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"I would like to take the great Di Maggio fishing," the old man said. "They say his father was a fisherman. Maybe he was as poor as we are and would understand."
—Ernest Hemingway ("The Old Man and the Sea")


Giuseppe Paolo Di Maggio came from Isola Delle Femmine, an islet off the coast of Sicily. Giuseppe, like his Di Maggio ancestors, was a fisherman. Known as "Zio Pepe", he sailed to America on the advice of his father-in-law and worked his way across the country from Ellis Island, eventually settling near Rosalia's father in the town of Pittsburg, on the east side of the San Francisco Bay Area. After four years, Giuseppe earned enough money to send for his family—wife Rosalia and daughter Nellie, born after he left for America—and the family settled in the town of Martinez, a small fishing community 25 miles northeast of San Francisco. Giuseppe worked as a crab fisherman, setting and releasing traps from morning to night, and getting pennies on the dollar for his catch. He made just enough to raise a family he would barely see: His children, in order, were Nellie, Mamie, Tom, Marie, Mike, Frances, Vince, Joseph Paolo (remember him), and Dominic.

Giuseppe, Rosalie and their nine children lived in a small house at the base of Island Hill, where the children often played on the train tracks with the other poor neighborhood kids. One day in 1917, daughter Frances was hit in the eye by a piece of hot charcoal shooting out of a passing steam locomotive. Rosalie had to take her suffering child to San Francisco by ferry for treatment (bridges to the city would not be built for another two decades). She and eventually convinced her husband to move the family to Taylor Street in North Beach, and dock their fishing boats in Fishermans Wharf. Now in a big city, the DiMaggio children had no hillsides or traintracks to play on, so they started playing stickball—which would change the family's fortunes forever.

"Zio Pepe" had wanted his five sons to succeed him as fishermen. The first two, Tom and Mike, obeyed their father (although Mike would fall from his boat and drown in 1953). The others took no interest—Joe recalled that he would do anything to get out of cleaning his father's boat, as the smell of dead fish nauseated him, and his father Giuseppe called him "lazy" and "good-for-nothing." Joe dropped out of Galileo High School and did odd jobs including hawking newspapers and working at an orange juice plant. His brothers preferred baseball, and they played semi-pro ball in the city. Vincent then turned pro in the Pacific Coast League, playing for the San Francisco Seals, and then signed with the Hollywood Stars down south. Before leaving for Hollywood, Vince convinced the coach to try out his brother Joe at shortstop. (Dom would follow, and eventually play for the Boston Red Sox.)


Joe made the team as a teen, and sports writers described him as "a tall gangling youngster, all arms and legs and like a frisky colt." In his first year, Joe broke the PCL record for hitting in successive games. There were 10,000 people in Seals Stadium on July 4, 1933, including Joe's family, to watch him hit in his 49th straight game, which broke the record. "Then the game was stopped," Joe recalled. "Angelo Rossi, Mayor of San Francisco, came on to the field to congratulate me personally, which was quite a thrill to a kid who couldn't be able to vote for him for three more years." Joe's hitting streak finally ended at 61 games. The lazy, good-for nothing son now found his calling. "Baseball didn't really get into my blood until I knocked off that hitting streak," he said. "Getting a daily hit became more important to me than eating, drinking or sleeping." Everybody thought it was impressive, but we pretty sure he would never do anything like that in the majors. (True—only 56 in New York.) Joe was presented with a watch by Mayor Rossi and a traveling bag from his friends at Fisherman's Wharf. Joe secretly was more pleased with the traveling bag, because he was getting interest from the New York Yankees to play back East.

In 1934 DiMaggio suffered a career-threatening knee injury when he tore ligaments while stepping out of a jitney, and had to prove himself to pro scouts.. and boy, did he: "The young San Francisco Italian had a wonderful season for the Seals," the Los Angeles Times' Bob Ray wrote in his "Sports X-Ray" column of Nov. 17, 1935. "Not only did he bat .398, just one point behind the leader, [Mission Reds outfielder] Ox Eckhardt, but DiMaggio led in runs batted in with 154; hit the most triples, eighteen; scored the most runs, 173; ranked second to [Los Angeles Angels third baseman] Gene Lillard in homers with thirty-four; was next to [Angels first baseman] Jim Oglesby and [Portland Beavers outfielder] Moose Clabaugh for two-base hits with forty-eight, and stole twenty-four bases." The Seals won the 1935 PCL title, and DiMaggio was named the league's Most Valuable ("good-for-nothing") Player. Satisfied, the Yankees purchased his contract from the Seals for fifty grand.


Last check for fish hooks
So Joe, of course, went to the Yankees, broke many more records, and in 13 years of baseball from 1936 to 1949, earned an estimated total of $704,769 playing for the team... with more for advertising, personal appearances and a best-selling autobiography (written by God-knows-who). With the money, Joe first bought a bigger, safer home for his folks in the Marina District, and provided the family a new source of income: A restaurant on the Wharf, called "Joe DiMaggio's Grotto" in 1937. Out front was a sign with Joe in his home run swing, and the walls inside were lined with pictures of baseball buddies. Joe brought his brothers into the venture, left Tom to run the business, and in doing so made it possible for his father to finally retire from crab fishing. The senior DiMaggio took great pride in preparing meals for baseball players who visited the Grotto during the off season, giving them towels for bibs, and telling them to eat with their fingers—no knives or forks allowed. (During World War II, Joe's father was considered an alien risk, which prohibited him from fishing in the bay, and he needed a permit to travel more than five miles from his home, even to visit the family restaurant.)

In time, Joe sold out his interest in the family restaurant, though he was seen there on many occasions over the years.



Some bowls of Pasta Fagioli accidentally come with free World Series rings!

The Silent Season of a Hero, from Esquire Magazine

"How about THIS catch, pop?"

IT WAS NOT quite spring, the silent season before the search for salmon, and the old fishermen of San Francisco were either painting their boats or repairing their nets along the pier or sitting in the sun talking quietly among themselves, watching the tourists come and go, and smiling, now, as a pretty girl paused to take their picture. She was about 25, healthy and blue-eyed and wearing a turtleneck sweater, and she had long, flowing blonde hair that she brushed back a few times before clicking her camera. The fishermen, looking at her, made admiring comments, but she did not understand because they spoke a Sicilian dialect; nor did she understand the tall gray-haired man in a dark suit who stood watching her from behind a big bay window on the second floor of DiMaggio's Restaurant that overlooks the pier.

He watched until she left, lost in the crowd of newly arrived tourists that had just come down the hill by cable car. Then he sat down again at the table in the restaurant, finishing his tea and lighting another cigarette, his fifth in the last half hour. It was 11:30 in the morning. None of the other tables was occupied, and the only sounds came from the bar, where a liquor salesman was laughing at something the headwaiter had said. But then the salesman, his briefcase under his arm, headed for the door, stopping briefly to peek into the dining room and call out, "See you later, Joe." Joe DiMaggio turned and waved at the salesman. Then the room was quiet again.

At 51, DiMaggio was a most distinguished-looking man, aging as gracefully as he had played on the ball field, impeccable in his tailoring, his nails manicured, his 6-foot-2 body seeming as lean and capable as when he posed for the portrait that hangs in the restaurant and shows him in Yankee Stadium, swinging from the heels at a pitch thrown 20 years ago. His gray hair was thinning at the crown, but just barely, and his face was lined in the right places, and his expression, once as sad and haunted as a matador's, was more in repose these days, though, as now, tension had returned and he chain-smoked and occasionally paced the floor and looked out the window at the people below. In the crowd was a man he did not wish to see.

The man had met DiMaggio in New York. This week he had come to San Francisco and had telephoned several times, but none of the calls had been returned because DiMaggio suspected that the man, who had said he was doing research on some vague sociological project, really wanted to delve into DiMaggio's private life and that of DiMaggio's former wife, Marilyn Monroe. DiMaggio would never tolerate this. The memory of her death is still very painful to him, and yet, because he keeps it to himself, some people are not sensitive to it. One night in a supper club, a woman who had been drinking approached his table, and when he did not ask her to join him, she snapped:

"All right, I guess I'm not Marilyn Monroe."

He ignored her remark, but when she repeated it, he replied, barely controlling his anger, "No—I wish you were, but you're not."

The tone of his voice softened her, and she asked, "Am I saying something wrong?"

"You already have," he said. "Now will you please leave me alone?"

By David Halberstam (Editor)


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