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Kenny defends DiMaggio's defensive abilities

MLB Network host responds to comments on Hall of Famer by MLB historian
MLB.com

Joe DiMaggio is one of the greatest players in the history of Major League Baseball. There is no argument about that. But on Tuesday, which would have been his 100th birthday, one baseball historian questioned DiMaggio's defensive skills as a center fielder.

With analytics becoming a growing trend when discussing the sport, it's become popular to take defensive metrics and apply them to players across baseball, from all eras. That's precisely what John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, did in regards to DiMaggio.

Joe DiMaggio is one of the greatest players in the history of Major League Baseball. There is no argument about that. But on Tuesday, which would have been his 100th birthday, one baseball historian questioned DiMaggio's defensive skills as a center fielder.

With analytics becoming a growing trend when discussing the sport, it's become popular to take defensive metrics and apply them to players across baseball, from all eras. That's precisely what John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, did in regards to DiMaggio.

Thorn called in to High Heat on MLB Network on Tuesday to discuss his findings with host Chris Russo.

"There's the legend, of course, that he never had to dive for a ball because he was always so skillfully positioned, never threw to the wrong base, never had a ball hit over his head, that kind of thing; never had to dive for a short ball or a ball in the alley," Thorn said of DiMaggio. "If you had said it about somebody today, you would say that the guy hasn't got heart and wasn't going to go for all the balls he could get to. If you look at DiMaggio's range factor, he never led the American League and he never even finished second once."

Video: John Thorn phones into Russo on High Heat

Thorn went on to say that DiMaggio should have made more putouts in the spacious outfield of Yankee Stadium.

Brian Kenny, host of MLB Now on MLB Network, offered a much different perspective on the Yankee Clipper during Wednesday's episode of High Heat.

"People are missing the point, I think," Kenny said. "I don't want the next generation to think DiMaggio was some sort of fraud and he was trumped up because he was popular and he married Marilyn Monroe. This guy from 1936-42 was the best player in baseball, quantifiably."

The numbers back that up. In fact, DiMaggio led the Majors with a 48.7 WAR (wins above replacement) from 1936-42.

"DiMaggio was a titan," Kenny said. "Then he went away for his age 29, 30 and 31 seasons [because of military service]. He was an athletic player. He came back and he was never the same. From '36-42, it was not a mirage. He was an all-time great. ... DiMaggio was fast. DiMaggio was a fielder. He was a runner. When people said he went to first to third like no other and he could score from first on a double, yes he did. His extra-base-taken percentage was very high."

It's worth noting that Thorn praised DiMaggio's offensive accomplishments. During his Hall of Fame career, DiMaggio had a lifetime .325/.398/.579 slash line with 389 doubles and 361 home runs.

"As a hitter, DiMaggio is one of the greatest players ever," Thorn said. "It's not merely the statistics, it's the legend, the idea that he never made a mistake."

So was DiMaggio, a three-time AL MVP Award winner and 13-time All-Star, truly a great defensive player?

"By all accounts, yes," Kenny said.

Austin Laymance is a reporter for MLB.com.

Joe DiMaggio