The official announcement of the end of the brilliant playing career of Joe DiMaggio came on December 12, 1951. The American public and the sports world was shocked, they both felt DiMaggio still had the skills and the body to play for at least a few more years. But Joe DiMaggio felt his skill slipping. No longer was he playing up to his standards, it was time for him to leave baseball. "I don't want them to remember me struggling," said DiMaggio to a veteran New York Times reporter.
The way DiMaggio was perceived by the public dictated his every move. He understood their fascination with him, and felt a trememdous responsibility to in fact be the hero they wanted him to be. When he could no longer be that hero, he felt obligated to let his fans know. He would not dishonor the legend bestowed upon him, nor would he injure his own pride. Joe's brother Tom perhaps put it best,"Why did Joe quit when he did? He quit because he wasn't Joe DiMaggio anymore."
According to Casey Stengal, Joe's manager in 1951, "If he couldn't play ball the way people expected Joe DiMaggio to play ball, then he was going to end it. He just wouldn't come back so he could take the money. He had to earn every penny we paid him." DiMaggio was too proud of a man to give any less than what he perceived as his best. Performing at a level below one that the public associated with Joe DiMaggio simply was not acceptable to him. He didn't play the game of baseball for the money or for the fame. He didn't play to play, or even to win. He played to be the best, and he was. When he knew he was no longer, he ended his prolific career in a dignified manner, proudly stepping down and allowing the American public, his America, to remember him how they had always remembered him, as an incredible ball player, and as a proud man.
The baseball field was not a work place for Joe DiMaggio, it was a place in time where one man chased and eventually captured his passions. The field provided the setting for the birth and cultivation of one of America's greatest men. Why was he such a hero?
"There might be a kid in the stands who has never seen me play, or would never see me play again. I burned to be the best for them, to leave them with a good memory of me," said DiMaggio.
He was a hero because he wanted to be, every day, and he had all of the tools to be one.