There have been many great baseball players over the years who have reached the pinnacle of their talent and made a name for themselves in the game. However, there’s only a handful who have left a legacy as memorable and a record as high as the New York Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio. Nicknamed “Joltin’ Joe” and “the Yankee Clipper,” DiMaggio achieved a level of success many baseball players can only dream of by winning the Yankees nine World Series and ten pennants, and setting a record with his 56-game hitting streak, as per the Chicago Tribune.
Because of his intense work ethic and accomplishments on the field, DiMaggio was held to a higher standard. As sportswriter Ryan Ferguson wrote, “the great DiMaggio was a construct of fable, a portrait of perfection created by an awestruck media and enriched by an adoring citizenry.” For years, people saw the highlights, the winning scores, and the person that DiMaggio allowed them to see. On the field, he was a legend, but off the field, he suffered tragedies and made mistakes: He was flawed like any other person. Here is a look at tragic real-life story of Joe DiMaggio.
Joe DiMaggio's early life
Joseph Paul DiMaggio was born Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio on November 25, 1914, and was the son of Giuseppe and Rosalie DiMaggio, two Italian immigrants who came to America in 1898, as per Biography. When Joe was still a baby, the DiMaggios moved to San Francisco, where his father, Giuseppe, worked hard as a fisherman, writes Ryan Ferguson. Giuseppe had hoped all his sons would follow the family’s tradition of working as fishermen, but his children had different aspirations. According to Joe DiMaggio’s official website, Joe and two of his brothers, Vince and Dominic, would spend their time at the neighborhood sandlots and dreamed of making it as baseball players.
Joe would do anything he could to get away from having to smell dead fish and clean his father’s boat. Giuseppe resented his sons’ desire to work in another field, which went against the family’s traditions and seemed unrealistic. Giuseppe would often call Joe “good for nothing” and did all he could to encourage him to be a fisherman. Eventually, Vince was signed to the San Francisco Seals and began making money as a baseball player. With some encouragement from Vince, Joe would prove himself on the field and eventually outshine his brother after being added to the team. Joe went on to get national attention and got signed to the big leagues, becoming a New York Yankee.
Joe DiMaggio kept quiet and kept to himself
According to The Baltimore Sun, Richard Ben Cramer, who won a Pulitzer Prize with the Philadelphia Inquirer and set the standard for political reporting with What it Takes (1992), revealed a side of Joe DiMaggio that was ultimately hidden from the public in his book Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life. Cramer wrote about how DiMaggio kept quiet around others most of his life. Many thought it was a sign of humility, but it was actually due to him worrying that he’d embarrass himself or make a mistake. DiMaggio was a perfectionist on the field, and that same quality crept into his personal life. He would rarely say a word around friends, family, or his teammates.
In 1936, DiMaggio rode in a car for 3,000 miles with his teammates Tony Lazzeri and Frank Crosetti from San Francisco to Florida for spring training and never said more than “I don’t drive” when it was his turn. DiMaggio spoke his first words to Mickey Mantle after the latter injured his knee during the World Series, saying, “Don’t move. They’re bringing a stretcher.” Joltin’ Joe’s best way of talking was by winning for the Yankees, making the fans roar in the stands while the press printed their own version of his life.
Joe DiMaggio's father was mistreated during WWII
During World War II, the United States was under fear of an attack from enemy forces and went to great lengths to protect its citizens. However, hysteria was built up by the press and government, which led to many horrible mistakes being made, such as hundreds of thousands of Italians, Germans, and Japanese being declared “enemy aliens,” as per the LA Times. Joe DiMaggio’s father Giuseppe was considered an “enemy alien” and wasn’t allowed to visit the family restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf. The government also restricted his ability to travel, saying he couldn’t go more than five miles from home without permission.
General John DeWitt, leading officer in the Western Defense Command, wanted to have Joe DiMaggio’s father arrested, according to Smithsonian Magazine. DeWitt believed there were “no exceptions” and felt he could make a point by arresting Giuseppe because he didn’t have citizenship papers. The government went to even greater lengths when they seized Giuseppe’s fishing boat. Months later, he was able to return to the fishing dock, and not long after, The New York Times reported on his mistreatment.
Joe DiMaggio's time in World War II
World War II even affected the sports leagues, causing many professional athletes to serve in different branches of the military. Joe DiMaggio served in the Army and missed three years of his prime. Many fans say DiMaggio might have had an even more impressive record if he hadn’t been taken out of the game. While he never saw combat or got deployed overseas, DiMaggio served as a physical instructor in the Army’s Special Services and played in Army baseball games. According to the New York Post, Army documents indicated that DiMaggio had a “defective attitude” toward military service, which isn’t hard to believe when you take into account how his father was mistreated. According to reports, DiMaggio felt he was being exploited by the Army because they were using his status as a professional baseball player for public relations.
Joltin’ Joe was also going through the pains of divorce from his wife, who had custody of his son. Doctors said DiMaggio was more concerned with personal problems than his “obligations to adjust to the demands of the service.” Major Emile G. Stoloff believed DiMaggio was trying to get released early by faking stomach ulcers. DiMaggio certainly sacrificed and endured, and then he ended up showing the world what they’d been missing. After DiMaggio returned to the Yankees in 1946, he won the American League MVP the next year and led the Yankees to a World Series title.
Joe DiMaggio retires from baseball
After playing with the New York Yankees for 13 seasons and winning them nine World Series titles, DiMaggio retired from baseball. DiMaggio had been suffering from increasing pains in his heel and couldn’t play his best, as per Biography. “I feel like I have reached the stage where I can no longer produce for my club, my manager, and my teammates,” he said. “I had a poor year, but even if I had hit .350, this would have been my last year. I was full of aches and pains and it had become a chore for me to play. When baseball is no longer fun, it is no longer a game.”
The Yankee Clipper left people wanting more, as opposed to fading while trying to stay on top. In 1955, DiMaggio would be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. As for the Yankees, Mickey Mantle would be the next in line to lead them to more World Series. In retirement, DiMaggio tried broadcasting baseball games and lived the life of an eligible bachelor, as told by Ryan Ferguson. DiMaggio dated lots of different women, but no woman caught his heart like Marilyn Monroe.
Joe DiMaggio's Marriage to Marilyn Monroe
Joe DiMaggio fell in love with the famous actress and sex symbol Marilyn Monroe and spent 18 months courting her. Monroe was initially reluctant to date DiMaggio, fearing he was the typical arrogant athlete. However, DiMaggio showed her another side that she couldn’t resist. On January 14, 1954, DiMaggio and Monroe married, as per Biography. The two were seen as the perfect couple, yet behind closed doors, it couldn’t have been further from true. Once they were married, their relationship began to experience a series of problems. According to the Chicago Tribune, Richard Ben Cramer described DiMaggio as an “unbearable husband,” and their relationship began to suffer due to his jealousy.
DiMaggio wanted Monroe to become more of a housewife at the same time her career was taking off. He was also very outraged when seeing Monroe’s skirt-blowing scene in The Seven Year Itch. Their marriage became a roller coaster. It ended nine months later when Monroe made her announcement of their divorce, claiming it was due to mental cruelty, writes Life.
Joe DiMaggio's attempt to rekindle his marriage and the death of Marilyn Monroe
After their divorce, Marilyn Monroe tried to move on, marrying playwright Arthur Miller. Joe DiMaggio was crushed, and his feelings for her couldn’t change. In 1961, after Monroe and Miller divorced, DiMaggio came back into her life and tried to bring stability while it was spiraling out of control. He did all he could to keep her away from trouble, to no avail. According to Life, if DiMaggio had more time, he could have been the person to pull her out of depression, drugs, and affairs with married men. DiMaggio had wanted to remarry Monroe, and it’s possible he could have saved her life. While DiMaggio was a self-admitted control freak, it appears some of that control could have been used for good.
On August 4, 1962, Monroe passed away. After her death, DiMaggio was devastated and never married again. According to Biography, DiMaggio had roses delivered to her crypt three times a week for 20 years. DiMaggio did his best to keep Monroe away from troubled men, yet he was also involved with a dangerous group of people known for their underground criminal enterprises.
Joe DiMaggio had ties with the Mafia
It seems everyone wanted a piece of Joe DiMaggio, especially the Mafia. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Richard Cramer wrote in his book that DiMaggio was able to walk away from his $100,000-a-year salary with the Yankees in 1951 because of his involvement with the Mafia. Mobster Frank Costello had set up a “trust fund” at the Bowery Bank for him. Whenever DiMaggio visited nightclubs like the Copacabana, Stork Club, or El Morocco, $200 was deposited into the account. Costello loved Joltin’ Joe and felt he was helping his retirement out by giving him money.
DiMaggio was also involved with members of the New Jersey mob, such as the famous Abner “Longy” Zwillman and Richie “The Boot” Boiardo. “Longy had three boxes of cash, which he left at Joe’s house for ‘safekeeping,'” Cramer said. “But when Longy was found hanging from his chandelier in West Orange, Joe kept the cash.” DiMaggio’s involvement with the mob allegedly goes deeper and reaches into other known Mafia groups such as the Gambinos and the Chicago Mafia.
Joe DiMaggio's son lived a hard life
During Joe DiMaggio’s marriage to his first wife, actress Dorothy Arnold, the baseball great had one son with her and named him after himself. When Joe DiMaggio was in the hospital during his last days, his son was asked by the press why he wasn’t there with him. Joe DiMaggio Jr. told Inside Edition (via the New York Post), “You know, I never got the words ‘come now,’ or I would’ve been there in a flash.” When asked about what it was like being the son of Joe DiMaggio, Joe Jr. proclaimed he had a good life growing up, saying: “Whatever he’s given me has always been the best. Never, never second rate. Always the best.”
In his later years, DiMaggio Jr. went through some very difficult situations and lived a hard life. According to The New York Times, DiMaggio Jr. had a history of drug abuse and had a few run-ins with the police. DiMaggio Jr. was also homeless for periods of time and ended up working in a junkyard and living in a trailer during the last years of his life. As a young adult, DiMaggio Jr. attended Yale but dropped out to join the Marines. He lived alone most of his life and worked for a trucking company. In August 1999, DiMaggio Jr., 57, passed away, mere months after his father.
Joe DiMaggio's home was damaged in the 1989 San Francisco Earthquake
At the age of 74, Joe DiMaggio was sitting with the American League president (ex-teammate Dr. Bobby Brown) at Candlestick Park when the 1989 San Francisco earthquake hit. DiMaggio was next spotted seeking aid at a Red Cross shelter, holding garbage bags in his hands. ”My home has been pretty badly damaged,” DiMaggio said, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, ”and right now they won`t let me back in. They won’t allow it.” DiMaggio also said he was looking for someone and couldn’t find them.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Richard Cramer wrote in his book that the garbage bags DiMaggio was holding were full of $600,000 in cash from memorabilia signings. The Yankee Clipper was known for trusting people less and less as he got older, and it seemed to be another sign he was looking out for himself. DiMaggio was fortunate to not be hurt, as 63 people perished and thousands were injured in the earthquake. Nonetheless, over the years, DiMaggio’s physical health would decline.
Joe DiMaggio passes away
On March 8, 1999, the Yankee Clipper, one the best to ever play the game, Joe DiMaggio passed away from complications of lung cancer at the age of 84. According to the Chicago Tribune, DiMaggio was a chain-smoker and insomniac, spurred by the pressure to always play at his best during his career. After his passing, the Yankees, led by Derek Jeter, wore patches on their uniforms the whole season to commemorate DiMaggio. They would go on to win their 25th World Series later that same season, writes Ryan Ferguson.
According to Biography, even the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, honored DiMaggio, saying: “Today, America lost one of the century’s most beloved heroes, Joe DiMaggio. This son of Italian immigrants gave every American something to believe in. He became the very symbol of American grace, power and skill. I have no doubt that when future generations look back at the best of America in the 20th century, they will think of the Yankee Clipper and all that he achieved.”
Joe DiMaggio's lawyer allegedly tried to steal from him
Richard Ben Cramer wrote in his book that Joe DiMaggio was held captive for five months by his lawyer, Morris Engelberg, while he died in the hospital. According to Cramer, Engelberg had the legendary ball player’s 1936 World Series ring pried from his finger moments after he passed away. Engelberg built a trust with DiMaggio by making him more money than all of his previous business partners. However, the deceptive lawyer was hoping to take much more without DiMaggio ever knowing. Engelbeg stashed hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of DiMaggio’s memorabilia, like lithographs, balls, and canceled checks, without DiMaggio’s knowledge, hoping to sell them and pocket the profits.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Engelbeg defended himself, calling the accusations “absurd” and saying, “Over a 16-year period, I waived more than $5-million of agent fees, plus legal, accounting and other fees, which amounted to a significant sum of money. Why would I scam a few thousand dollars from Joe DiMaggio?”
Joe DiMaggio trusted fewer people as he got older, but he couldn’t keep away everyone who wanted to either exploit or use him in some way to their own gain. DiMaggio may have also brought many of his problems on himself. However, one thing is certain: He’ll always be a symbol of greatness in baseball and for anyone aspiring to do the best at what they love.
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