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Joe DiMaggio

Marriage To Marilyn Monroe

DiMaggio was an extremely private man who was nevertheless in the public eye. After retiring as a ballplayer he briefly worked as a Yankee announcer. In the late 1960s he served as a coach for the Oakland Athletics. In the 1970s he gained celebrity with a new generation as a spokesman for Mr. Coffee and the Bowery Savings Bank. DiMaggio was celebrated in song and literature both during his career and after. Ernest Hemingway referred to him in his 1954 Nobel Prize-winning novel, The Old Man and the Sea, as did Paul Simon in the 1968 Grammy-winning song, "Mrs. Robinson," which plaintively asked, "Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?/Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you." In 1941, the year of his 56-game hitting streak, radios throughout America played "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio," a swing paean to the Yankee Clipper. DiMaggio was a frequent visitor at Yankee Stadium through the years, especially at the annual old-timers' game where he was the last person introduced and the one who received the loudest applause.

Despite his baseball heroics and the adulation he received from fans and the media, DiMaggio remained aloof throughout most of his career and afterward. He was a man with few friends, even becoming estranged for many years from his brother Dominic. The one thing that made him seem mortal was his love affair with, marriage to, divorce from, and ongoing relationship with Marilyn Monroe. During the 1950s Monroe was Hollywood's biggest female star. Twelve years younger than DiMaggio and almost his polar opposite in temperament—she sought the kind of personal adulation and contact with crowds that he shied away from—they nevertheless fell in love after a blind date in 1952. They were married in a civil ceremony in San Francisco's City Hall on January 14, 1954. The conservative DiMaggio was looking for more of a stay-at-home type of wife, which Marilyn was anything but, and consequently the marriage lasted only nine months. During their honeymoon in Japan, Monroe made a side trip to Korea to entertain the troops. As Roger Kahn described it in Joe and Marilyn: A Memory of Love, "When she was reunited with DiMaggio she described the crowds and then burst out, 'Joe, you never heard such cheering.' 'Yes I have,' DiMaggio said.… He told her not to take the cheers seriously because he knew from his own life that they could quickly turn to boos."

Magazine and newspaper writers of the time attributed their breakup to one incident in particular—the famous scene from the Seven Year Itch in which Marilyn's skirt was blown up from the wind coming through a New York subway grate. DiMaggio was present and witnessed the crowd's reaction. That incident—her exhibitionism and his shyness turned to anger—epitomized their relationship. Monroe subsequently married playwright Arthur Miller; DiMaggio never remarried. Indeed, he carried a torch for Monroe and never ruled out reconciliation, especially since they continued seeing each other. Following her August 1962 suicide, it was DiMaggio who took charge of her funeral arrangements.

DiMaggio's own last years were spent going to baseball memorabilia shows, old-timers games and other events related to his greatness as a player. He died of cancer on March 8, 1999, in Hollywood, Florida.

As the best ballplayer on the best baseball team (at a time when baseball itself was far and away the primary sporting attraction) in the largest market and media center of the country, Joe DiMaggio was a natural to become the first sports superstar. Arguably, he was the first athlete to transcend his sport and every sports superstar since his time has emulated his combination of grace, power and a will to dominate his opponents. In fact, his name remained a byword for success in heroism long after he retired. Joe DiMaggio's career statistics for what amounts to less than 13 years are a .325 batting average, 2,214 hits, 361 home runs, 1,537 RBIs, and .579 slugging percentage. Incredibly, DiMaggio struck out only 369 times in his career. He led the Yankees to nine world championships in 10 appearances and was a member of the American League All-Star team 13 times. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955. In 1969, as part of baseball's centenary celebration, Joe DiMaggio was voted baseball's greatest living player.

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsBaseballJoe DiMaggio Biography - Hometown Sensation, Off To A Fabulous Start, The Streak, Chronology, Postwar Comeback, Awards And Accomplishments