mobile-bannertablet-bannerdesktop-banner
Joe DiMaggio at training camp for the New York Yankees, Feb. 26, 1936. This is the first photograph of him in the Yankees uniform.
Joe DiMaggio at training camp for the New York Yankees, Feb. 26, 1936. This is the first photograph of him in the Yankees uniform.Bettmann—Getty Images
Joe DiMaggio at training camp for the New York Yankees, Feb. 26, 1936. This is the first photograph of him in the Yankees uniform.
Left to right: Tony Lazzeri, infielder; Joe DiMaggio, outfielder; and Frank Crosetti, infielder, of the New York Yankees shown loping onto the field for the opening day of Spring training. March 2, 1936.
Lou Gehrig, left, gets something like a smile from rookie sensation Joe DiMaggio during spring training in St. Petersburg, Fla., March 8, 1936.
Joe DiMaggio, former West Coast star, purchased by the Yankees for $75,000 and kept out of the lineup by his "hot-foot," saw action in a big league ball game for the first time today, when he faced the St. Louis Browns. Joe is shown here as he hit safely in the second inning of the game. May 3, 1936.
Yankees rookie Joe DiMaggio meets with Cardinals pitcher Dizzy Dean at the All-Star Game in Boston July 7, 1936.
Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees receives a trophy from movie star Joe E. Brown at the Polo Grounds in New York on July 18, 1936. DiMaggio is presented with the award for Most Valuable Player in the Pacific Coast League for 1935 playing for the San Francisco Seals.
Four New York Yankees sluggers pose together at Yankee Stadium Sept. 20, 1936. From left: Bill Dickey, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Tony Lazzeri. The Yankees went on to win the World Series over the New York Giants in six games.
Rookie Joe DiMaggio, center, hugs his brothers Vince, left, and Dom, before the start of the 1936 World Series in New York in October.
New York Yankees Tony Lazzeri, Frank Crosetti and Joe DiMaggio before the start of the 1936 World Series.
Joe DiMaggio at training camp for the New York Yankees, Feb. 26, 1936. This is the first photograph of him in the Yankee
... VIEW MORE

Bettmann—Getty Images
1 of 9

See Photos of Joe DiMaggio's First Year Playing for the Yankees

Joe DiMaggio was just a prospect when he stepped onto the field 80 years ago, on May 3, 1936, for his first big-league game. A new recruit from the minor-league San Francisco Seals, DiMaggio hurt his ankle during Yankees spring training games and then proceeded to get a sun-lamp burn on his foot that, as TIME reported after the first week of the 1936 season, left him spending "his days reading how his teammates had contrived to lose three out of their first five games."

Expectations for the outfielder had been high, as his signing price was a then-lofty $75,000 and sportswriters covered his spring training exploits with a combination of drool and awe. Yet there were no shortage of jaded fans who thought the bonus baby would turn out to be a flop when it came time to really play.

MORE: LIFE With Joe DiMaggio: Early Photos of a Baseball Phenom

DiMaggio soon proved those cynics wrong. In his first game, he had three runs for six at-bats—and the hits just kept on coming.

"Far from achieving the collapse which his billing led sophisticated baseball addicts to expect, Rookie Di Maggio proceeded to make the notices seem inadequate," TIME reported at mid-season. "For his first month of play, he batted .400, fielded his position almost perfectly, hit safely in 18 games in a row. In his second month, his batting average slipped to .350 but he became one of three American League baseballers in history who have hit two home runs in one inning for a total of eight bases."

Get your history fix in one place: sign up for the weekly TIME History newsletter

Here, take a look back at DiMaggio's first year in the majors.

TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.