Hey Joe

The Booing of the Great DiMaggio

No, he wasn't doing so great. But because his fame never dwindled and the blonds were forever available and the money kept escalating from autographs and commercials and assorted giveaways, he pretended that this was the way it was supposed to be.

"I miss it," he had said. He would miss it more and more.

One day I was having lunch with a producer from Screen Gems Hollywood, who was intent on making a film of Man on Spikes. In the midst of discussion, he suddenly looked up, eyes popping, mouth agape. "My God, it's Joe DiMaggio!" as if he'd seen the Lord, himself. As it turned out, Joe saw me and came right to the table. When I greeted him, I told him what we'd been talking about. "Hey, it's about time," he said, then added his usual support line: "Let me know if I can help you."

The result was an instant turnabout. I was told to put Man on Spikes on the back burner. We would make The Joe and Marilyn Story. I would be the writer and associate producer. Hadn't Joe himself said he would help me? I couldn't disabuse him of this—by the time we had coffee, I had so completely rejected his idea that my book was not only off the back burner but out the kitchen window.

I never got to tell DiMag of that misfortune. Years passed. There was Marilyn's suicide (or murder, take your pick); the San Francisco earthquake that wrecked his home; a Florida lawyer, Morris Engelberg, who befriended him as he supervised the highly remunerative signing of baseballs, bats, cards, and whatever else might hold his name. I would read of these preposterous ventures, see pictures of Joe behind stacks of baseballs, pen in hand. It was all very depressing.

The last time I heard from him was in the mid '80s, when a man rang my doorbell. I recognized him as a member of Joe's entourage. He was there because Joe wanted my book—Man on Spikes, of course. I brought him a copy. He held it for a moment, then politely asked if I would write my name in it. My God, Joe DiMaggio wanted my autograph!

"Dear Joe," I wrote. "Let me know if I can help you. Best wishes. Eliot Asinof."

Joe died 62 years after the day of the booing, after Joe Ruppert said he hoped the young man had learned his lesson. As Richard Ben Cramer described it, the deathbed scene was as gruesome as anything I'd ever read. There is Morris Engelberg bidding the nurse to pry the 1936 World Series ring from DiMag's finger, insisting that Joe wanted him to have it. Then, according to Engelberg, Joe died in his arms. Even Ty Cobb's loveless death seemed less sordid. Whatever lesson Joe learned in his lifetime, it was not one that brought him joy.

Life can be grim in America's national pastime.

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