Monday, February 5, 2024




            Prior to World War II, the United States government had adhered to a policy of isolationism. In the wake of the Pearl Harbor Attack, media-fueled hysteria built to a fever pitch. Feeling the need to neutralize a perceived threat from within, the Roosevelt administration unjustly labeled thousands of Italian, German, and Japanese immigrants “enemy aliens.”

            More than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were uprooted from their homes and placed in internment camps. Germans were not only subjected to relocation, but they were also forbidden to own specific items (such as flashlights, cameras, and radios) that might be used to communicate with Nazi sympathizers. More than 600,000 Italian-Americans were forced to deal with travel restrictions and curfews. Joe DiMaggio’s parents were among the many innocent Sicilians who were made to feel like criminals.

             By the time the United States officially entered the war, Giuseppe and Rosalie had been living in America for several decades. Since they couldn’t read or write enough English to pass the naturalization exam, neither of them had the proper documentation. Aware of their connection to the famous Yankee icon, General John DeWitt of the Western Defense Command considered arresting the couple to make an example of them. But in the end, he decided that other restrictive measures would suffice. Giuseppe and Rosalie were forbidden to visit DiMaggio’s Grotto on Fisherman’s Wharf. They were required to carry I.D. papers on them at all times and, if they wished to travel further than five miles from home, they had to request a permit. Giuseppe’s crab boat—a 16-footer named the Rosalie D.—was confiscated along with the vessels of more than a thousand Italians operating on the Pacific Coast.

            The mistreatment of “Enemy Aliens” continued until the end of the war and beyond. Even after hostilities ceased overseas, it took several years to dismantle the internment program. The punitive measures taken against Italian-Americans didn’t sit well with Joltin’ Joe. According to Army officials, he exhibited a “conscious attitude of hostility and resistance” toward his military duties. The Yankee slugger felt that the Army was exploiting his All-Star status for the purpose of public relations. He resented having to play in Army baseball games. And though he was repeatedly hospitalized for chronic abdominal pain, no evidence of an ulcer was detected by military doctors. Major William G. Barrett believed that DiMaggio was fabricating the illness to earn a medical discharge. His suspicions were included in an official report. Joe eventually got the release he had been seeking in September of 1945.

            Rosalie DiMaggio became an official US citizen in 1944. Giuseppe became naturalized the following year. In 2001, the US Department of Justice formally acknowledged the mistreatment of Italian-Americans during the war. The California state legislature waited nine more years to issue a formal apology (of sorts). A 2010 resolution sponsored by Democratic senator Joe Simitian officially expressed “deepest regrets” over actions taken by government officials during the enemy alien ordeal.  

Sunday, January 28, 2024




            DiMaggio was photographed thousands of times during his career. Nearly all of those photos are tasteful. But in 2009, the one he would not have wanted anyone to see finally surfaced.

            The photo—a full frontal shot of Joe standing naked in the showers at Yankee Stadium—appeared in a San Francisco art gallery exhibit. It later passed into the possession of an auction house and went up for sale. The auctioneers provided the following description of the graphic picture: “Obviously aware of being photographed in such a state, [DiMaggio] is seen smiling for the camera—a young Joe, perhaps still in the 1930s, still in his purest youth. We are not sure how the photo made it to this point, but it is 100% authentic, first generation, and vintage.” An unidentified man—only partially in the frame—is standing shoulder to shoulder with Joe in the shot.      

            At least one source claimed that the photo was a sham. Morris Engelberg, attorney for the DiMaggio estate and one of Joe’s most trusted advisors, commented to reporters, “I could never imagine Joe DiMaggio, this private individual, ever letting anyone take a photo of him in the nude with someone next to him. When Joe DiMaggio went to the bathroom in a restaurant, I always had to escort him. And I made sure no one took a picture of him at the urinal.” Engelberg’s comments about Joe being intensely private are indisputable. The self-conscious Yankee idol strenuously avoided situations that might cause him embarrassment throughout his career. And it would indeed have been highly out of character for him to allow such a photo to be taken.

            The New York Post published Engelberg’s comments under a facetious headline reading, “Lawyer: That’s Not Joltin’ Joe’s Penis.” Speculating on the identity of the man standing next to DiMaggio, a writer from the San Francisco Chronicle comically reported, “A similar photo of Mantle recently surfaced. Collect the entire set. Bonus mystery: Next to DiMaggio in the photo is an unidentified guy. Is it a Yankee teammate? A coach? A stadium peanut vendor? Maybe it’s Engelberg letting down his guard.” Though the New York Daily News couldn’t verify the picture’s authenticity, a correspondent claimed that it had been taken in 1939.

            Genuine or fraudulent, the one of a kind photo was acquired for more than $17,000 by John Rogers—owner of the Rogers Photo Archive. Comprised of more than 40 million images, Rogers’ private collection is among the largest in the world.            

Sunday, January 21, 2024



    While recovering from an injury at the beginning of the 1949 campaign, DiMaggio began receiving love notes from a woman he was not acquainted with. At the same time, letters started turning up at the offices of various New York gossip columnists. They were signed by a woman calling herself “Junior Standish,” who claimed to be in a romantic relationship with the Yankee slugger. DiMaggio was familiar with a Broadway dancer of the same name, but had never actually dated her. When a handful of columnists reported that the two had become a couple, DiMaggio and Standish both made public statements to the contrary.

            The plot thickened when the mysterious letter-writer attempted to make contact with DiMaggio at his hotel. After being turned away, she sent a note threatening suicide if her efforts to meet him were thwarted in the future. Alarmed by this turn of events, Yankee PR-man Arthur Patterson contacted the police and enlisted the help of a bodyguard to protect Joe.  

            While police were investigating the matter, another note containing suicidal threats was delivered to DiMaggio’s hotel room. Hoping to produce some tangible leads regarding the author’s identity, details were leaked to the press. A 30-year-old woman was eventually taken into custody. While being interrogated by the assistant district attorney in Manhattan, she suffered a mental breakdown, screaming hysterically and threatening to kill herself. Police transported her to a Bronx hospital for psychiatric evaluation. Doctors agreed to release her into the custody of her father on the condition that she seek counseling and leave DiMaggio alone. She agreed to the arrangement and never bothered Joe again. Her identity was not disclosed to the press.

            Incidents of a darker nature had plagued major-league baseball on prior occasions. A few weeks before DiMaggio’s stalker was taken into custody, a 19-year-old office worker named Ruth Steinhagen shot Phillies’ first baseman Eddie Waitkus in a Chicago hotel room. The troubled teen, who had developed an unhealthy obsession with Waitkus, ended up in a state psychiatric hospital, where she remained for three years. Waitkus recovered and played six more seasons. A similar scene had unfolded in 1932, when Cubs shortstop Billy Jurges was shot at the Carlos Hotel in Chicago by a showgirl named Violet Popovich. Jurges had broken off a casual relationship with Popovich, prompting her to behave irrationally. The infielder was shot twice—once in the hand and again in the ribs—but returned to action that year. He played in the majors until 1948.             

Friday, January 12, 2024



    In the summer of 1941, rarely a day went by when DiMaggio did not receive top billing in the sports pages.  But for a few days in late-June, a little-known pitcher from the Philadelphia A’s stole Joltin’ Joe’s thunder.

            His name was Johnny Babich and he had an axe to grind. A right-handed flamethrower from Albion, California, he had played with the Kansas City Blues (a New York affiliate) in 1939, compiling a handsome 17-6 record with a 2.55 ERA. After a tryout with the Yankees, he was left unsigned. It was something he never forgot.

            The journeyman hurler had an issue with DiMaggio as well. Both men had played in the Pacific Coast League during the 1933 slate. They had faced each other in the midst of Joe’s record-setting 61-game hitting streak. In the eighth inning of a scoreless tie, DiMaggio had drilled a fastball off the left field wall, driving in the only run of the game and making Babich a loser.

            Babich was confident and boastful—like Dizzy Dean without the talent to back it up. He carried a lifetime earned run average of 5.57 entering the 1940 campaign. Yet somehow he managed to dominate the Yankees that season, winning five of six decisions against them. The losses to Babich had a huge impact on the pennant race as the Bombers ultimately finished two games out of first place. With his reputation as a “Yankee Killer” secured, Babich got carried away with himself during DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.

            Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto remembered the incident well. “Babich was another Sal Maglie,” he told biographer Maury Allen. “He would knock his mother down. He really threw hard and could intimidate a hitter. He announced in the papers three or four days before we played the A’s that he would personally stop the streak. He was going to get Joe out the first time and then walk him the next three times.”

            The media really played up the story and, according to Rizzuto, DiMaggio was quite upset when he read what Babich had said. The anticipated showdown took place on June 28 at Shibe Park in Philadelphia with close to 14,000 fans in attendance—well above average for the A’s that season. In the first inning, Joe D. came to the plate with a pair of runners aboard. He worked the count to 3-1 before popping out to shortstop Al Brancato. Phase I of Babich’s plan was complete. Now all he had to do was keep the ball out of the strike zone in DiMaggio’s next few at-bats. 

            The Yankee icon returned to the plate as a lead-off hitter in the third inning. By then, the Bombers had built a 3-0 lead. Babich’s first two offerings were way outside, but DiMaggio lunged for the second one, driving it straight through the pitcher’s legs. One writer remarked, “If Joe had hit the ball a few inches higher, Babich would have been a hurling soprano.” Fueled by all the hype, DiMaggio was not content to settle for a mere single. He went tearing around first base without hesitation and slid safely into second. “The whole bench stood up and cheered Joe and laughed at Babich and called him some pretty good names,” Rizzuto recalled. DiMaggio later remarked that the hurler appeared mortified.   

            After absorbing a 7-4 loss on June 28, Babich logged another dreadful outing against the Yankees a week later, allowing six earned runs in one inning of work. DiMaggio tagged him for a single, extending the hitting streak even further. It would prove to be Babich’s last season in the big leagues as he posted a 2-7 record with a stratospheric 6.09 ERA. He continued pitching in the minors through the 1945 campaign and later spent two seasons as a manager, leading the Stockton Ports of the California League to a championship in 1947.               

Wednesday, January 3, 2024




            During DiMaggio’s controversial 1938 holdout, he made an arrangement with San Francisco owner Charley Graham to take batting practice with the Seals so he could stay sharp while discussions with the Yankees continued. During one round of BP, DiMaggio was hammering every pitch that left-hander Jimmy Rego delivered. Worried that manager Lefty O’Doul might cut him from the squad, Rego stopped grooving pitches to the Yankee slugger and started using his best stuff. “Jesus, I was throwing hard and shoving the bat right up his ass,” the hurler later recalled. DiMaggio—perhaps feeling the pressure of his ongoing contract dispute—got so frustrated, he threw his bat out toward the mound before stalking off the field.      

            With the country still in the throes of the Great Depression, DiMaggio knew that he was jeopardizing his reputation by turning down a salary that most Americans could only dream about. Worse yet, the Yankees were protected by baseball’s reserve clause, which essentially stated that players were property of the teams they had signed with until owners decided to trade or release them. Realizing the gravity of the situation, DiMaggio ultimately decided that the risk of holding out any longer was too great and accepted what the Yankees were offering.

            The Yankee Clipper’s return to baseball was quite eventful. He entered his first regular season game on April 30 in Washington. With two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, Taffy Wright of the Senators hit a blooper behind second base. DiMaggio raced in from center field. Myril Hoag came motoring in from right field. Rookie Joe Gordon—who had been called up from the championship Newark squad—ventured far beyond the infield in hot pursuit. All three players converged on the ball. At the last minute, Hoag made the grab and somehow managed to avoid crashing into his teammates. But the 6-foot-2, 200 pound DiMaggio collided with the smaller Gordon, who stood 5-10 and weighed around 180. DiMaggio sustained a minor bruise on his head and remained in the game. Gordon, on the other hand, was carted off the field on a stretcher. He was out of action for a month.

            Recounting the incident, DiMaggio later wrote, “Considering that this was my first game since I had come to terms with the Yankees, that I was booed for the first time in my life by fans and that I knocked out our new second sacker halfway through the game, it might be said that I broke in with a bang!” 

            Playing beside the Yankee Clipper could definitely be hazardous at times. In July of 1936, DiMaggio ran into Hoag at full speed while chasing a ball hit by Hall of Famer Goose Goslin. Though both outfielders initially appeared to have escaped serious injury, Hoag was found unconscious in his hotel room two days later. Holes were drilled in his head to relieve inter-cranial pressure and doctors believed that he would never play ball again. But in an unexpected turn of events, he successfully rehabbed, returning to the Yankee lineup in April of 1937. He continued to play in the majors through 1945, finishing his career with the Cleveland Indians.

            Gordon and Hoag were not the only men to incur serious injuries while playing alongside Joe D. In Mickey Mantle’s rookie year, he shredded his knee while stopping abruptly to avoid a collision with DiMaggio. Multiple players reported that Joe had a quiet voice that could not always be clearly heard when he called for a ball.    

Monday, December 25, 2023



Happy Holidays to all! 

I'm pleased to announce the upcoming release of my latest work, Tales of the Yankee Clipper: Stories and Reflections on Joe DiMaggio. The book completes a series of Yankee biographies that my editors at Lyons Press are referring to as "The Yankee Icon Trilogy." (The other volumes pay homage to Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle.) In anticipation of the DiMaggio bio, I'll be featuring a series of excerpts here on my blog. I hope readers will consider picking up a copy of the book when it comes out in early-February. 

Without further ado, let's start with one of my favorite excerpts.

            Things were much different in the game’s early days. Sports writing tended to be over-the-top. And nearly every player was assigned a nickname by a teammate or journalist. Some monikers were flattering. Others were not.

            In many instances, nicknames were based on a player’s skills. For example, Babe Ruth was known as “The Sultan of Swat” while slugger Jimmie Foxx was “The Beast.” Other less fortunate individuals were nicknamed on account of their deficits, such as Leo Durocher (“The All American Out”) and Al Orth (“The Curveless Wonder”).  Likewise, many players with distinguishing physical characteristics were labeled accordingly. Deaf/mute players (yes, there have been a few) were commonly called “Dummy.” Small guys were known as “Rabbit” and portly fellows carried the moniker of “Jumbo.”

            It logically follows that players with foreign ancestry were saddled with ethnically based nicknames. Though many of these handles are considered pejorative and insulting today, they were perfectly acceptable in the early part of the 20th century.  It was not unusual to see players referred to as “Dutch,” “Frenchy,” or “Swede.”

            “Dago,” which is now considered a derogatory term for people with Italian or Spanish roots, has 17th century maritime origins. British sailors used it (out of ignorance) to identify foreign-speaking people with olive complexions and dark hair. In the 1800s, the tag became more commonly used in the United States as a disparaging phrase for Italians.

            When DiMaggio arrived in New York, the Yankees had Frankie Crosetti and Tony Lazzeri working together around second base. According to a popular story (which may or may not be apocryphal), Lefty Gomez was facing the Browns with one out and runner on first in the late innings of a close game. He induced a grounder back to the mound, but threw wildly past second base into center field, where Joe D. was stationed. Manager Joe McCarthy was fuming and, although Gomez worked his way out of trouble, Marse Joe decided to confront the hurler anyway.

            “We should have turned a double play. What were you thinking out there?” McCarthy growled.

            “Somebody said ‘Throw it to the Dago,’” Gomez explained. “Nobody said which Dago.”

            Addressing the entire dugout, the Yankee skipper said petulantly, “From now on, you’ll specify which Dago, you hear me?”

            This drew stifled laughter from players on the bench.

            From that point forward, a distinction was made. Lazzeri was “Big Dago” and Crosetti was “Little Dago.” DiMaggio became known more plainly as “Dago” or “Daig” for short.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023



            Among the most popular figures in Yankee history, Phil Rizzuto was the starting shortstop on seven World Series-winning squads, including the teams that won five in a row from 1949 through 1953. Nicknamed “Scooter” for the way he ran the bases, his skills went into decline in the mid-1950s. He called it quits as a player in 1956 then spent 40 years as a radio and TV broadcaster. He became famous for his trademark expression, “Holy cow!” Rizzuto—who stood just 5-foot-6—was a hypochondriac with a number of phobias, including a fear of lightning, snakes, spiders and assorted insects. This made him a prime target for practical jokes. Good-natured almost to a fault, he never held any grudges and rarely if ever lost his temper.

             Though many players in Rizzuto’s day left their gloves on the field between innings, Rizzuto started carrying his back to the dugout and guarding it closely when teammates—particularly Johnny Lindell—began stuffing worms inside of it. Whitey Ford once hung a dead mouse over Rizzuto’s steering wheel and Mantle allegedly stuck a firecracker under the hood. Even when Charlie Keller stuffed “Scooter” in his locker one day and shut the door, the unflappable infielder was able to laugh it off. “That [was] Phil,” Mantle said. “A beautiful guy—not a bad bone in his body. Always trusting and so gullible it made him a pushover for all the pranks we used to play on him.” 

            During a 1952 road trip, Mantle sat next to Rizzuto on a train bound for Cleveland and initiated an in-depth discussion about snakes. As Rizzuto literally began to squirm in his seat, Mantle laid it on thick, knowing that his teammate had grown up in New York City and knew very little about country life. “I owned one,” he said. “...pulled out his fangs with my fingers and trained him as a house pet. Cute little bugger.”

            Rizzuto had heard enough at that point. “Please, Mickey,” he pleaded. “What are you trying to do, make me blow the pennant?” 

            Mantle continued to play jokes on “Scooter” long after his retirement. On July 11, 1992, the Yankees held their 46th annual Old Timers’ Day celebration. In addition to Mantle, the event included appearances from Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Hank Bauer, and Allie Reynolds. Rizzuto, who had retired from his broadcasting job by then, was working as a special correspondent. He was wandering the dugout talking to senior Yankee alumni when Mantle called him over. Rizzuto notified Tom Seaver in the broadcast booth that he was going to engage with his former teammate. 

            “How you doing, Mick?” Rizzuto said.

            “...That thing on?” Mantle asked, tapping Scooter’s mic.

            “Sure is,” Rizzuto confirmed.

            Mantle issued a prolific stream of profanity, leaving Rizzuto absolutely flabbergasted. 

            “Mary Mother of God!” the Hall of Fame shortstop stammered, covering the mic with his hand and beating a hasty retreat.  “Holy Cow, Mick!” 

            Players within earshot burst into fits of laughter.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, you might consider picking up a copy of The Legend of the Mick, which is set for release on March 1 through The Lyons Press.