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Saturday, October 8, 2016

Joe DiMaggio in center field explained by Jackie Bradley Jr.

We heard it often. Joe DiMaggio always seemed to be waiting for the ball in center field. Yogi Berra:

"I'd never seen him dive for a ball, everything was a chest-high catch"  http://www.biography.com/people/joe-dimaggio-9274899

SABR bio on DiMaggio:

Rico Petrocelli, a New York native who played for the Red Sox between 1965 and 1976, recalled going to Yankee Stadium as a youngster: “We were in the bleachers, and Joe DiMaggio was still playing. I looked around and noticed nobody was watching the pitcher throw the ball. Everyone was looking at DiMaggio. When he’d catch a ball, he’d lope after it. It was just beautiful to watch. I’ll never forget it.”
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1942
Berra's Yankee career overlapped with DiMaggio's final six season, 1946-1951.

Petrocelli was born June 27, 1943, so he would have been only seven in 1950, DiMaggio's last big season.

DiMaggio apparently always looked good in the field but how could he possibly "always" be waiting for the ball? It couldn't be possible.

Then I read this about Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.:

Can New Technology Bring Baseball’s Data Revolution to Fielding?
BY BRUCE SCHOENFELD SEPT. 30, 2016
nytimes.com

At one game in Fenway Park in June, I saw Bradley play against the White Sox. In the second inning, Tim Anderson, the shortstop for the White Sox, hit a long fly headed over Bradley’s head. Bradley turned and raced toward the wall without bothering to track the ball. He arrived at the spot with enough time to stop, turn back toward the plate and make the catch while almost standing still. To anyone buying a hot dog and glancing up at the last moment, it would have seemed a routine play.
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Eddie Stanky managed the White Sox in 1966, 1967, 1968 (79 games). Stanky wanted his outfielders to get to the spot where a fly ball would land as quickly as possible, not just in time. Stanky did not want them to drift. He offered small cash rewards to encourage their adoption of this good habit.

DiMaggio may have had two positive attributes that would explain things:
- good jump on the ball
- not drifting.

There is very little film of DiMaggio playing center field, so it's all but impossible the do any real analysis. However, the images of Jackie Bradley and the statistics that are evolving may offer some useful insight into the mysterious fielding prowess of the great DiMaggio.

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