaggio never lost his love for her, though, helping her toward the end of her troubled life and overseeing her funeral arrangements in 1962.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

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