The Dimaggio Nobody Knew

In the end, he was free of the crowds that cheered and revered him, the crowds that made his fortune and that he detested. He always hated it when fans would interrupt him in restaurants, stop him on the street, ask him to sign. Now, at last, with the help of a roaring squadron of San Francisco motorcycle cops, Joe DiMaggio would make his last trip on earth nonstop, beyond all annoyance, in perfect privacy. Perfection was always the goal. Joe's brother Dominic, the old Red Sox center fielder, ruled that only family could say goodbye in the grand old church. Dom said that's what Joe would have wanted. Yet even among those 60 mourners, there were many whom Joe had pushed away in life. There were aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, whom he'd walked away from 50 years ago when he thought they wanted too much from him. That pallbearer with the gray ponytail--that was Joe DiMaggio Jr., whom Big Joe bitterly cut out of his life. Father and son never spoke. Even Dommie, the youngest and sole surviving brother, didn't speak with Joe for years. Only as lung cancer was killing Joe at 84 did the brothers try to repair the breach.

Still, Dominic knew him cold. In the vast, empty, echoing Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, Dominic made the eulogy ... and filled it with the records of which Joe was so proud: the MVP years, batting crowns, home-run championships and World Series winners. After all, it was Joe himself who insisted for the past 30 years that he be introduced (last--always last) as Baseball's Greatest Living Player. That couldn't be said anymore, of course. But to ignore the stiff pride would have missed this man.

Dominic made another point--this not as a fellow player, but as a brother, and once again a bull's-eye--that Brother Joe, for all the pride, for all the fame, all the love of the crowd, never found his life's partner. And that was his sadness. Dommie didn't have to say the rest--how in this very church, 60 years before, while 10,000 of his townsmen cheered, Joe took his bride Dorothy Arnold. That marriage ended in a nasty divorce. And certainly Dommie would never bring up Joe's other wife, Marilyn Monroe, whose death sealed Joe's solitary fate forever. He always thought it was the crowd and the Kennedys, the hero machine, Hollywood and its hangers-on, who were responsible--they killed his girl. Joe wouldn't permit mention of her name in life--why would he now, in death?

That was the point: he died as he lived... without intimates of any sort, an object of feverish curiosity, in impenetrable secrecy, swaddled in myth, without even a formalistic nod to the public's right to know. Dominic was correct: that's what Joe would have wanted ... as the family in the church, the fans in the morning chill on the street who politely applauded his casket, as the nation as a whole looking in on TV ... said goodbye to the loneliest hero we have ever had.

There was actually a vote for the greatest living player, in '69, baseball's centennial year. By that time, Ruth, Cobb and Gehrig were gone. But Ted Williams, the last man to hit .400, was very much alive in memory and in person. The voters all had fresher visions of the modern greats--Musial and Mantle had recently retired, Mays and Clemente were still All-Stars. Still, it wasn't even close. Even dimmed by two decades' distance, one name, one man stood out alone. Joe DiMaggio walked away with the honor, as he'd won every other accolade in baseball--without apparent strain.

What was it about DiMaggio that set him apart--not just from players with whom he shared the field, but from every mortal who ever played the game?

There was, for a start, unequaled talent. There is an old dictum that a baseball player must do five things passably well: run, field, throw, hit, and hit for power. There are players who can do one of these brilliantly, who make millions every year in the major leagues. There are players who were brilliant at two in the Hall of Fame. DiMaggio--like no one else who'd ever played the game--was brilliant at five out of five.

But the men who played with him and against him didn't talk so much about those splendid abilities (what was there to say?) ... but about what he couldn't do. He couldn't misjudge a fly ball in that vast Yankee Stadium center field; couldn't look bad on a low, slow curveball; couldn't ever rile an umpire against him, or act in an unbecoming way toward opponents. He never seemed to throw to the wrong base, never ran the base paths stupidly--he just couldn't. Or maybe there's a sixth talent, which is thinking--a constant, critical awareness on the ballfield ... in which case, DiMaggio had six out of six.

There was another attribute (the only one Joe would mention in public), which was DiMaggio-as-Winner. In his 13 years, his Yankees won 10 pennants and 9 world championships. That is a record unmatched by any player from any other club in history. (For purposes of comparison: the Atlanta Braves, juggernaut of the '90s, have won four pennants and one world series.)

And it wasn't just Octobers, or the weight of winning over decades, judged in numbers after the fact: it was every springtime when the papers would fill with speculation about the new, stronger Indians, or Tigers or Red Sox ("Yeah, but the Yanks still got DiMag") ... it was every late-inning, Yankees behind, when fans would glance at their scorecards to be sure Joe D. had another at-bat ("Don't worry, the Clipper'll get us even") ... every time a Yankee pitcher looked over his shoulder, and knew he could throw this guy a strike ("There's room out there--Dago'll catch it") ... it was every day or every night, every inning that DiMaggio could take the field. "You'd just see him," as Phil Rizzuto said, "and you knew you had a pretty good chance to win."

DiMaggio was famed for his prodigies: three MVP years, two years when he led the league in home runs, two when he led for average and of course, May, June, July of '41, when he hit safely in 56 straight, and the nation was literally singing his name. But DiMaggio was the best player on the field, no matter which day or year, no matter the opponent, no matter the score.

He never made a fuss about a game-winning hit, a run-saving hook-slide, an impossible catch amid the monuments in left-center ... he knew he could do it. He seemed to play without mortal fear: when pitchers threw at his head, he wouldn't bail out, wouldn't hit the dirt, wouldn't move his feet--he'd lift his chin, let the ball pass beneath and never even change his expression. It's often said (for want of better) that Joe D. was "a natural." In fact, he was the unnatural: for 13 years, he stood against the humbling nature of the game. He excelled and continued to excel, against injury and age, against the mounting "natural" odds. He exceeded, withal, the cruelest expectations: He was expected to lead and to win--and he did. He was expected to be the best--and he was. He was expected to be the exemplar of dignity, class, grace--expected even to look the best. And he looked perfect.

DiMaggio set the standard for the game, when the game was the standard for the nation. When DiMaggio broke in with the Yankees, in '36, baseball stood above any other national endeavor. It wasn't just American but wholesome, successful, a point of excellence and glamour in a country that didn't have many such points to enjoy. Every president since Taft came to throw out the first pitch in April. The only real professional sports (as measured by the real American standards--big-time hype and money) were baseball and boxing. And Joe Louis could fight Schmeling only once a year. But baseball was big news every day, as present as the weather--and as much discussed.

In Joe, the nation found a mirror for its best self. In the hard-knuckled '30s, he was the Sicilian immigrant's son who came from nothing, made it big. As the war drew nearer, he was our can-do poster boy, getting hits every day through the summer of '41. In the war, he sacrificed his best years but came back as a winner--bigger than ever. In postwar wealth and ease, he was our Broadway Joe, squiring Miss Americas at the Stork Club ... until he wooed and won, in Marilyn Monroe, the most beautiful girl America could dream up. And even when he lost that girl for good, in 1962, he was us, at the start of our decade of assassination and bereavement. He was, at every turn, our idea of the American hero--one man we could look at, who made us feel good. For it was always about how we felt ... with Joe. That's how it worked. No wonder we strove, for six decades--the nation, its presidents, its citizens, almost everyone--to give Joe the hero's life. It was always about us.

And, of course, that he knew.

DiMaggio's father thought the boy was lazy--Joe would never help on the fishing boat. Joe was so tongue-tied that his sisters thought him slow-witted. For his part, Joe thought he'd never get free of his father's life, the grinding labor at Fisherman's Wharf ... or never get out of his neighborhood--North Beach, in San Francisco. How could he get out?

He made it through elementary and grammar school: he was moved along with the other kids--why not?--Joe didn't make any trouble. But he never read, never said a word in class. And when he got to Galileo High School, the jig was up. The teachers might as well have been talking Chinese. Joe and his friends--all fishing folk--didn't understand a thing. He wasn't quite 16 years old when he simply stopped going to school. It was months before anybody noticed.

He still showed up to work every day, selling papers--at the corner of Sansome and Sutter. Joe sold The Call at three cents a copy and kept one penny. On a good day he might earn two or three bucks--and brought it home: his parents were strict about money. In 1932, there weren't many other jobs to choose from. He stacked wooden slats at Pacific Box. He tried squeezing oranges, but that was worse. He never lasted at any job for more than a week. There wasn't anything he wanted to do, except to have a few bucks in his pocket--and that was going to take a miracle. But that's what he found. Or, you could say, the miracle found him.

There was a myth that grew up around DiMaggio, after he'd become an American hero and needed a hero's story. The myth held that Joe only wanted to play baseball: that's why he wouldn't fish with his father, because he only loved the American game. But the fact was Joe had given up on baseball. What was the point? There wasn't any money in it. Still, when the neighborhood boys found a sponsor for their own semipro team--Rossi Olive Oil--they wanted Joe. He could smack that ball!

At first, they had to make him play--they'd go to his house and get him out of bed, to make sure he'd show up. Within months, he'd moved on from Rossi Olive Oil. Another team would pay him a couple of dollars--and then he was offered five bucks a game! Within a year, the local pro teams offered tryouts. Joe was on his way.

By 18, he had a contract with the San Francisco Seals, in the Pacific Coast League--just a notch below the majors. By 21, he was a star with the Yankees, the toast of New York and a hero to Italian-Americans across the country. Now he had money and plenty of it--though he never seemed to sign a contract without a bitter fight for more. He bought his family a big new house and invested in a restaurant that his oldest brother could run. He had a splendid car before he could drive. The newspapers offered money, too--they wanted his autobiography. But they'd have to fill in the story themselves. Last time Joe looked, he was a kid selling papers at Sansome and Sutter.

It was more than athletic talent pushing Joe to the fore--though he had that in abundance. It was beauty, or something akin--classicism, grace--that set him apart. That's not to say he had poster-boy good looks. Especially in his younger years, he was hawk-nosed and bucktoothed. But no one who saw him move around a ballfield could forget him. There was the way he stepped up to hit--with thorough self-possession, not one extra twitch. Just one cock of the bat toward the pitcher and then all was still, balanced, perfect--like a statue ... until the ball was almost in the catcher's glove, at which point Joe would smash it on a hard line, somewhere. There was the way he patrolled center field--never dove for a ball, never ran into a wall, never even ran out from under his cap. The ball would come down (no matter where) and Joe would be there. You could watch a whole season and never notice him running hard in the field--though that was illusion. Tommy Henrich, who played next to Joe in right for 11 years, said: "When that big sonofabuck ran, you could feel it in the ground."

Joe courted the same illusion of nonchalance off the field. But that was harder. He hadn't the gift of small talk with writers, the ready glad hand for fans. Whenever he could, he simply hid. After games, he'd sit in the clubhouse for hours, legs crossed on his stool, smoking and staring at nothing--waiting till even the diehard kids with autograph books had given up and gone home. The only place you might see him in New York was the corner table at Toots Shor's saloon, where the owner, staff and a ring of idolaters would make sure "The Dago" wasn't bothered.

The irony was, he had no chance of escaping our gaze. He might as well have tried to declare himself an Irishman. DiMaggio was our first modern media star--the first public person for the nation as a whole. It wasn't really his doing--but he came along just as we found the means to peer into our heroes' lives.

Of course, there had been big stars before ... But Joe (so abstemious, so shy) was in a million parlors--big as Life, the new magazine that debuted the same year as he. We knew his face, his form (in stop-action photos!) down to the horrid scars on his heels where doctors tried to hack away the bone spurs. And then, too, the radio started airing every game. So it wasn't five thousand guys in straw hats who saw his exploits at the park. It was hundreds of thousands every day--millions in October--everywhere, they witnessed him.

And subtler changes, for DiMaggio, were worse. Radio meant interview shows: his voice, his feelings, the state of his famous and fragile body--all were known. And play-by-play forced the writers to change: it wasn't enough to tell what happened--We knew that, already!--the sports page had to show the players up close. Competition spurred columns--gossip, nightlife--what DiMaggio did off-hours was news, now, too. That was the cosmic joke on Joe: he got to the top and the country changed beneath him--the attitudes, appetites. We didn't just want a center fielder. We wanted him to be a personality for us. We wanted him, personally ... which was his dread.

By his second year in the big leagues DiMaggio was name enough to be inveigled into the movies--a bit part in "Manhattan Merry Go Round." It was on that movie set that Joe met a Minnesota blonde who called herself Dorothy Arnold. When they married, two years later, the ceremony made national news and set off the biggest party San Francisco had ever seen. The church was packed, and the park outside, and the streets for several blocks around. No one could get in, no one could get out--least of all, Joe.

By the end of June 1941, when Joe's consecutive hitting streak had climbed into the 40s, and he passed the record, DiMaggio had almost squeezed Hitler off the front page. The wires were running bulletins on The Yankee Clipper's every at-bat, and flashes (ten bells!) when he got that day's hit. Times Square was graced with a 30-foot-high Joe, announcing that Camels never irritated his throat, and Les Brown was climbing toward the top spot on "Your Hit Parade" with his new tune that had America singing along:

And in the middle of it all, Joe was evermore set apart. He was more and more estranged from his pregnant wife; save for his road roomie, Lefty Gomez, and the coterie at Shor's, he was friendless; he was moody, irritable or silent, chain-smoking, coffee-jangled, unable to sleep, working up an ulcer ... and lonely. Withal, at 26, his shyness had turned to something harder: now, you dealt with Joe D. on his terms, or (more often) not at all; you wrote him up with hero-puff, or he'd cut you off for life.

It was Gomez who complained aloud: "Here we are, eleven and a half games ahead, and they're trying to ring in a war on us! If we were in third place, they wouldn't even mention it." But it was Joe who seethed when he had to give up the Yankee pinstripes after the '42 season and spend three years in a uniform of olive drab. As wars are measured, his wasn't that tough: mostly he played center field for the Seventh Army Air Force, in Hawaii. When he wasn't at the ballpark, he'd hang around his Quonset hut. He had a lot of thinking to do--about Dorothy. She'd filed for divorce in 1943. She said Joe was cold, moody, silent and almost never around for her and their little son, Joe Jr. Big DiMaggio was too proud to contest her suit. What could he do about it in Hawaii? Joe told one Army teammate, an old San Francisco friend, Dario Lodigiani: "They're gonna pay me for missing these years."

In fact, they did pay handsomely, after Joe came back in '46. The country was trying on its postwar affluence, and the nasty contract battles that marked DiMaggio's early years were all put behind. Baseball was booming, and the Yankees had new high-rolling ownership. In the course of the next five years, DiMaggio would become baseball's first hundred-thousand-dollar man.

Joe resumed the bachelor habits he held all his life--trains, planes, hotels. Even when he had a place of his own, it looked like a hotel room--there was nothing of his. What he had was a lot of money, some good clothes, his baseball records ... and mostly, overwhelmingly, that image, the persona that had burned into the American brainpan, and into his. It was like his name--who he was supposed to be--had expanded to fill a life, and drove out everything else.

It wasn't long after the war that Joe's body began to betray him. His back, his neck, were stiff and aching. One knee was always tricky. Then the terrible bone spurs in his feet made every step a shock of pain. In his last couple of years--'50, '51--the Yankee infielders would sprint halfway out to the fence to take Joe's cutoff throws. By that time, the fabled DiMaggio arm held only one good throw a day. But all the physical woes never diminished who he was. Other ballplayers whose skills eroded faded from the public mind--but not he. His fragility, in fact, only made him more treasured--gave poignance to the persona and gravity that raised it to something like literature.

This is the second day now that I do not know the result of the juegos, he thought, Hemingway wrote of his "Old Man and the Sea." But I must have confidence and I must be worthy of the Great DiMaggio who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel.

DiMaggio retired and walked away from the game, and from another hundred thousand dollars (an act that cemented his reputation for class). But had he continued to play--it was clear to Joe--he would show himself merely mortal. It was clear to Lefty Gomez, too, who as usual did the talking for them both: "He couldn't be Joe DiMaggio anymore."

To be precise, he couldn't be DiMaggio on the ballfield. For the rest, he was only getting better. Slowly, secretly (and to the vast amusement of the few friends who knew), he was trying to learn new, fancy words to use when forced to public utterance. ("I've just been peregrinating around the block.") He attended the Dale Carnegie Institute. He got his teeth fixed.

A year of postgame shows for Yankee broadcasts turned into misery. Joe had to have everything scripted. He'd be paralyzed and furious if the show began and he couldn't see the first cue card: HELLO. I'M JOE DIMAGGIO ... But he found a more congenial way to be DiMaggio. A company that supplied America's military bases hired Joe to entertain visiting generals. It was easy. He'd take the brass to a ballpark, chat about the game and present them with a watch inscribed From Joe DiMaggio. Then they'd go out to dinner--the greatest night those generals ever had. They'd walk into the place with DiMaggio ... and people went crazy!

Of course, it happened for Joe every night--anywhere in the country ... or the world. When he arrived with a team of major leaguers to tour Japan in 1951, he was cheered (Bonzai DiMaggio!) by a million fans on the Ginza. It was surely the greatest welcome any ballplayer ever received ... until 1954, when DiMaggio returned to Tokyo--this time with his new bride, Marilyn Monroe. Then the honeymoon couple couldn't even get out of the airplane.

In the long years afterward, it was fashionable to say they were always ill suited. Joe and Marilyn ... how could that Old World Italian--so conservative, shy and inward--get along with a wife who didn't wear underpants? But it didn't look like a mismatch to Joe. They had dinner together for purpose of publicity (hers): she was still building her fame in '52. By all accounts, dinner didn't go well--mostly, her PR man chattered. After a decent interval, DiMaggio said he had to leave. He'd catch a cab ... but she offered him a ride. He never got home that night.

By her account, they were terrific in bed. (DiMaggio was no stranger to that playing field--in fact, showgirls, blondes, were his specialty.) She thought his body was perfect--like Michelangelo's David. He thought hers was--well, as he said in one boyish letter to her: "Wow."

If that had been all, they might have come out unscathed. But there was much more. There was the part of Marilyn that thought she wanted to settle down--to have a "real" life (with children, certainly!)--and Joe had such a solid feel, the one man she'd met who wasn't blown about by the Hollywood whirlwinds.

There was his pride in her, when they'd show up around New York ... At Toots Shor's Christmas party, Joe was grinning like a kid, with the stir they caused. "Hiya Joe! ... Hey Dago!" the old crowd was calling, and Joe would shrug happily and say, "I'm just with her."

There was the way she tried happily to "fit in" with his family--there she was in the kitchen of the San Francisco rowhouse, earnestly inquiring how to make the spaghetti with sardines. There was the way Joe Jr. took to her: father and son had never learned to be close--now, maybe, there'd be a chance.

And there was everything Big Joe and Marilyn had in common--or rather, one enormous thing. Both of them had lived for years alone, inside the vast personages created for them by the hero machine. Marilyn was supposed to be the little orphan girl who grew up to be America's child-vamp-goddess. And if, in fact, she was neither orphan nor childlike, America did not want to know. Joe was supposed to be the immigrant poor boy who only loved baseball, who learned to hit with a broken oar and grew up to be the American apotheosis of manly grace. If, in fact, he played ball mostly for the money, that was better left unsaid. They'd both been too busy, or too hungry, to feed the person inside the personage. (In Marilyn's rented rooms, there was nothing of her, either.) In their loneliness, they might as well have been brother and sister.

Instead, they married in January 1954--city hall, San Francisco--and things went sour in a hurry. On that honeymoon trip to Tokyo, Joe felt besieged, assaulted by the frenzy that Marilyn set off in crowds. Then a U.S. general flew in from Korea and invited Marilyn to entertain the troops. Marilyn looked at Joe, Joe looked at Marilyn. He said, "Do what you want. It's your honeymoon." So she went, and Joe stayed in Tokyo, alone.

When they came back to the States, it was worse. Marilyn started working again--in Los Angeles, a town Joe detested. He could stay alone in San Francisco, or fly down to stay at her place--alone. Marilyn had to wake at 5 a.m., get to the studio. She wouldn't be back till 7 or 8 at night. Maybe they'd get some food, watch an hour of TV--that was it. Worse still, he hated the work she was doing, the blond-bombshell roles she got, her skimpy costumes, the breathy suggestive lines ... the way they promoted her, like a piece of flesh ... and he hated how hungry she was for more. He'd had his fill of the public's worship. She couldn't get enough.

They fought and screamed. She drank. He hit her. In New York, Walter Winchell made sure Joe was present as Marilyn posed for publicity photographs for "The Seven Year Itch." It was the famous scene where the wind from the subway grate blew her skirt up, exposing everything below. Joe was enraged as he watched the photographers snapping away, with their lenses pointed at his wife's crotch. That night there was a terrible fight--the beginning of the end. By October--274 days after the wedding--she filed for divorce in California. Once again, Joe wouldn't fight.

But even while she was Mrs. Arthur Miller, Marilyn (according to her maid) kept a picture of Joe taped inside her closet door. Near the end of her life, as Marilyn was thanking her psychiatrist for helping her (finally!) to attain a real orgasm, she mused in midtherapy: "I'd like to see Joe, now, and give him a real one."

It turned out, of all the men, Joe was the strong one, the one she could lean on. It was he whom she called when she was horrified to find herself locked away in a mental hospital--and they wouldn't let her go. Joe arrived, and demanded at the front desk: "I want my wife." (At that point, they hadn't been married for seven years.) "But Mr. DiMaggio," the hospital staff protested, "we don't have authority to release her to you, or to anyone else!" Joe spoke again, very clearly: "I want my wife. And if you don't give her to me, I will take this place apart, piece of wood by piece of wood." At that point, the staff discovered Miss Monroe was free to go.

They were closest at the end--nicer to each other than they'd ever been in marriage. As Marilyn's world came unglued, Joe was there for her, worrying about her, calling, writing. He took her to spring training at the Yankee camp in Florida. In '62, he told friends that they were going to remarry. Marilyn and Joe--back again! She was ready to give up all that Hollywood sickness. They had it all set. She had her dress and everything. Then she was gone--August '62 ... they called it suicide.

Joe never said how he thought she died. But he made it apparent whom he blamed: the Kennedy boys (yeah, he knew about that), Sinatra (his former friend!), that snake Peter Lawford and all the rest of the rat-pack scum. He wouldn't let them near her funeral--none of them. Producers, directors, flacks and stars--all equally unwelcome. The studio brass tried to reason with Joe: These are very big people! What can we tell them? "Tell them," said DiMaggio, "if it wasn't for them, she'd still be here."

What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Joltin' Joe has left and gone away.
When Paul Simon's song from "The Graduate" echoed around the country, Joe wanted to sue: "What're they talking about?" he complained. "I haven't gone anywhere. I'm employed."

But he had gone away, for years that weren't worth a damn. There was a bit of public-relations work, some golf, near-constant travel, too much drink, a lot of blondes--from the screen stars of the moment down to the strippers who made their living by undressing-up like Marilyn onstage.

Of course, no one heard a word about that--certainly not from him. He wouldn't discuss how he felt, any more than he would rub the spot where it hurt when he was hit with a pitch. When anybody new would meet Joe, the friend who made the introduction would counsel before the first handshake: "Remember! You mention Marilyn, he's gone."

The only one who really understood was his son. They'd clung to one another at her funeral. That was the closest they'd ever been. But after she was gone, it was worse than before. Big Joe bought Junior a big-rig truck, but the kid wrecked it and lost his license. After a while, Junior was drinking--said the only thing he wanted to be was a bum. So Dad helped him with his wish and cut him off. They never spoke. Big Joe spent his time doing autograph deals for millions of dollars--piling up a fortune that he would never leave to his son.

His name still moved a nation--25 years after he stopped playing ball. Joe learned to live with the attention, adulation--he even liked it, at a safe remove. He took a chance in the '70s on TV ads--the Bowery Bank in New York, and Mr. Coffee, nationwide. Joe still wasn't comfy on TV. But the money was good, and these were scripted spots. And the agency men wanted exactly the DiMaggio he preferred to show the world: quiet, dignified, solid ... a bit aloof even from the commerce that landed him on the screen.

It worked out brilliantly for everyone involved. Joe found out that with TV working for you--over and over, a million screens, a million times--not only can you make your own image (and enforce it) ... but it satisfies: people stop asking about anything else. They want you to be what they know--to validate their time, their attention--they just want you to be that guy on TV! ... Talk about a safe remove!

And when you added that TV power to the dusty history of real achievement--a plaque in Cooperstown ... and there was Dad, or Grampa, struggling to describe the grace of the Clipper in centerfield ... and Mom approving, with tears in her eyes, the way that man buried poor Marilyn--and then sent roses every week! ... well, Joe was bigger than ever--and more distant. It was beyond fame ... to veneration. And it was everyone--no matter how old, or where they came from. Joe was the same icon of past perfection and present dignity to an aged paisano in the Bronx ... or a child of the '60s from Hootin' Holler, Arkansas.

Just a few years ago, Joe signed on to attend the big blowout for Cal Ripken and his Ironman Streak--on the night Cal was going to break Lou Gehrig's old record. The Orioles only paid expenses for Joe to come ... but what the hell--everybody wanted to be there. It was the first bit of big-time, wholesome glamour that baseball had mustered in a generation ... and sure enough, here came Arkansas's Number One Baby Boomer: Bill Clinton was up in the sky-box suites, giving interviews. So The Baltimore Sun's guy on the job was Carl Cannon and he took notes while Clinton discoursed on the importance of Ripken's streak, the value of hard work, the lessons communicated to our youth in a nation troubled by blah blah blah. After about 15 minutes, he put away the notepad, and then it was just him and Clinton watching the game. Of course, the place was packed, and the fans were going mental, waiting for the moment when the game was official, and Ripken was the King.

"It's awesome," Cannon said. "It's amazing."

"Yeah," Clinton said, idly ... and then he reached over and grabbed Cannon's arm. The president's eyes were alight, as he almost whispered: "You know ... DiMaggio's here!"

Editor's Picks

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts