Joe Dimaggio: when sport goes beyond play and becomes integration- Today, 25 November 2021, is the anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Paolo Di Maggio, known to most by the Americanized name of Joe Dimaggio. Considered one of the most important baseball players of all time, Joe Dimaggio played in the Major League Baseball (MLB) for 13 seasons, all with New York Yankees, with whom he won nine times the World Series. A year after his farewell to baseball as a player in 1952, the team decided to retire his number 5 jersey, thus paying him homage. Only three years later, in 1955, Joe Dimaggio was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame thus making him enter the Olympus of baseball. These statistics are important to understand its importance in this fantastic sport. However, Joe’s merits go beyond the playing field alone …
Joe Dimaggio he was not only a great player, but also a model of integration. In what sense will you ask? Well, Joe Dimaggio has represented, over his thirteen seasons, not only the fans of New York Yankees, but also the millions of Italian emigrants residing in New York. As many know, the Big Apple it has been a destination for Italian emigration for decades. Forced to flee from misery, hoping for a better future, many of our compatriots tried their luck further the Atlantic, thus arriving at Ellis Island. Only that there was not heaven waiting for them, but hell. Many came, rolled up their sleeves and found humble jobs to save some money: shoe shine, workers, unskilled workers… But the problem wasn’t work, but xenophobia. The life of the emigrants went on, floundering in a torrent of hatred and prejudice, from which they tried in vain to escape.
Like many emigrants of the time, the Italians were in the eyes of the Americans a bunch of rude, miserable, stupid and criminal. This was the description of the Italian “breed”. Slowly as the Italians arrived, the first ones were formed “Little Italies”. The community grew larger and more solid, but the attitude of the Americans towards them remained the same. Being Italian was something to hide, rather than to protect. What might be called a kind of “Low ethnic self-esteem”. Those who were Italian felt inferior to the Americans. To recover, the Italian-Americans then began to look for models, people to cling to and who would help them to bring their Italianness out of the torrent of hatred and prejudice and thus be able to protect their roots. And it was right there, in that moment, that he arrived Joe Dimaggio.
The player of Sicilian origin in a short time he became the idol of the Italians. Every joke, every off-screen, was a plus for our fellow emigrants. Joe Dimaggio he was loved by all, he was the man who united the tricolor with the stars and stripes flag. The Italian-American children, playing baseball in the streets and parks of Manhattan, pretended to be him, imitating him in his exploits and dreaming one day of becoming like Joe. They finally had someone like them. An Italian son of emigrants, who represented them, who gave him hope. However Dimaggio not only had the merit of having made children dream with open eyes, but of having cleaned up the image of the Italian community. Americans no longer associated us with Al Capone, but a Joe Dimaggio, Tony Lazzeri, Yogi Bera, Phil Rizzuto, Tommy LaSorda and more recent history Craig Biggio e Mike Piazza. These players were a guide for those who were proud of their Italian origins, but had to hide them for fear of prejudice.
Italy’s relationship with baseball today- In the second half of the Twentieth century, the mass Italian emigration to the United States ended. The community is now well integrated and no longer needs models and examples to help them protect their roots. However, the situation has somewhat reversed. Now Italy has returned the favor to baseball and has “hosted” it in their own country. From immigrant sport to “immigrant sport”.
It must be said that the game has not yet taken root in Italy, however the results are coming. There Italian national baseball team, trained among other things by the aforementioned Mike Piazza, has had a lot of satisfaction. In 1954 he won the first edition of the European baseball championship. Since Italy she has participated in 35 editions, winning 10. She finished second 17 times and five times she had to “settle” for the bronze. 35 participations, 32 times on the podium. Not bad huh? Better than us only the Netherlands, with 24 titles out of 33 holdings. We have also attended 18 times Baseball World Cup (competition canceled in 2011) and to all editions of World Baseball Classic (competition that replaced the world cup).
Sport serves to train the body and mind, but also to make friends, socialize, open one’s mind, sympathize with others, learn new things and, last but not least, integrate. And baseball is an example of this. Because it doesn’t matter who you are and where you come from, what language you speak and what color your skin is. When you stand there on the serve, with mud-stained cleats, touching the visor of the cap that so many times protected you from the sun and rain, with a baseball bat in your hand ready to hit with all the force you have a white ball of rubber, then yes, we are all the same.