Fifty years after his greatest baseball feat, Joe DiMaggio can still draw a crowd.
Some of baseball's royalty gathered in the cramped quarters of a downtown hotel suite Monday afternoon, chatting and signing autographs before DiMaggio arrived, standing tall in a blue blazer and grey slacks among the tuxedos and double-breasted suits."He's Mr. Baseball as far as I'm concerned," Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr said.
It was one of many tributes delivered to DiMaggio, the guest of honor at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame dinner. Fifty years have passed since the Yankee Clipper went on his famed 56-game hitting tear, but DiMaggio's summer of 1941 still rates as one of the game's greatest accomplishments.
"It's my pleasure to be in the same room as Joe," said Kenny Keltner, former Cleveland Indians third baseman who helped put a stop to DiMaggio's streak with two fine backhanded stabs at Municipal Stadium on July 17, 1941. "Ted Williams was the greatest hitter I ever saw, but Joe did everything."
Williams batted .406 that summer, the last player to hit .400. But DiMaggio stole the Boston great's thunder, capturing the American League most valuable player award while the New York Yankees won the AL pennant by 17 games over the Red Sox.
The Bronx Bombers went on to defeat their cross-town rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers, in five games to win the World Series.
"He only struck out 13 times in 1941 . . . that's amazing," said Doerr, former hitting coach of the Toronto Blue Jays who was Boston's glue-gloved second baseman. "He's the best player I've ever seen."
Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller said he had a hand in DiMaggio's decision to retire in 1951 after nine World Series titles, 11 AL all-star teams, 1,736 games, 2,214 hits, 361 homers and a .325 career average.
"He only got two hits off me in one game," said the former Cleveland fireballer who had little success against the Yankee legend. "I think he said, `If I can't hit Feller, I gotta get out of this league.' "
Johnny Vander Meer joked he couldn't understand the fuss about DiMaggio.
"I'm the only National Leaguer here - Dimaggio never gave me any trouble," said Vander Meer, who pitched two no-hitters in a span of four days for the Cincinnati Reds in 1938.
The silver-haired legend appeared almost apologetic when he finally spoke to a small gathering of reporters and autograph seekers.
"Nobody's that good, the way these guys carry on," DiMaggio said.
DiMaggio remains in a class by himself, however, waiting for someone to overtake his still-untouched streak.
"There are a lot of great ballplayers," he said. "One day, someone's going to come along and break it.
"But I've been saying that for 50 years."
Three former players were inducted into the hall Monday, including the late Jackie Robinson. The second baseman won the International League batting title with the Montreal Royals in 1946 and joined the Brooklyn Dodgers the next season, becoming the first black player in the majors in the modern era.
Toronto native Jimy Williams, a manager for 17 seasons with the farm systems of the Dodgers, Oakland, Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles, was selected. Also inducted was Pete Ward, a Montreal native who was the AL's rookie of the year in 1963 with the Chicago White Sox.
Montreal Expos outfielder Larry Walker was honored as Canadian player of the year.