by Mike Moffett
Weirs Times Columnist
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you …
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away?
Hey hey hey, hey hey hey
(Simon and Garfunkel, “Mrs. Robinson”)
As this summer is the 75th anniversary of Joe DiMaggio’s epic 56-game hitting streak, I was moved to buy Richard Ben Cramer’s wonderful biography entitled JOE DiMAGGIO: The Hero’s Life. Recalling how much I enjoyed reading Ben Bradlee Jr.’s comprehensive bio on Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, I looked forward to Cramer’s treatment of Williams’ New York Yankee archrival. His book did not disappoint.
(I purchased a used copy of JOE DiMAGGIO for $3.99 at Annie’s Book Shop in Laconia—a magnificent bargain!)
Even casual sports fans are generally aware of DiMaggio’s heroic trajectory, beyond the hitting streak—to include his Hall-of-Fame baseball career, his MVPs and World Series triumphs.
His awesome New York City celebrity, his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, and his persona as “Mr. Coffee.” On and on.
The Big Apple was a big part of his story. One wonders if Simon and Garfunkel would have sung of him if he’d played in Pittsburgh, like his brother Vince did. (Another brother—Dominic—played centerfield for the Boston Red Sox.)
Joltin’ Joe lived the Major League dream of so many youngsters. He not only made the big-time but he became baseball’s biggest star on its grandest stage. And he was a winner. Ten times he led his team to the World Series. Nine times the Yankees emerged triumphant. (Williams played in but one World Series, which the BoSox lost.)
DiMaggio not only became famous, but wealthy. He married two blond Hollywood bombshells. But living the dream did not equate to a happy life. Cramer well-described the man and his journey—his perfections and his imperfections, his triumphs and his tragedies.
Particularly riveting is the account of Marilyn Monroe’s death in August of 1962. Joe and Marilyn were briefly married in 1954, but divorced the same year. The union between the two superstars was doomed by their differing goals, which they pursued under intense scrutiny and extreme pressures. But by 1962, they’d reconciled and planned to remarry. (I had no idea until I read the book.) They’d secretly set a date of August 8. On August 4, while Joe was in San Francisco for a charity baseball game, Marilyn excitedly told Joe’s son that she’d purchased a wedding dress for their impending nuptials.
But the next day she was dead. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office ruled it a “probable suicide.” DiMaggio was shattered and never accepted the ruling. He privately blamed the Kennedys. By many accounts—including Marilyn’s—Monroe enjoyed intimate relationships with both President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert, then the Attorney General, both of whom would later be assassinated.
A saga involving Hollywood’s greatest star, sport’s greatest hero, and the President of the United States remains compelling, to say the least.
Cramer tells the DiMaggio story in a way that allows the reader to really “know” the subject, up close and personal.
In 1999 Joe DiMaggio was literally gone, a victim of lung cancer. The nation turned its lonely eyes to his funeral and pondered the legacy left by Joltin’ Joe. Cramer’s book makes it clear that becoming America’s greatest sports hero did not mean enjoying a happy life’s journey. But what a journey it was!
And now I’ve got to make another journey back to Annie’s Book Shop to try to find another book bargain that will hopefully be half as good as JOE DiMAGGIO was.
How many times did Joe DiMaggio win the American League MVP Award? (Answer follows)
Born Today …
That is to say, sports standouts born on Sept. 1 include heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano (1923) and star NBA guard Tim Hardaway (1966).
On hearing that Reggie Jackson was reported to have an IQ of 165, Yankee teammate Mickey Rivers snidely replied, “Out of what—a thousand?”
Joe DiMaggio was the A.L. MVP three times—in 1939, 1941, and 1947.
Michael Moffett is a Professor of Sports Management for Plymouth State University and NHTI-Concord, while also teaching on-line for New England College. He recently co-authored the critically-acclaimed and award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back” (with the Marines)—which is available through Amazon.com. His e-mail address is email@example.com.