Mud made Joe DiMaggio mortal on July 17, 1941.
It was only six blocks from the hotel to Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, but Joe DiMaggio and Lefty Gomez knew they’ve never make it through the crowds on foot, so they hailed a 20-cent taxi ride to the ballpark. The stadium was packed with 67,000 fans. All of America—from rural countryside to the big city, in roadside diners and five-star restaurants, ranch hands, store owners, executives, and homemakers—was caught up in Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak and anxiously awaited to learn via newspapers and radio broadcasts if “he got a hit.”
It had rained all morning, and the ground was muddy. Joe had to knock the mud from his cleats.
“Ground’s still wet,” he told himself. “Footing isn’t the best.”
It was game 57 of Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak. A streak that had captured the nation’s collective attention during a very dark time in history. A streak that would transform the young New York Yankee into an American Icon.
In the eighth inning, Joe stepped to the plate, and even the Cleveland fans cheered. He was 0 for 2 on the day, having already sent two shots down the left field line and into Cleveland third baseman Ken Keltner’s glove. This at-bat would be Dimaggio’s last chance to keep the streak alive. After taking two balls and a strike, Dimaggio hit a grounder to shortstop Lou Boudreau. Despite a last-second hop, Boudreau grabbed the ball and threw Joltin’ Joe out at first to end the 56-game hitting streak that would be etched into baseball history. 75 years later, one of the most famous records in sports remains unbroken.
After the defeat, Joe sat calmly on a stool in the clubhouse and said: “Well, that’s over.”
His teammates were surprised to see his calm demeanor, but nonetheless celebrated and consoled their now-famous center fielder.
Joe DiMaggio didn’t dwell on the loss. In fact, his perspective on the broken streak has become a defining quote: “I was out there to play and give it all I had…I looked at it like ‘I’m doing my best.’ If I got the hit, fine. I always felt good that I had given my best.”
Joe gave it all to each at-bat. To each game.
Do you know what he did after his streak ended? He started another 16-game hitting streak the very next day. Joe hit safely in 72 out of 73 games.
He was able to do something no one else in the world has ever been able to duplicate. He was a dominant player in the ballpark and, even now, one of the most revered sports figures in history.
The dominant players in your industry are men and women who live by Joe’s example. They combine their talent, experience, smarts, work ethic and an unwavering commitment to excellence, and leave it all on the field they play on. How fitting then, as we arrive at the 75th anniversary of Dimaggio’s defining performance, that we should look to this legend, this apex, this paragon of the sport. What can we learn from the dominant player Joe was?
Let’s start by following Joe’s playbook and use his battled-tested framework to become a dominant player.
Give it All
“I’m just a ballplayer with one ambition, and that is to give it all I’ve got to help my ball club win. I’ve never played any other way.” —Joe DiMaggio
A “Give It All” mindset will set you apart from all others in your industry, workplace, and possibly the world. It is a common denominator among all dominant players. They don’t do anything halfway. They deliver 100+%.
Joe Dimaggio’s streak encapsulated the truth that we are all capable of great things—that talent, combined with hard work and fair play, can take us as far as we dare to dream. Like Ken Burns, producer of the documentary Baseball, told me, Joltin’ Joe proved to us, “Your talent can take you as far as you can take your talent.”
Each game, each at-bat was the best Joe could give. He brought nothing back to the clubhouse. A Give It All mindset means you bring your best to every moment and task in front of you (“swing for the fences” if you will) as you work to achieve your goals for your life, company, and brand. Leave nothing out on the field as you pursue your goals with integrity, excellence, and grace to realize your full potential.
How can you realistically apply 100% of your focus every day? The answer is surprisingly simple: do it for five minutes. Concentrate on the task at hand with a mindset, awareness and deep commitment to giving it all for five minutes. Once you start, you may find that five minutes becomes ten; and ten soon becomes twenty.
Make this technique a practice and extend it to anything that will help further you toward your goal. Give all you’ve got to each to each thing you touch for five minutes.
The Streak was not just Dimaggio’s shining moment, but a living, breathing example of the dominant player that you can become if you put in the same perseverance and integrity that Joe put into his playing.
Excellence Every Day
“There was never a day when I was as good as Joe DiMaggio at his best. Joe was the best, the very best I ever saw.” —Stan Musial
A commitment to excellence was how Joe lived, and one he always exemplified on the field. Joe took pride in his performance and appearance, and his reputation was paramount to him. He demanded that from anything that had his name on it. While it may have been Joe’s record-breaking hitting streak that transformed him into an American icon, he helped the Yankees win nine world championships and ten pennants. He was named the game’s Most Valuable Player three times, had a .325 lifetime batting average, a lifetime average 125 RBIs per season, and only 369 strikeouts in his entire career.
His daily commitment to excellence ensured Dimaggio’s legacy extended well beyond the summer of 1941.
Raise the bar on what you expect from yourself. Good enough is not sufficient for a dominant player nor will it help you become one. Learn, improve, challenge yourself. Keep learning. Even Joe DiMaggio, the greatest ballplayer in America, turned into a student of the game in 1946. After serving in the military, he got back into the groove of playing by studying pitchers during spring training.
Excellence comes from accomplishing daily habits and is not a one-off act. Consistent commitment to performance, learning, and execution is the difference between being known for a single act of greatness and a legacy of it.
Create Your Streak
“Getting a daily hit became more important to me than eating, drinking or sleeping.” —Joe DiMaggio, when he was with rookie with San Francisco Seals in 1933 and accomplished his first streak of 61 consecutive hits
Taken in its entirety, a 56-game hitting streak seems like an overwhelming goal. If Joe DiMaggio had stepped up to the plate each game hoping to make history, he could have easily psyched himself out. Instead, he focused on Giving It All in each moment—hitting each pitch, bringing his best to each at-bat. And over time, each hit added up to something amazing.
The same approach can help you accomplish whatever it is you’re trying to achieve. The power of small steps and daily habits can build to a big transformation.
Consider Jerry Seinfeld’s “don’t break the chain” strategy. When asked for advice by a young comic, Seinfeld shared that he made a habit of writing jokes every single day. He tracked his progress over the course of weeks, months and years by placing a large red “X” over that day on the calendar.
The key to success wasn’t in writing brilliant jokes every single time he sat down; it was in creating a chain of Xs and not allowing himself to break that chain. It was in sitting down, whether he felt like it or not, whether he produced anything good or not, and simply writing.
Seinfeld’s “streak” was writing jokes.
When we combine a daily streak with a “Give It All” mindset, we can turn small daily steps into something huge.
Leverage the unbeatable combination of streaks and habits.
Select a new habit or a current one that you are struggling with and create a streak by doing it every single day.
For how long? Why not go for 56 days? 56 is considered the last magic number in sports. (There is even a book with that title.) I believe in its magic too.
When I was rebranding and creating a modern brand identity for Joe DiMaggio, I took a deep dive into all things Joe and his 56-game hitting streak. That number became magical to me, and it still is. I see the number 56 everywhere and continue to marvel at the serendipity.
Take this historical number and do what Joe did: create a streak. Don’t worry about the big picture, just focus on a small habit that moves you forward. Do what Leo from zen habits suggests and start small. “Make it impossible to fail. When you do, you overcome the problem of inertia and not getting started. You also overcome the problem of burning through all your enthusiasm, or using up your willpower reserves.”
Print out this 56-day streak calendar. Put is somewhere you’re sure to see it and check off each day in your streak. Or, if you’d rather keep it on your phone, try Goals Streaks by Peer Assembly or the one I use, Productive.
What if you miss a day on your streak? How do you give it all when reality is nipping at your heels?
Sticking with habits is critical. It’s a rule I try to drive home with my clients. No matter how you’re feeling on any given day, you’ve got to show up. That said, if you do miss a day, it’s not the end of the world.
Researchers have found that missing one opportunity to perform a habit/ behavior did not affect the habit formation process. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you mess up now and then. Building better habits is not an all-or-nothing process. Every day is a chance to start again.
What did Joe do when his 56-game hitting streak ended? He started another streak the very next day.
Joe Dimaggio didn’t achieve the most famous (and unbroken) streak in sports by aiming to be a legend; he built it by approaching each at-bat with a give it all mindset and a relentless focus on excellence, every game, every time.
Combining a streak with daily habits are a gateway to achieving your goals builds to a great transformation. Take one step every day and give it your all.
“Joe was the personification of grace, class, and dignity on and off the field.” —Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig
A sportswriter once asked Joe why he was playing so hard in a meaningless late-season game. Joe looked at him and answered in all sincerity: “There may be some kids out there who may be seeing me play for the very first time. I owe them my best.”
When no one is watching you go about your daily life, how do you hold yourself? Do you treat your barista each morning with the same respect you show your boss, biggest client or influencer in your field?
Dimaggio grew up in a fishing family, the son of immigrant parents, and he never forgot his humble origins. He treated others with kindness and respect regardless of whether there was a reporter nearby. And, as we can see in his above response, it was vitally important to him that he was giving his fans a good performance regardless of whether the team needed the win.
Dominant players should prioritize living with grace, class, and style just as Joe did. Here are some things to keep in mind.
- Pick up the phone (you know, that computer in your pocket that also makes calls) or set a time to talk with the people who are important in your business and life. Texting is NOT the same.
- No late-night calls. This applies to personal and business calls. Unless it’s urgent, don’t ruin someone else’s evening because you planned poorly.
- Return calls. I’m not sure when it became custom to leave others hanging. Return people’s calls. It’s a basic sign of respect.
- Keep your phone off and in your pocket or purse at meetings. Nothing says “I could be getting a text or email from someone more important than you” more than constantly glancing at your phone.
- Dress the part. I don’t care if Mark Zuckerberg has made the hoodie the “new” workplace suit jacket. When you have a billion dollars, you can do that, and people will still respect and admire you. Until then, show the same level of professionalism with your clothing as you do with everything else. (Also, flip flops are NOT shoes.)
- Send handwritten thank-you cards. An email isn’t sufficient for every occasion. This particular old-world communication tool seems to have been lost, but a handwritten note on a simple card means so much more than those same words hastily typed in an email. You can even use services like this if your handwriting isn’t fantastic or you know you’ll never buy stamps from the post office.
- Know when to hold your tongue. That old-school adage our mothers and grandmothers instilled in us is every bit as true today as it was when were young: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Enough said.
- Person up. (Because “man up” is so last century.) Accept the blame when things fall apart. Apologize if your company or team makes a mistake. Then do whatever is in your power to make things right — quickly.
- Hold yourself like you matter. Stand tall, shoulders back and head held high. Carry yourself with a casual grace. Walk with purpose. I’ve held my own in rooms and meetings with Mike Milken, Ted Turner, titans of Wall Street and industry, a former President, and others. How? I “knew” I belonged in those meetings and social settings. I believed I had something valuable to bring to the conversation, and I held myself in a way that conveyed that. When you can walk into a room and command the attention of anyone at any level, you are on your way.
- Show respect. This one is perhaps the most important. No matter your age, you will find yourself working with people older and wiser than you. They may not have the acumen of the digital world that you do, but their “old-school” knowledge should never be dismissed. Human nature doesn’t change. Find out what they know and learn from their vast experiences.
Simon and Garfunkel sang “Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away.” He has not gone away. Joe DiMaggio is a timeless American icon and dominant player. Use his playbook and life as an example to achieve the level of success you deserve.