Joe DiMaggio: The man, the legend, the A-hole?

17 Dec

Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, Jr., better known to the world as Joe DiMaggio was born the son of a fisherman in 1914. DiMaggio was a bit of an enigma to say the least. To the world he portrayed utter class and the possibility man could reach perfection on the baseball diamond. In his personal life however nothing could be further from the truth, DiMaggio was a troubled, cold, often callous and distant man.

DiMaggio won the MVP award three times to go along with thirteen all star game selections in thirteen years played, the only player in baseball that has ever had that distinction. DiMaggio was also considered to be the best complete package player of of his time with his outstanding offensive and defensive skills and was hailed as the prototypical five tool player of his generation. When he retired at age 36 he was fifth on the career home run list with 361. He also has the longest hitting streak in Major League Baseball (MLB) history which stands to this day at 56 consecutive games. During his years with the New York Yankees they won nine world series titles. No one has ever argued his outstanding performance on the field.

Behind the scenes however DiMaggio was a far different man. In 1938 DiMaggio married actress Dorothy Arnold with whom he had his son Joe DiMaggio III. DiMaggio often neglected his bride living in the New York spotlight which led to their divorce after five years of marriage. It was then DiMaggio met another actress, Marilyn Monroe, whom he married after a brief courtship. The union seemed doomed almost immediately as neither seemed willing to share the spotlight nor realizing how popular the other was. A perfect example of this can be seen in a story from a USO tour Monroe headlined which the notoriously overprotective DiMaggio escorted her on. After Urging Monroe to wear a more drab skin concealing outfit she refused and took the stage. After performing Monroe told DiMaggio “You have no idea what it’s like to have 40,000 people cheer for you,” to which he replied “Yes I do.” After two hundred and seventy four days of marriage Monroe filed for divorce. Upon her death he had a half-dozen red roses delivered 3 times a week to her crypt for the next 20 years and never remarried.

The stories of his treatment of rising star rookie Mickey Mantle are now legendary. DiMaggio was heard saying on several occasions statements to the effect that there was no one that could replace him on the field or in the hearts of Yankee fans, certainly not some Oklahoma rube. While this is true to some degree as DiMaggio held a special place in fans hearts, DiMaggio didn’t want to share anything with anyone. DiMaggio was a notoriously difficult person to work with. During game one of the 1977 world series DiMaggio was tabbed to throw out the first pitch, a service which he charged for. He further became angered over a mix up concerning extra tickets he requested (Which it was later revealed he had no use for) and refused to throw out the first pitch only minutes before game time.

DiMaggio further insisted that at all events such as old timers games he be introduced last and always announced as “The greatest living baseball player.” He also instructed public address announcers to always hold for applause at least thirty seconds longer than any other player at the event. DiMaggio refused to participate in events any further than that. He was further more estranged from his son and later in his life to a far lesser degree his brothers Vince and Dom whom also played professional baseball. Few of DiMaggio’s teammates remained friendly with him or even tried to maintain a relationship with the legend after their playing days ended. In March of 1999 DiMaggio passed and was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, California.

Whether you knew him as Joltin’ Joe, Mr. Coffee, The Yankee Clipper, or simply in a peripheral sense, he penetrated the minds of a generation. While it is possible but highly argued he ever was the greatest living baseball player, he was a great fit for the team he was on. Over time the legend of Joe DiMaggio has grown and much of the negativity surrounding his personal life has dissipated as it is natural for us to want to overlook the faults of our heroes. I will always look on DiMaggio as a great ballplayer, but I reserve the judgments on him as human as I think we all should.

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