Let’s face it, Yankees and Red Sox fans have a lot to debate and disagree about, including Ted Williams vs Joe DiMaggio. Of course, everyone can agree that with were among the greatest MLB players of all time. But fans of the Yankees and Red Sox like to debate which player was better: DiMaggio or Williams.
Comparing Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio
Naturally, Yankees fans will favor DiMaggio while Red Sox fans will always pick Williams. Since those two fanbases will never get along, we wanted to provide an impartial perspective in the Ted Williams vs Joe DiMaggio debate. We took an extensive look at the careers of both players, and this is how we decided which player was better.
For many, the debate between Williams and DiMaggio begins – and sometimes ends – with the 1941 season. DiMaggio won MVP honors that year on the back of his 56-game hitting streak, a record that looks likely to stand forever.
However, Williams won the batting title that year with a .406 average, far higher than DiMaggio’s .357. Williams also led the league in home runs, slugging, and on-base percentage that season, striking out a mere 27 times, outperforming DiMaggio in almost every respect outside of an extended hitting streak.
On the basis of his historic hitting streak, DiMaggio is regarded as one of the best contact hitters in MLB history. However, his career .325 average doesn’t compare to Williams, who hit .344 during his career. In fact, Williams had just one season during his 19-year career in which he failed to hit at least .300.
In comparison, DiMaggio failed to hit .300 twice in 13 seasons. To take things a step further, DiMaggio had three seasons with an average better than .350 whereas Williams had five seasons hitting over .350, not including the two seasons in which he hit .400 or better in fewer than 40 games.
When it comes to power, Williams also holds the edge with a .634 career slugging percentage compared to DiMaggio’s .579 slugging percentage. In fact, Williams has the second-highest career OPS in MLB history.
Needless to say, Williams smashed far more home runs, hitting 521 in his career whereas DiMaggio hit only 361 home runs. To be fair, both averaged around 27 home runs during their careers. However, if you take away the two incomplete seasons that Williams had during the Korean War when he was called up for military duty, he averaged just shy of 30 homers per season.
For the record, both Williams and DiMaggio should be commended for their service to their country. Both missed the 1943, 1944, and 1945 seasons during World War II. Williams later missed most of the 1952 and 1953 seasons when he was called up for active duty whereas DiMaggio had retired by that point.
Including those two incomplete seasons, Williams played 19 years in the big leagues. He retired at the age of 42 and would have played 20-plus full seasons if not for World War II. Meanwhile, DiMaggio retired after 13 seasons in the majors and still would not have reached two full decades, even without World War II.
Defense is the one area where DiMaggio clearly outshines Williams. Unfortunately for DiMaggio, the Gold Glove award didn’t exist during his era. If it had, it’s a safe bet that he would have won several of them.
Baseball historians regard him as one of the best defensive center fielders in MLB history. While he didn’t steal a lot of bases during his career, DiMaggio had the speed to cover acres of space in center field, showcasing impressive range. On the contrary, Williams was never considered a strong defensive outfielder. He played mostly in left field, which is a sign that he was not a strong defensive player. He pales in comparison to DiMaggio in this part of the game.
The formal resumes for both Williams and DiMaggio are quite impressive. DiMaggio may have won nine World Series with the Yankees, but Williams has a more impressive trophy shelf otherwise. Surprisingly, DiMaggio only won two batting titles while also leading the American Leagues in homers twice and RBIs twice. He also took home three MVP awards and was runner-up for MVP on two other occasions.
However, Williams took home six batting titles and led the American League in homers four times and RBIs four times. He also won the Triple Crown twice and MVP twice. Somehow, he failed to win MVP honors in either season in which he won the Triple Crown. Yet, there were four seasons that Williams was the MVP runner-up. including his two Triple Crown seasons.
While Williams and DiMaggio both deserve to be remembered among the biggest legends in baseball history, there is no question that Williams was the better player. The fact that DiMaggio was so much better defensively is the only reason outside of DiMaggio’s untouchable hitting streak that the debate is even close.
That streak aside, Williams was a superior hitter when it came to both hitting for a high average and hitting for power. DiMaggio winning more MVPs is balanced out by the fact that he never won the Triple Crown, something that Williams did twice.
Williams also had a longer career that twice was interrupted by military service. On both occasions, he came back just as good as he was before the hiatus. Of course, few can measure up to DiMaggio’s defense and nobody will ever surpass his hitting streak. But looking at their careers as a whole, there is no question that Williams was the better hitter and the more impactful player.