There have been many legendary baseball players throughout history who have made a name for themselves in the sport. However, only a few players have left a legacy and a record as impressive as Joe DiMaggio’s. He earned the nickname “Joltin’ Joe” and “the Yankee Clipper” for a reason.
DiMaggio achieved a level of success that most baseball players only dream of, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing. On the field, people saw the winning scores, highlights, and the person DiMaggio wanted fans to see. But behind the scenes, he went through tragedies like any other human.
His Parents Had Big Dreams for Their Family
Born Giuseppe Paola DiMaggio in 1914, Joe DiMaggio was the son of two Italian immigrants who came to America in 1898. When DiMaggio was still a baby, his parents moved the family to San Francisco. His father, Giuseppe, worked hard as a fisherman. He hoped his sons would follow in his footsteps.
However, DiMaggio and his brothers had other dreams. He and his brothers, Vince and Dominic, would spend their free time at the neighborhood baseball field. They all dreamed of becoming professional players. DiMaggio didn’t want anything to do with the fishing business because he hated the smell of dead fish.
Who Is Joe DiMaggio?
Giuseppe resented his sons’ desire to pursue other careers. He would often tell DiMaggio that he was “good for nothing.” He did everything to encourage his sons to go into the fishing business. Unfortunately for Giuseppe, Vince was signed to the San Francisco Seals and started making money.
With encouragement from his brother, DiMaggio proved himself on the field and was also signed to the Seals. He quickly outshined his brother and had the second-longest hitting streak in Minor League Baseball history. DiMaggio said, “Baseball didn’t really get into my blood until I knocked off that hitting streak.”
An Injury Almost Ended His Career
Getting a daily hit became more important to him than eating, drinking, or sleeping. However, in 1934 DiMaggio suffered a career-threatening knee injury. He tore ligaments while stepping off the bus. Luckily, a scout for the New York Yankees, Bill Essick (William Earl Essick), was convinced the injury would heal.
Essick pestered his club to give DiMaggio another shot. Therefore, as soon as he passed his physical exam, the Yankees purchased his contract for $50,000. DiMaggio finished the season with the Seals and had an incredible batting record. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the 1935 season.
Major League Debut
After finishing his minor league season, DiMaggio made his major league debut on May 3, 1936. He batted ahead of Lou Gehrig in the team’s lineup. Before DiMaggio joined the team, the Yankees hadn’t made it to the World Series since 1932. However, DiMaggio changed their luck.
DiMaggio was a perfectionist on the field. When he joined the Yankees, he kept to himself and focused on the game. At first, he didn’t bond with his teammates because he was always thinking about the game and how to make himself better. What most people didn’t know was that he was holding something inside.
He Kept to Himself
While many believed DiMaggio was just a quiet person, he actually didn’t talk much because he was worried that he’d embarrass himself or make a mistake. This quality crossed into his personal life too, and he would barely say a word around his friends, family, or teammates.
In 1936, DiMaggio took a road trip with his teammates from San Francisco to Florida for spring training. During the 3,000-mile car ride, the only words he uttered were, “I don’t drive.” The best way he communicated was by winning games for the Yankees.
His Family Was Mistreated During WWII
During WWII, the U.S. feared an attack from enemy forces and went to extreme lengths to protect its citizens. Many people emigrated from enemy countries before the war, and the U.S. labeled them “enemy aliens.” This included DiMaggio’s Italian parents.
His father wasn’t allowed to visit their family restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf, and the government restricted his ability to go more than five miles from his home without permission. An army general wanted to have DiMaggio’s father arrested in order to make an example out of him. They also seized his fishing boat.
World War II Affected His Career
When the U.S. got involved in World War II, it affected sports leagues because many players were drafted to different military branches. DiMaggio served in the army and missed three years of his prime. Many believe he could have had an even more impressive career.
While he never got deployed overseas, DiMaggio served as a physical instructor and played in Army baseball games. He apparently had a “defective attitude” during his military service. He felt like the army was exploiting him for his status as a professional athlete.
He Was More Concerned With His Personal Problems
In 1939, DiMaggio married his first wife, actress Dorothy Arnold. The two had one son together in 1941, but they got divorced in 1944. DiMaggio was still in the army and was more concerned with his personal problems than his army service at the time of their divorce.
Arnold had custody of their son, and Major Emile G. Stoloff believed DiMaggio was trying to get released early by faking stomach ulcers. He sacrificed and endured a lot, especially after his parents were classified as “enemy aliens” following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Setting Records in His Rookie Year
During DiMaggio’s first season with the Yankees, he set a rookie record for the franchise with 29 home runs. Before joining the Yankees, they hadn’t been to the World Series since 1932. However, DiMaggio led the team to a World Series win in his rookie year.
Throughout his 13-year Major League career, DiMaggio led the Yankees to nine World Series championships. By the end of the 1940s, he was the first baseball player to break $100,000 in earnings when he signed a contract that would be worth over $1 million today.
Courting Marilyn Monroe
After his first marriage fell apart, DiMaggio waited nearly a decade to get serious about another woman. He spent most of his time focusing on his career until he set his sights on Marilyn Monroe. After DiMaggio retired from baseball, he started courting the blonde bombshell.
He spent 18 months courting Monroe. She was reluctant to date DiMaggio at first. She feared that he would be like every other typical arrogant athlete. However, he showed Monroe another side of him that changed her mind. She eventually agreed to date him.
He Was Different Before the Wedding
Just as Monroe’s career was taking off, DiMaggio wanted her to be more of a housewife. His old-school mindset didn’t align with Monroe’s career ambitions. Before they were married, Monroe said he treated her special. He respected her intelligence and vulnerability.
Monroe and DiMaggio talked about their shared desire for a stable home and children when they started dating. They discussed getting married for months and knew it wouldn’t be an easy marriage. However, Monroe said they couldn’t go on forever as cross-country lovers because it would hurt their careers.
A Small Wedding
On January 14, 1954, DiMaggio and Monroe eloped at City Hall in San Francisco. They posed for photos on the steps of Saints Peter and Paul Church. The two couldn’t get married in a church because they had both been previously divorced.
DiMaggio came up with the last-minute wedding idea that fit both their schedules. According to Monroe, DiMaggio said, “You’re having all this trouble with the studio and not working, so why don’t we get married now?” He had to go to Japan for business, so they turned it into a honeymoon.
Things Quickly Changed
Everyone saw them as the perfect couple, but the union was doomed from the start. During their honeymoon, Monroe left to perform for the troops stationed in Korea. DiMaggio wanted them to have a normal life when they got home, but he completely changed.
He was an “unbearable husband,” and their relationship suffered because of his jealousy. DiMaggio wanted to control Monroe, and he was physically abusive. After her famous skirt-blowing scene in The Seven Year Itch, a violent fight broke out between them in the theater lobby.
DiMaggio was disgusted with the subway grille scene. According to Monroe, DiMaggio said, “…exposing my legs and thighs, even my crotch — that was the last straw.” Monroe filed for divorce after just nine months of marriage, citing mental cruelty. It was almost easy to foresee.
He was initially drawn to Monroe’s “sex goddess” persona but had a problem with her flaunting it. He wasn’t only a control freak on the field but also in their marriage. Neither could have been content in a union between two such different personalities.
He Tried to Get Her Back
When Monroe stepped out of their Beverly Hills home to announce their divorce, DiMaggio wrote her a letter. He said, “I love you and want to be with you… there is nothing I would like better than to restore your confidence in me.”
There was a real pain in her face when she stood in front of the press. DiMaggio also wrote, “My heart split even wider seeing you cry in front of all those people.” He cared about her and wanted to make things better, but the abuse was too much.
Retiring From Baseball
After signing a $100,000 contract in 1949, DiMaggio was one of the highest-earning baseball players of his time. The following year, he was ranked the second-best center fielder behind Larry Doby. However, the 1951 season was a turning point. A heel injury prevented him from playing his best.
After playing for the Yankees for 13 seasons and winning nine World Series titles, DiMaggio announced his retirement in 1951. He was only 37, but he suffered from aches and pains. He said, “When baseball is no longer fun, it is no longer a game.”
He Lost Many Home Runs
There is no doubt that DiMaggio had a legendary career, but baseball experts said he could have been better if he hadn’t played at Yankee Stadium. The field’s setup made it almost impossible for right-handed hitters to hit home runs.
Many of DiMaggio’s blasts would have been home runs anywhere other than Yankee Stadium. His home run record on the road was higher than at home. He hit 148 home runs at home and 213 on the road. Basically, he was handicapped by playing at Yankee Stadium.
He Had Ties to the Mafia
At the height of his fame, everyone wanted a piece of DiMaggio, including the Mafia. DiMaggio was reportedly able to walk away from his $100,000 contract in 1951 because mobster Frank Costello set up a “trust fund” for him. He got paid for going to specific clubs.
Whenever DiMaggio visited nightclubs like the Copacabana, Stork Club, or El Morocco, $200 was deposited into the account. Ironically, his “trust fund” was set up at Bowery Bank, and DiMaggio did a commercial for the bank saying how safe your money was at Bowery Bank.
Tragedy Struck His Family
DiMaggio was the sixth of seven children. His brother Mike followed in their father’s footsteps and became a fisherman. Mike and their other brother Dominic often went out at night and had a few brushes with danger, but they were good fishermen.
While preparing for a day of fishing on May 30, 1953, Mike fell overboard while warming up the boat’s engine. Sadly, he drowned because his fishing partner was sound asleep in his bunk. It was a hard time for DiMaggio and his family.
Attempting to Rekindle His Marriage
When DiMaggio and Monroe divorced, he was linked to other famous women, including Lee Meriweather, Marlene Dietrich, and Morgan Fairchild. However, he never stopped loving Monroe. After her third marriage to Arthur Miller ended, DiMaggio came back into her life and tried to bring stability.
She was spiraling out of control, so DiMaggio had Monroe join him in Florida, where he was a batting coach for the Yankees. They claimed they were “just friends,” but that didn’t stop the remarriage rumors from flying. Reporters would sit outside her apartment waiting for them.
He Was Too Late
DiMaggio was concerned because Monroe had fallen in with people who were detrimental to her well-being. He stuck by her as she struggled with addiction, depression, and anxiety. If DiMaggio had had more time, he could have pulled her out of that dark place to save her life.
Unfortunately, Monroe was found dead in her home after overdosing. A devastated DiMaggio claimed her body and made funeral arrangements. He organized to have roses delivered three times a week to her grave for 20 years. DiMaggio always blamed himself for what happened.
He Resented Frank Sinatra
DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra might have been friends at one point, but he grew to hate the singer. After his divorce from Monroe, there were rumors that she dated Sinatra in her final years. When Monroe died, DiMaggio barred Sinatra from her funeral.
He blamed Sinatra for introducing Monroe to the people that contributed to her demise. When Monroe’s attorney complained that DiMaggio was keeping her friends away from the funeral, he said, “If it weren’t for those friends persuading her to stay in Hollywood, she would still be alive.”
A Change of Pace
DiMaggio became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 1953, but he wasn’t elected until 1955. All his hard work on the field was rewarded. Although he was no longer a player, the Brooklyn Dodgers offered him a managerial position in 1953, but he turned down the offer.
However, DiMaggio took a job as a hitting instructor of the newly relocated Oakland Athletics in 1968. His expertise was perfect for the position, and he worked with them for two years. It kept him connected to the game.
Mr. Coffee Doesn’t Drink Coffee
During the ‘70s, DiMaggio became a spokesperson for Mr. Coffee. He was the face of the electric drip coffee makers for over 20 years. Although he was in all the commercials, DiMaggio rarely drank coffee due to his ulcers. When he drank coffee, it was instant coffee.
The people who were born after the ‘70s grew up thinking DiMaggio was a famous appliance salesman. Although he didn’t use the coffee machines, they were successful with consumers, which is why they kept him as the spokesperson for so long.
He Became Less Trusting
As DiMaggio got older, he stopped trusting people. At 74, DiMaggio’s home was severely damaged in the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. While he was lucky to be alive, he sought aid at a Red Cross shelter. He carried two garbage bags because he couldn’t go home.
According to The Tampa Bay Times, DiMaggio was holding $600,000 in cash in those bags from memorabilia signings. He didn’t want to leave his money because he didn’t trust anyone. He was looking out for himself, but his physical health was declining.
When Did Joe DiMaggio Die?
DiMaggio was a heavy smoker in his later years. On March 8, 1999, DiMaggio passed away from complications of lung cancer. He was 84 years old and reportedly said, “Now I get to see Marilyn” before he died. Many mourned the loss of DiMaggio and his legacy.
After his passing, the Yankees wore patches on their uniforms for the entire season to honor DiMaggio. They won their 25th World Series later that season. Even Bill Clinton said, “Today we lost one of the centuries most beloved heroes.” He gave Americans something to believe in.
How Did Joe DiMaggio Die?
The flawless center fielder was admitted to Memorial Regional Hospital in Florida on October 12, 1998, for lung cancer surgery. After almost 100 days in the hospital battling lung infections and pneumonia, he returned home in January 1999. His illness generated a national vigil.
DiMaggio was reported near death several times. At home, he was weak and had little hope of surviving. Family members and friends surrounded him at his bedside when he passed away in March 1999. His years of smoking and insomnia contributed to his ailing health.
Where Is Joe DiMaggio Buried?
Despite popular belief, DiMaggio is not buried with Marilyn Monroe. When they were married, DiMaggio purchased his and her crypts for them. However, upon their divorce, DiMaggio sold his plot directly above Monroe to Richard Poncher. When Monroe died, DiMaggio buried her in Westwood Cemetery.
Meanwhile, DiMaggio was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery. Unfortunately, he is not resting near the love of his life. While his grave is one memorial to the late athlete, DiMaggio also has a memorial at Monument Park in Yankee Stadium.
His Lawyer Tried to Steal From Him
Shortly before DiMaggio passed away, his lawyer, Morris Engelberg, held him captive for five months while he slowly died in the hospital. According to reports, Engelberg had DiMaggio’s 1936 World Series ring pried from his finger moments after he died.
His lawyer planned to steal money from DiMaggio once he died. Engelberg stashed thousands of dollars of memorabilia without his knowledge and wanted to make a profit. However, Engelberg said these rumors were complete lies. He claimed he never needed to steal DiMaggio’s money.
There Was a Different Side to Him
While the world saw him as a baseball hero, DiMaggio had a side that most people chose to ignore. After his death, a biography was released about DiMaggio’s other side. Behind the shiny exterior was a vain, self-centered, and cruel person.
DiMaggio knew how good of a player he was and knew he was a national symbol. He was a peerless player, and the country put him on a pedestal. All he cared about was money because he knew his value and price and exploited it until his dying day.
He Lived in a World of Freebies
Because of his celebrity status, DiMaggio was given free things all the time. He sold his trophies and claimed they were stolen, so the Yankees would give him a new set. DiMaggio made thousands a year by selling free tickets he received from events he didn’t want to go to.
When a Japanese backer gave him a free Cadillac, his response was, “Did you fill the tank with gas?” DiMaggio was almost above the law because he was an American hero. However, it gave him a complex to do whatever he wanted.
“Greatest Living Ballplayer”
It was known that DiMaggio had a big ego. He sometimes let the world see his diva side, and it wasn’t always pretty. He insisted on being introduced as the “Greatest Living Ballplayer” at events, and if people didn’t do that, they had to face his wrath.
At a Yankee Old-Timers’ Day, DiMaggio once punched Billy Crystal in the stomach because he forgot to introduce him as the “Greatest Living Ballplayer.” DiMaggio was angry and felt like he wasn’t respected even though it was an innocent mistake.
He Helped With Cancer Research
While DiMaggio had some negative qualities, there was also a softer side. According to geneticist Mary-Claire King, DiMaggio watched her daughter at the San Francisco airport while she escorted her mother to her flight. King said if it weren’t for DiMaggio, she would have missed her flight.
King and her daughter were flying to Washington DC, which resulted in King getting her first large grant from the National Institute of Health. The grant helped her discover the breast and ovarian cancer-causing gene, BRCA1. Without DiMaggio’s help, she would have missed the meeting to earn the grant.
He Was an Absent Father
During DiMaggio’s first marriage, he had a son, Joe DiMaggio Jr. Growing up, DiMaggio always gave his son the best things money could buy. However, he spent much of his early life in summer camps and military schools. Joe Jr. avoided baseball to play football.
Joe Jr. went to high school in New Jersey, close to his father in New York; however, DiMaggio had little time to see his son and never attended his football games. He enrolled at Yale University but dropped out after a year to join the Marines.
His Son Was Close With Monroe
As a child, Joe Jr. was close with Monroe and often accompanied the couple on dates. Although they divorced, Joe Jr. remained close to the actress. They frequently spoke on the phone, and he called her on the evening of August 4, 1962, to tell her he broke off his engagement.
The following day, Joe Jr. learned that Monroe had died from an apparent overdose. He attended her funeral, which was closed to much of Hollywood, wearing his Marine uniform. Sadly, her death didn’t bring him any closer to his father.
Joe Jr. Worked for His Father
When Joe Jr. moved back to California, he worked for his father’s polyurethane foam business. Working for DiMaggio proved problematic for young Joe. He felt that his father would never be satisfied with him no matter how hard he worked. It led him down a dark path.
He started drinking and was seriously injured in a car accident. A piece of his brain had to be removed because of a blood clot. The surgery left Joe Jr. with a bad temper and less control of his actions. He got into drugs and had periods of homelessness.
He Died Shortly After His Father
Joe Jr. didn’t see his father before he died. In an interview, he said, “I never got the words ‘Come now,’ or I would’ve been there in a flash. I love him… When he wants me there, I’ll be there.” Unfortunately, his father passed away before he said goodbye.
A few months after DiMaggio died, Joe Jr. passed away from natural causes at age 57. He wasn’t able to cope with his father’s fame because he lived in his shadow and couldn’t rise above that. However, many remember him having a brilliant mind.
Another Pro Baller in the Family
While DiMaggio was beginning to hit home runs and break records, his brother Dominic was also climbing up the ranks. He was the smallest and youngest of the DiMaggios, but he was always determined to become a pro baller. He played for the Seals like his older brother.
In 1939, Dominic’s contract was purchased by the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees’ rival. Because of his glasses and small stature, Dominic was nicknamed “The Little Professor.” Besides his 11-year baseball career, Dom was one of the ten original owners of the New England Patriots.
Auctioning Off His Personal Items
After DiMaggio’s death, his adopted grandchildren held an auction of the personal items he left them in his will. Highlights included the ball he hit in breaking Wee Willie Keeler’s hitting-streak record ($63,250), his 1947 MVP award ($281,750), and Monroe’s passport ($115,000).
The auction brought in $4.1 million. DiMaggio’s granddaughters received most of the proceeds, and a portion was donated to DiMaggio’s Children’s Hospital in Florida. People went home with many keepsakes from his relationship with Monroe, like a diary DiMaggio kept with guidelines for a reconciliation with her.
He Bought His Parents a Home
Although his father wasn’t happy that he didn’t become a fisherman, DiMaggio earned more money than his family ever dreamed of. When DiMaggio started to get sizable checks, he bought his parents a home in the Marina District, close to the wharf.
People would talk to his father about baseball, and Giuseppe learned enough from his sons to carry on a conversation. He knew about batting averages and who was going to win the pennant. His father developed an uncanny sense of prophecy about DiMaggio’s game.
The Family Restaurant
In 1937, the DiMaggios opened a restaurant on the Wharf called Joe DiMaggio’s Grotto. DiMaggio was a partner in the business, but his brother Tom took over management. The restaurant was lined with pictures of DiMaggio and his baseball buddies. Many players visited during the off-season.
In time, DiMaggio sold his interest in the family restaurant, but he frequented it on many occasions over the years. Everyone on the wharf knew him, and tourists always hoped to catch a glimpse of the legendary baseball player. He was always savvy about investing his money.
Immortalized in Pop Culture
In Simon & Garfunkel’s hit song “Mrs. Robinson,” DiMaggio is immortalized in the line “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” Simon used the baseball player to represent heroes of the past. DiMaggio was a little upset when he heard the song because he was still alive.
However, he came around when he realized he had become a new icon with the baby boomer generation. Simon was a Yankees fan and said the DiMaggio line came out of nowhere, but they kept it in the song because it was interesting. It’s one of the most well-known song lyrics.
An Unforgettable Legacy
DiMaggio might have passed away, but his legacy lives on. The athlete had some faults, but he was the image of the American dream. After his death, The New York Times called DiMaggio’s 1941 hitting streak “the most enduring record in sports.”
He was a figure of unequaled romance and integrity in people’s minds because of his professionalism on the field. Cheering followed DiMaggio throughout his life, and he up there with legends like Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. There will never be another like Joe DiMaggio.