Why Joe DiMaggio And Mickey Mantle's Relationship Wasn't As Great As You Thought

Just because two athletes are teammates and playing at the highest level of their sport doesn't mean that they're guaranteed to get along. Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant led the Los Angeles Lakers to three straight NBA championships from 2000 to 2002, despite clear animosity between the two stars. That feud even escalated to the point that after leaving the Lakers and winning another ring with the Miami Heat, Shaq released a diss track, because nothing lets you know someone means business more than like when they throw barbs through song.

In Formula 1 Red Bull Racing teammates Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber had run-ins on more than one occasion, which led to inter-team tension, per Bleacher Report. One incident involved the two colliding while Vettel tried to overtake Webber at the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix, forcing them both to retire. A frustrated Webber went on to accuse the team of favoring his young German teammate.

Rivalries like this are nothing new. If you put a bunch of competitive people in a room together, it shouldn't come as a surprise when they start competing with each other. However, the alleged rivalry between Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle — two legendary baseball players who only shared a clubhouse for one season — is said to have extended beyond their playing days and persisted for the rest of their lives (via Sports Illustrated).

Joe DiMaggio leads the Yankees

Joe DiMaggio was a well-known figure even beyond the sports landscape in the mid-20th century, and at one point was even married to Marilyn Monroe. Still, first and foremost Joe DiMaggio was a ballplayer. DiMaggio first joined the Yankees in 1936, according to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), and his arrival marked the start of a new era of the team after the former pin-striped elder-statesmen Babe Ruth had departed for the Boston Braves and then retired in 1935.

DiMaggio quickly made an impact and in his second season, he led the league in home runs with 46 (via Baseball Reference). DiMaggio was named MVP twice in his first seven seasons and appeared in the All-Star Game every season. With World II underway, DiMaggio took a three-year sabbatical to serve in the military, though according to an excerpt from the book "Dinner with DiMaggio" by Dr. Rock Positano and John Positano (via Sports Illustrated), DiMaggio stated that he never saw combat and instead traveled around the world playing exhibition games for the troops.

He returned to Major League Baseball in 1946, and quickly found his game, earning MVP honors yet again in 1947. However, by this point, he was in the last part of his playing career, and much the same way that he took over for Ruth as the face of the next generation of Yankees, another player was waiting to take the mantle (pun intended) from him.

Mickey Mantle enters the picture

The 1951 season marked a crossover in the careers of two Hall of Famers in DiMaggio and then-19-year-old Mickey Mantle. According to SABR, Mantle was first called up to the Yankees at the end of the 1950 season, but he remained in the dugout and didn't see any action until the following season. At spring training in 1951, Mantle was given the number 6, as he was expected to be the next great Yankee following in the footsteps of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and DiMaggio, who wore numbers 3, 4, and 5, respectively.

Before the regular season got underway, DiMaggio announced that he planned to retire at the end of the year. It's not perfectly clear where the animosity came from, but some posit that a flashpoint between the two happened in the fifth inning of Game 2 of the 1951 World Series. Willie Mays hit a high fly ball into right center field between Mantle and DiMaggio. Both dashed toward the ball. En route to the fly ball, Mantle's cleat got caught on part of the field's irrigation and he went down with a serious sprain to his right knee, per Bleacher Report. The play later became controversial as arguments have been made as to whose ball it was. Mantle initially claimed it was DiMaggio's and that he was injured while getting out of the way. However, there have also been claims that Yankees manager Casey Stengel told Mantle to get to any ball he could because DiMaggio had a bad heel.

The tense later years of heir relationship

After DiMaggio called it a day, there were other moments when he ruffled the feathers of other Yankees, including Mantle. DiMaggio used to appear at Old Timers' Games in a well-tailored suit, and he was critical of the way his former teammates like Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, and Mantle looked in uniform. According to an excerpt from "Dinner with DiMaggio" (via Sports Illustrated), DiMaggio had an awkward encounter before one of these games in 1994.

DiMaggio was riding in an elevator when the door opened and on stepped Mickey Mantle. The two were silent before giving each other a greeting, albeit begrudgingly. DiMaggio reportedly told author Dr. Rock Positano, "Doc, some guys just never learn. He will never change."

Mantle died in 1995 after battling cancer. Positano indicates that the grudge stemmed from Mantle replacing DiMaggio as the Yankees centerfielder, even telling the author that he didn't feel sorry for Mantle and that he "did it to himself." Upon Mantle's death, DiMaggio refused to answer any questions about his former teammate or even comment publicly on his death. DiMaggio died just a few years later, in 1999.