The Cardinals played a role in launching Joe DiMaggio into his Hall of Fame career with the Yankees.
Thursday, March 17, will mark 75 years since DiMaggio played in his first Yankees game _ a spring training exhibition against the Cardinals in St. Petersburg, Fla.
DiMaggio, 21, displayed his greatness right from the start, with four hits in five at-bats, two runs scored and two RBI in the Yankees’ exhibition opener against the Cardinals on March 17, 1936.
The Cardinals won, 8-7, before about 2,000 spectators on a brisk, windy day at Waterfront Park.
DiMaggio, who joined the Yankees from San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League, started in center field, batted third in the lineup and received rave reviews in a story written for the New York Times by James P. Dawson.
Under the subhead “DiMaggio Has Great Day,” Dawson wrote:
The one shining light in the Yankee exhibition was Joe DiMaggio. The Coast rookie got four hits in five trips to the plate, one of them a triple. He drove in two runs, scored two others and saved (pitcher Walter) Brown from danger with a glittering catch of Charley Gelbert’s long fly in deep center starting the seventh. More, DiMaggio crashed one of his hits to right field. If there was any doubt about this newcomer, he dispelled it today.
The exhibition featured seven future Hall of Famers in the starting lineups: second baseman Frankie Frisch, left fielder Joe Medwick, first baseman Johnny Mize and shortstop Leo Durocher for the Cardinals, and first baseman Lou Gehrig, second baseman Tony Lazzeri and center fielder Joe DiMaggio for the Yankees.
The Cardinals had 14 hits and capitalized on six New York errors (none by DiMaggio). Frisch, the Cardinals’ player-manager, had four hits (including two doubles), three RBI and two runs scored.
With National League president Ford Frick in attendance, the game was played in less than ideal conditions. Dawson wrote that spectators wore overcoats to protect them from “a blustery wind that blew out of the north with galelike force.” The game couldn’t begin until “the infield was rendered presentable by burning gasoline.”
DiMaggio’s triple in the first inning off Cardinals starter Mike Ryba was “a mighty blow to the left-field fence,” Dawson wrote. DiMaggio scored on Gehrig’s single.
In the eighth, DiMaggio’s bases-loaded single to right drove in two.
The starting lineups that day:
Terry Moore, cf
Frankie Frisch, 2b
Pepper Martin, rf
Joe Medwick, lf
Johnny Mize, 1b
Charlie Gelbert, 3b
Leo Durocher, ss
Bruce Ogrodowski, c
Mike Ryba, p
Roy Johnson, lf
Red Rolfe, 3b
Joe DiMaggio, cf
Lou Gehrig, 1b
George Selkirk, rf
Tony Lazzeri, 2b
Frank Crosetti, ss
Joe Glenn, c
Johnny Broaca, p
The next day, March 18, 1936, the Cardinals beat the Yankees again, 6-5. DiMaggio went 2-for-4, with a triple and a single.
DiMaggio’s torrid start to spring training was an indicator of how he would perform as a rookie. In the 1936 season, DiMaggio hit .323 with 29 home runs, 44 doubles, 15 triples and 125 RBI, leading the Yankees to a 102-51 record and the American League pennant.
The Cardinals finished 87-67 _ five games behind the first-place Giants, who were defeated in the World Series by the Yankees in six games.